Govinda Dasu Cookbook : Chapter 1: Aloo Fry

Anyone who knows me should know that Aloo Fry has to have a chapter of its own in my recipe book. Few Friday evenings in Santa Clara went by without Aloo Fry on the menu. Besides, if you have been to my room at home or been to my grade school presentation, you would have seen my famous Aloo Fry poster.

My father tells me that his maternal grandmother owned a heavy brass fry pan, which played the most crucial role in the preparation of her famous Aloo Fry. A heavy 12-inch non-stick pan is definitely an acceptable substitute, as her brass pan has long bitten dust.

Although not part of Aloo Fry recipe, you may want to start to cook some plain rice in the back burner before you start preparing the fry.  You will want to immediately start eating when the fry is ready!

You should always plan on at least two medium potatoes per person, or you will not have any aloo fry left for yourselves when it comes to the concluding yogurt-rice course. The number of potatoes should be between four and ten for a 12-inch skillet, otherwise you will end up with either burnt or lumped up fry. California white rose potatoes work the best, but those rose-peeled versions are acceptable. If you are using Idaho potatoes, do get rid of those pesky black spots. I would avoid the yellow-gold potatoes from Yukon. It is of utmost importance to cut the potatoes properly. If you manage to get the potatoes peeled and cut in cubes with sides measuring 0.6 ± 0.2 cm you are doing well. I would definitely recommend practicing the peeling of the entire potato without ever breaking the peel. Such obsession will ensure that potato cubes are properly cut. My mother certainly disagrees with this recommendation, although my father approves, having passed this important tidbit to me.

Put two to four table spoons of peanut/sunflower/safflower/sesame oil (do avoid using lighter canola oil) in the pan and heat at medium-high level. Before the oil fumes, add the potatoes and mix them carefully so that the oil coats all the potato pieces. Do not ever put pressure on the potatoes. Rather, you should tilt the pan slightly and mix the potatoes with the plastic spatula using gravity assistance for tossing! Do not overdo the mixing, but do not leave the kitchen to watch the TV show either. Periodic mixing till the potatoes are golden-brown does need some level of obsession. You can go to the fridge and get green curry leaves, wash, dry and keep ready for future use, to keep you occupied. You can also ensure that the water from the rice dish on the backburner is not spilling over. Do keep powdered salt, inguva(asafetida), turmeric and red-chilies handy.

As the potatoes turn light brown, add powdered salt (0.5 teaspoons per person), inguva (a pinch) and turmeric (a pinch). Turn the potatoes with light touch and gravity assistance. If you have already got some potato stuck to the pan, do not fret. Try to scrape the potato mash out with plastic spatula without putting undue pressure on the remaining potato cubes. The scrapes will fry to darker brown adding texture and taste. After that minute of struggle and cussing, lower the heat and add green curry leaves and red-chili powder (0.25 teaspoons per person). Your mouth should be already watering watching the golden-brown potatoes with hues of red. You will thank yourselves for having the foresight of preparing the plain rice ahead of this aloo fry.

If you are tempted to eat the aloo fry with all courses of meal including the yogurt-rice course, it is normal. If you finish the aloo fry without sharing with anyone, you should feel free to forgive yourselves, as it is not your fault.

Potatoes and chili peppers trace their origins to South America, but make no mistake that this recipe is definitely from Krishna Region. After all, red chili peppers have made Guntur their home.

Govinda Dasu – Vegetarian Cookbook

Foreword

Home is best defined by the smells, tastes and the looks of the foods, which the family partakes in, together. We go off on those long culinary expeditions, only to return home to those family meals. Our family tastes, originating in the brahmin homes of Andhra Pradesh in India, are passed on to me by my parents and grandparents, as they were raising me in the Silicon Valley. While we cannot trace back the ingredients beyond the Safeway at Rivermark, or the New India Bazar on El Camino, the recipes, minimally refined my parents, go back to my ancestors, geographically separated from us by thousands of miles and several generations. Heavily spiced they may be, but subtleties are unmistakably familial. Static, the recipes are not. There is always innovation, adaptation and amalgamation, sometimes scorned by the purists in the family, but eventually accepted with pride as our own. I am sharing these recipes with you with the hope that you will import some of them, to satiate your own palates for generations to come. I will tell some stories along the way to keep you amused.

Of particular note is the influence of mothers and grandmothers on our family palate. River Krishna and its canals meander through the rich agrarian communities near the new capital at the old city of Amaravati of Andhra Pradesh State. My grandmother’s family hails from Nuzividu, which is famous for its mangoes. However, it is her grandmother from Vuyyuru, who influenced my meals in the Silicon Valley. Much like the genes in my blood, some of my great-grandmother’s mukkala pulusu seems to flow in me! Recipes coming from this branch of my family will be labeled as from Krishna Region. My mother’s ancestors hail from a lost village south of Krishna, on the banks of the temperamental Penna River. They migrated further south to Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, and then to Delhi and Simla, way up North. Yet, my mother’s cooking unmistakably traces back to the southern cooking style of Andhra, with some traces of Tamil styles. My mother’s recipes will be labeled as from Penna Region. North of Krishna flows the mightier Godavari with its expansive delta – if there is any influence of their Kona Seema style in our recipes, it is only accidental. Hailing from Krishna and Penna Deltas, I am raised to scorn at those foreign tastes – who in the right mind would put jaggery (raw sugar) in avakaya (raw mango pickled in mustard). Although my family heritage patriarchally dates to 1400s and is documented to hail from the State of Maharashtra to the west of India, there is little from Marathi style in our palate. After all, any excessive use of besan (chick pea flour) is also to be scorned at. If there is any influence of Marathi style, it is because my grandmother spent her summer breaks in Lonavala and Parbhani, in the far reaches of Marathwada, where my grandmother’s father worked for the Deccan railways, although he hailed from Nuzividu. Apparently, she picked up the techniques of making chapathis and aloo curry with besan during those trips. Although my grandmother spent much of her life in the city of Hyderabad, there is no trace of the famous Hyderabadi cuisine in our family recipes. After some research I concluded that this aversion to Hyderabadi cuisine is only because of one particular popular ingredient that is abhorred by our family, allam-ellipai (ginger & garlic) paste. While I may positively enjoy the garlic rolls at Tomatina’s in Mercado, I would never tolerate garlic in my beans koora.

My parents entertained friends and insisted on cooking gigantic meals. They worked together and competed all day to cook up a storm. Those meals were special, but with quite a bit of corruption, for example by including recipes adopted and adapted from Punjab and beyond. I will indicate those as foreign foods. Bon Apetit!