Oh, how I love these potatoes.
Last year, I read Heather Harpham’s book Happiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After. She details the struggles of a charmed relationship with a man who doesn’t want kids, complicated by the announcement of her pregnancy. She delivers the baby bolstered by family and friends instead, and soon learns that her baby is direly ill with a blood disorder that even stumps the best hematologists. Her daughter’s illness continues the theme of worry through the book, punctuated by the re-appearance of the baby’s father. Together, they face many decisions on how to maneuver through Gracie’s medical care and how to define their relationship. Harpham is a lovely writer. She is a talented artist and theater professional, so her ability to convey her feelings is lyrical and flowy. She adeptly describes the ebb and flow of relationships and fears, feeling much like the Northern California oceanside where she grew up. Her description of the ocean also made me long to return there, having not been back to the Bay Area since we moved away in 2014.
As per usual for me, I notice the little things that don’t have much to do with the main theme of the story. The author briefly mentions time she spent in Nepal in college, and how an American friend and she loved to eat Nepali pickled potatoes, or aloo ko achar. Potatoes are definitely not what the book is about, yet I hung onto this tidbit because POTATOES! I LOVE POTATOES!
This dish is like an amped-up, spicy version of German potato salad, but better. Potato salad often needs a flavor boost with bacon. Aloo ko achar doesn’t need it. Two strong important flavors are the Sichuan pepper and asafoetida (hing powder), a oniony, garlicky spice derived from fennel seed I think. These are accompanied by ginger, cumin, fenugreek, turmeric, sesame, the pop of spicy chiles, and zing of sour citrus. No way can potatoes be boring in this mix.
Even if you thought they were boring, Heather Harpham could make these potatoes sound like the most interesting things in the world. If you hear rumors that Nepali food is bland, this dish will completely change your mind. It is wild and flowy and delicious, just like Harpham’s book. I highly recommend you read the book while eating these potatoes, turmeric staining the pages.
I found this recipe at Maayeka.com, linked here and in the Easy Recipe box below.
One year ago: guava pate de fruit
Two years ago: I took a break — not a Ross and Rachel break.
Three years ago: I wore a dress made of brassica and allium greens that I made and lotus root salad
- 700g potatoes (aloo)
- ⅓ cup white sesame seeds (til)
- 3 to 5 green chiles (hari mirch) -- I use Thai bird chiles and use less.
- 1 tablespoon salt (namak) -- NOTE: I add about half the salt, mix well, taste, then add more if needed later.
- 1½ tablespoons red chili powder (laal mirch powder)
- ½ teaspoon Sichuan pepper (timur) -- grind it
- ½ cup mustard oil / (sarson ka tel) or neutral oil of your choice
- 1 pinch fenugreek seeds (methidana) -- I use ground fenugreek
- 1 pinch cumin
- 1 tablespoon ginger, grated (adrak)
- ¼ tsp asafoetida (also known as hing powder) -- This gives a garlicky flavor to the dish.
- ¾ teaspoon turmeric powder (haldi powder)
- ⅔ cup water (paani)
- 4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice, freshly squeezed (nimbu ka ras)
- ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped (hara dhaniya)
- Boil potatoes in salted water, peel, and cut to medium sized cubes.
- While potatoes are cooking, dry roast sesame seeds until golden. Cool to room temperature and grind to powder.
- Next, the original recipe says to chop green chiles in big pieces. I prefer smaller pieces.
- In a large bowl, mix the cubed potatoes, sesame seed powder, green chiles, salt, chili powder, and Sichuan pepper.
- Heat oil in a skillet, add the fenugreek and cumin to brown briefly, then off the heat and add ginger, asafoetida, and turmeric. Stir for 1 minute.
- Pour this hot, scented oil over the potato mix. Stir well.
- Add water, lemon/lime juice, and chopped cilantro and mix well.
- Cover the pan and allow flavors to meld for 30 to 60 minutes. Taste just before serving and add more salt if needed (if you use less like me initially). I like this dish served at room temperature.
- If refrigerated, aloo ko achar keeps for about a month, if stirred every so often.