Clay pot potatoes from Nepal

Dum Aloo Nepali

Dum Aloo Nepali

For all intents and purposes, Nepal is very much Indian. To keep things even-handed, I am also going to insist that India is very much Nepali. Other than the fact that Nepal had a king until very recently, while us Indians dispensed with our gaggle 60 years ago, our cultures are very close, we share a majority religion, and most of our food heritage.

Speaking of which, I recently discovered from this book — 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer — that Nepal has its own version of a Dum Aloo. How enticing!

‘Dum’ is a method of cooking that the Mughal emperors brought to India. It involves cooking in a deep pot of unglazed clay (called a handi), which is sealed with a flour paste; the food is cooked slowly over coals. The seal is only broken at the moment of serving; at which point the collected aroma is meant to make the guests keel over in delight.

‘Aloo’ of course means potato. This dish traditionally uses whole baby potatoes that have been first fried. The Kashmiri version of this dish is best known, but today we alter it slightly by going a little to the east, and a tiny bit south. To Nepal.

Dum Aloo Nepali

Ingredients:

  • About 15-20 tiny new red potatoes; each potato should form one or two bites. I couldn’t find any small enough, so I used 6 larger red potatoes, which I then quartered.
  • 3-4 large cloves of garlic
  • fresh chilies according to heat tolerence, I used 3 cayenne
  • one bay leaf
  • half a teaspoon cumin seeds
  • half a teaspoon fennel seeds
  • half a teaspoon ajwain seeds
  • half a teaspoon turmeric
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt total
  • 2 tablespoons mustard oil; if you don’t have this, use any oil.
  • some lime juice sprinkles if you like
  • minced cilantro for garnish

Method:

Of course I am not going to use a clay pot nor seal it with flour; nor do coals make an appearance. We are going to ‘dum’ the 21st century way, in an oven.

First, wash and boil the potatoes in about a cup and a half of water, lightly salted (put potatoes into cold water, bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes). The potatoes should be more or less cooked, which you can test by piercing with a knife.

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Take the potatoes out and quarter while leaving the peel on. Also, do save the water, we will use it later.

Chop the chili and garlic and make a paste as I explain in ‘Rustic ginger-garlic paste with the optional chili‘. Of course leave the ginger out in this case.

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Heat oil in a thick bottomed pan on medium-high heat. When it shimmers add the seeds and the bay leaf. When they sizzle add the garlic-chili paste. Let it cook for a minute, then add the turmeric and quartered potatoes. Saute them gently to cover with the spice paste; add salt. Remember that you have added some salt in the boiling water already and some presumably in the garlic-chili paste; so adjust the total amount or go by taste. After a couple minutes of this, put in the water saved from boiling the potatoes. Stir gently and bring to a boil.

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At this point I do a dum facsimile. Transfer the potatoes into a deep pot with a tight lid. Cover with the lid, but you might also want to seal it with a layer of foil in between the pot and the lid. Put it into a 300 F oven for 20 minutes.

Open the lid just before serving; add some lime juice and some cilantro, stir gently and watch your guests keel over.

660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer is an excellent book by the way, and has many unusual recipes. It is a keeper despite my allergy to the word ‘curry’. On which more later.

Roti from the mountains

From the nuances of rotis from the flatlands of India, let’s go across the border to Nepal, where they have a different take on roti entirely. Here wheat flour does not feature at all in any form, nor for that matter any grain. A non-grain-based roti! I am intrigued.

Instead, phapar ko roti, which merely means buckwheat roti, is made out of the flour of the seeds of the buckwheat plant. Not being a grass (in fact, I have some growing in my garden, and it has club-shaped, distinctly non-grass-like leaves), buckwheat seeds are not properly considered a grain at all.

Perhaps that is a tad too clever. At any rate buckwheat seeds are turned into flour, turned into breakfast cereal, turned into noodles, risen with yeast, and in most ways eaten like a grain.

I came upon buckwheat by way of Santa Cruz, California, where my husband first discovered buckwheat pancakes. I recreated them at home, and since then we have been big fans of the distinctly…umm…muddy (meaty?) taste of buckwheat.

A flat, savory buckwheat crepe was a completely new concept for me when I heard about it from my Nepali friend. I’m always looking for new taste sensations, so let’s get started — Phapar ko roti.

Ingredients (just two, as in the more familiar wheat roti)

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Quarter cup of buckwheat flour

1/4 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 cup + 1 tbsp water

(this much is enough for one serving, increase as needed)

Method:

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Buckwheat flour: stir with whisking motion

Phapar ko roti batter

Phapar ko roti batter

Stir the water in with the buckwheat flour using a sort of whisking motion until you get a batter that can be poured. Feel free to adjust either the water or the flour. Heat a large non-stick pan on medium-high. Now the recipe I read actually suggested not using any oil at all; I tried that, but all I got was a mess.

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Phapar ko roti: my lovely mess

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Phapar ko roti: second attempt

So next I tried using a teaspoon of oil on the Calphalon pan, spreading it around, and then pouring my batter on. Tilt the pan this way and that to get the batter to spread. It will start to set very quickly. I flipped it over in a matter of ten or twenty seconds, when most of the top surface has set. Cook on the other side for about another twenty seconds.

Take it off the pan. Here is my lunch:

phapar ko roti with radish achaar

phapar ko roti with radish achaar

I will have to blog the Nepali radish pickle another time. The flavor of the roti was very mild and made a good substrate for a spicy side.