Railway potatoes: easy Indian food

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Indian food doesn’t have to be hard.

It doesn’t have to involve a ton of spices. Like these Railway Potatoes (via Straight from the Farm), which I found because I needed something to take to a potluck later today. The author’s mother used to make them for train journeys, so I thought they’d stand up well to being transported to a potluck and served at non-piping-hot temperatures. Three spices is enough to make them delicious.

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OK, so that was four. But the ground coriander isn’t even in the recipe, so it’s completely optional. I…I just couldn’t resist. I am in love with ground coriander, I want to put it in everything, and I think it goes especially well with potatoes.

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But hey, what if you don’t have even these four spices yet? Well, you can get cayenne and turmeric in most grocery stores. Coriander and black mustard seeds are less widely available, but the Ithaca Wegmans carries both of them (in the International section) and I’ve found them at other local grocery stores too. If you can’t find coriander, that’s fine, it was optional anyway! For black mustard seeds, you can substitute regular yellow mustard seeds. Yellow mustard seeds will be milder, but they have the same basic mustard-y flavor.

This recipe will also introduce you to a technique I use a lot for Indian food: measuring out the spices into small bowls (as described in the recipe) before you even turn the stove on. I hate fiddly steps in recipes (and washing extra dishes) and hardly ever use mise en place in most of my cooking, but I find it’s really important for Indian food, or anything where you’re cooking spices for very short times at very high heat. You add them so quickly that it’s easier if you can just pick them up and dump them in instead of having to fiddle with the measuring spoon.

Consider this your gateway recipe to cooking Indian food!

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Railway Potatoes

Adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes (by Ruta Kahate) via Straight From the Farm

Serves 4 as a side

1.5 lbs small non-russet potatoes (anywhere from one to three inches in diameter)
1 onion
3 Tbs. peanut oil
1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds (or substitute yellow mustard seeds)
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
(optional: 1/2 tsp. ground coriander)
1/2 tsp. cayenne (adjust depending on your spiciness tolerance and the strength of your cayenne; I put in only a dash because it’s for a potluck)
1.5 tsp. salt

Scrub the potatoes and cut off any blemishes. Cut the larger potatoes in half, and then cut all of them into slices 1/8 inch thick.  Halve the onion and thinly slice. Measure the mustard seeds into a small bowl. Measure the turmeric (and coriander, if using) into another small bowl.

In a wok or a large heavy skillet, heat the oil at maximum heat.

When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, being careful to avoid getting spattered by oil.  After 30 seconds (by now the seeds should have started popping), add the turmeric (and coriander, if using) and give one quick stir. Immediately add the onions, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add the potatoes, stir, and then add the cayenne. Turn the heat down to medium. Add a small splash of water (it will hiss), cover, and cook for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are done, stirring about every 2 minutes. Add the salt and taste to make sure the potatoes are done. Serve hot or warm or cold.

Tindora

Here’s my haul of tindora from Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights! Also called Tendli, Dondakaya, Kovakkai, Ivy Gourd, Baby Watermelon, or Gentleman’s Toes. Those are some creepy toes, sir. But as a vegetable, they’re pretty cute (mine were about 2 inches long). Don’t be fooled, though, it’s a fiercely invasive species in Hawaii.

The woman next to me in Patel Brothers was also picking out tindora, and when I asked her what to do with them she said she stir-fries them in mustard oil in a wok with cumin seeds, mustard seeds, turmeric, and garlic. She also helpfully advised that the smallest ones are the best. And sometimes when you cut tindora open they’re red inside, but they’re still ok to eat. I used her advice as the base for my recipe, and poked around until I found this recipe from Sailu’s Kitchen, which explained how long to cook them and also included the addition of amchur and asafetida.

I was really pleased with the spicing, but one advantage of this vegetable is that it’s so mild in taste that you could pretty much spice it however you want. If you don’t have asafetida, you can leave it out. It’s extremely pungent when raw, and basically tastes like onion and garlic. Amchur (green mango powder) is a souring agent, so if you don’t have that, you can add a bit of lemon or lime juice (maybe 1 teaspoon or 1/2 Tablespoon? just guessing).

And what were they like? Pretty great: they tasted cucumber-like but with a texture (when cooked) closer to zucchini, except crunchier. If you like cucumbers as much as I do, this is a cucumber that you can cook without its texture getting all soggy and weird. I’d definitely get these again. A new vegetable success!

Tindora

Serve with rice as a side

1 pound tindora
1 clove garlic
1 fresh serrano pepper
2 tablespoons mustard oil (or a neutral oil like peanut or canola)
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin
1/2 teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon amchur powder
pinch asafetida (optional)
salt to taste

1. Wash the tindora and slice them lengthwise in quarters. Mince the garlic and the serrano pepper.

2. In a wok or frying pan, heat the mustard oil over high heat. When hot, add the whole cumin and black mustard seeds.

3. As soon as the seeds begin to pop, add the garlic, serrano pepper, and all the rest of the spices. Stir once, then add the tindora. Cover and cook until tindora are tender. This will take at least 10 minutes.