This academic year is drawing to a close, which means that I won’t be back in London until next January. Projects have culminated brilliantly in the past few months (you can see my work here or through the Behance icon on the right), but that’s also synonymous with having less time to dawdle in produce stalls, arrange sliced onions neatly on a chopping board, and wait patiently for instances of natural light to photograph my meals. In my last-minute scramble to cross off the restaurants and food markets on my wishlist, I’ve neglected the kitchen a bit… but the exciting news is that I’ll soon be traveling to Thailand for 20 days before flying home to Florida and then New York City for an exchange program in the Fall term—that means new food adventures and an onslaught of regional inspirations for Wandercrush! It seems the excitement is debilitating, as I haven’t started to pack yet…
One thing I won’t miss is the kitchen I share with 6 other students, sticky and stained. We’ve had an undeniably good time in there with sushi-rolling parties and jack-o-lantern carving, but I can’t overlook the perpetually self-replicating stack of dirty dishes, fridge territory warfare, and unphotogenic tabletops pock-marked from so many years of wear. Student accommodation isn’t the most glamourous. My living arrangements for next year are still up in the air, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for big windows and gas stovetops. It still won’t be glamorous, but I hope I can call it my own.
As much as I look forward to a new kitchen, I’m not as confident about finding flatmates that are equally wonderful as this lot. This recipe comes straight from my Indian flatmate, who grew up in the UK but cooks consistently amazing Indian food that always shrouds the shabby kitchen in a blanket of homeliness and comfort. In anticipation of my future deprivation and inevitable craving of his food, I asked him to walk me through this simple dry potato curry that always seems to be waiting mercifully atop the stove when I burst into the kitchen ravenously at 2am.
You might be more familiar with jeera aloo, which is Hindi; sukhi bhaji or batata nu shaak is a traditional dish in the Gujarat state of India, but it’s essentially the same idea—a spicy and flavourful dry potato curry, cooked in tempered oil. Tempering (completely different from the chocolate-related tempering), or tadka, is something used very often in Indian cooking, and it’s the method responsible for those irresistible smells that permeate through the kitchen walls. By heating whole spices and seeds in fats with high smoke points, like peanut oil or ghee, much of the flavours and aromas are extracted and infused into the rest of the dish.
You can make this with any potato variety, but I had the luxury to choose from all the UK options, which are particularly abundant (you can read more about that here in my hasselback potato post). Jersey Royals were discovered around 1880 by Hugh de la Haye and pack a huge punch of flavour, despite their small size and frail, papery skin. They’re exclusively grown on Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, but 99% are shipped to their lucky neighbours in the UK. They’re covered by a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), so the same variety grown elsewhere are referred to as “international kidney potatoes,” which sounds significantly less royal. Furthermore, it’s the location that gives these potato their famous taste; the island’s topography slopes from north to south, ensuring good drainage and exposing crops to direct sunshine during the growing season. Locally collected seaweed called vraic is used as a region-specific fertiliser. Talk about terroir!
Sukhi Bhaji (Dry Potato Curry)
- 1 T oil with high smoke point
- 2 dried red chilies (optional)
- ½ t mustard seeds
- ½ t cumin seeds
- 1 T sesame seeds or 2 T crushed peanuts (optional)
- Pinch of asofotida (hing)
- 2 T coriander/cilantro, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 t fresh ginger, grated
- 1 green chili pepper, halved lengthwise
- 450g (1lb) potatoes (I used Jersey Royals)
- ¼ t garam masala
- ¼ t ground cumin
- ¼ t ground coriander
- ¼ t tumeric
- salt, to taste
Thoroughly wash and cut potatoes into bite-sized pieces that will cook evenly. Boil until tender while preparing your other ingredients (no time for waffling once the oil gets hot!).
Heat oil over medium heat and add the dried chillies until they begin to plump up. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and optional sesame/peanuts, watching closely for when they start to splutter and pop.
As soon as this happens, swiftly add asafoetida, coriander/cilantro, garlic, ginger, and green chili. Add a splash of water to prevent charring and sticking, if necessary.
Add in the boiled potatoes along with all your powdered spices, tossing to coat with the tempering oil for a few additional minutes. Season with salt and serve with puri, lemon wedges, and fresh cilantro.