Aloo ki Bhujia, Cumin-Spiced Potatoes, in the Pakistani Manner

Comfort(ed) Food

It’s a grey evening in Washington, DC. The rain, falling heavily, creates a pewter gloss on the road as I am driving home from work. It makes me want to be back in Lahore, during the unexpected Spring showers, when we sit on the veranda in my ancestral home with my paternal grandmother, known affectionately by everyone as Mader; mother in Dari. We eat samosas; small, hot, pastry triangles stuffed with cumin-spiced potatoes. I slowly peel away the crisp, oily pastry, letting the spiced filling fall onto my plate. I like to dunk the pastry in the spicy mint chutney and pass the plate on to Ami, my mum, who gives me that ‘Allah-doesn’t-like-little-girls-who-waste-food-when-children-in-the-Sudan-are-starving-look’ and eats the remainders.

My Aunt pours a cup of dark amber-hued tea for Mader from the tea trolley. With a splash of milk it turns a bronze opaque. She passes the teacup to Mader, who waves her hand, ignoring the offer, saying, instead, “My Damasks, my poor Damasks.” She doesn’t want to thank The Lords Above for the rain, for she can only lament as the fragile, dusty pink petals of her Damask roses start to droop and fall to the ground, being washed away into the red soil with the rain.

Mader prefers “roses on her table, than diamonds on her neck,” like Emma Goldman. As the rain hits the brick driveway more intensely and starts splashing water onto us in the veranda, our mothers grab our hands and pull us indoors. My cousins and I want to play in the rain, but we’ve been told that we’ll catch the cold of our life, because “that’s what the Spring showers do to little, disobedient girls.Mader stays there, watching the rain as it washes her favourite mango tree, which she has tended with her gardener under the white-hot Lahore sun.

As I arrive home in DC, Ami and I decide against eating out, as originally planned. I want those samosas we used to have in Lahore as the Spring showers glossed the city. This time, I’ll eat the potatoes, too.

One of my favourite comfort foods is anything which has potatoes in it; a simple Pakistani dish of potatoes, with the added nutty fragrance of zeera (cumin seeds), called Aloo ki Bhujia or Zeera Aloo, comes to mind. To me, comfort food should not require too much fiddling or prepping.

Not that peeling and slicing potatoes is labour-intensive.

But, I just want to be comforted (and lazy).

I slink upstairs to change out of my office attire. I hear clanging pots as Ami reaches deep into her drawer, to take out the Cuisinart for slicing the potatoes.

Later, we sit on her bed, with trays on our laps, our fingers tearing the steaming, chewy chapati into small pieces, to scoop up spicy, unctuous slices of Aloo ki Bhujia. Something from the Lifetime channel for women is on the telly, and we sit there content to be indoors, under the goose down duvet while the rain continues to splatter outside the bay window.

Now married, with those rainy Washington, DC days in the past, some days I come home from work and wish for my mother to be here to prepare that comforting food I am too lazy to make myself.

All it requires is some slicing of potatoes.

But, the way mothers can do it, well, you know…

These are gorgeous in an omelette the next day.

They are also lovely served alongside a simple meat dish, for example a steak or roast chicken.

Monsoon photo credit: AFP/GETTY IMAGES The Telegraph
Damask roses photo credit: Rosse Bacche

Serves 2-3

Needed: A frying pan or a pot with a large diameter. A lid is required. I use an All-Clad Copper Core 10 in diameter sauté pan, see here.
Optional: For slicing the potatoes, a Cuisinart with a standard slicing disk or a mandoline.

Ingredients:
2 lb. potatoes, (I use the red potato variety).
3 tbsp corn oil
3 tsp zeera, (cumin seeds)
1 tsp salt (or suit to your taste)
1-2 tsp red chili pepper flakes (adjust according to taste, please start with 1 tsp)
2-3 pinches of haldi, (turmeric)
handful fresh coriander (cilantro) chopped fine, including the sweet stems

Preparation:
*Peel the skin off of the potatoes and slice the potatoes, lengthwise, into half.
*Slice the potatoes, thinly, into half-moon shapes, (this will be quicker if you use the Cuisinart with its slicing disk, or a mandoline).
*In a pan add the oil and turn the heat to medium.
*Add the zeera and when it starts to sputter, turn the heat to low and immediately add the potatoes, salt, red chili pepper flakes, a few pinches of haldi.
*With a wooden spatula, gently move the potatoes around in the pan for 5 minutes, so they are all evenly coated with zeera, oil, salt, chili and turmeric.
*Cover with a lid and let the potatoes cook in their own steam for 20-25 minutes.
*Bear in mind that the cooking time for the potatoes will vary, depending on the variety you are using.
*Check for doneness at the 15 minute mark and give the potatoes a gentle stir, (they will be quite fragile). This will give you an indication as to how much longer the potatoes should be cooked. Mine cook in a total of 20 minutes.
*When the potatoes are done, sprinkle liberally with the chopped coriander stems and leaves straight into the pan and give it a gentle whirl with the spatula.
*Serve with chapati; a Pakistani whole-wheat flat bread.

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Comments

  1. This is such a comfort food for me. My mother-in-law would make it especially for me when she visits since she knows I love it. The only thing she does different is fry some onions before adding everything else.
    Thanks for the recipe!

  2. Firdous says:

    DH is a big fan of Aloo. So just had to give these a try. Made them today for breakfast and had them with Egyptian bread. I liked how cumin gives this dish a very nice aroma. I dint use water and made them in a non-stick pan. Looked just like urs.

  3. When I cover the potatoes to steam, do I add water? Cause they start sticking to the pan :/

    • @Aman Hi- yes, you should add a sprinkle of water, but not too much, otherwise the potatoes will turn to mush. Keep the heat low and you could also add more oil in the beginning. Unfortunately, adding more oil is the only way to ensure that the potatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the pan if you are not using a non-stick pan.

  4. Marija Sultan says:

    made to day your ginger chicken, very nice. And just saw aloo jeera. so will make that as well.

  5. Your pics made me go down the memory lane and I am so prompted to try this amazing recipe… Aloo bhujia may seem simple to some but honestly I had given up on this dish long ago…one of my fav childhood dishes…thank you

  6. this is an amazing recipe. i would like to know if i can fry onions and then add the potatoes in it. thanks.

  7. Hamza Khan says:

    Whoever you are, you are awesome. But isn’t this dish called Aaloo ki Katlian. And Aaloo ki Bhujia is more of a mushy paste than sliced Aaloos?

    • @Hamza Hello – thank you. From what I have heard and been taught, a ‘bhujia‘ is sliced potatoes and a ‘bharta‘ is a vegetable mash (aubergine, for example – baingan ka bharta). Hope that helps.

      • @ Hamza Khan… I am also surprised to see the potatoes slices. Currently, I am living in China where the potatoes are always sliced or shredded (well, usually) and I was going to show them the Indo/ Pak way of cooking aloo. I don’t think there is any such thing as aloo ka bharta. I have always had aloo ki bhujia as somewhat of cubes, if not mashed.
        Never heard of the word katlian though. Going to look that up now.

  8. Lovely post; it brought all sorts of memories~ Actually my grandmother just taught us how to make this this morning- with thinly and thickly sliced aloo. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    • @Sugarrme Thank you so much. You are very lucky, touchwood, to have your grandmother around to teach you this – I do miss my grandmothers very much.

  9. Hi,

    Thank you for posting such great recipes. I tried to make aloo ki bhujia using your method above. The taste was great but i think the potatoes became too dry. Could it be that i put less oil or maybe the steam could not build up due to the cover not working properly?

    • @Salman Thank you for your kind comment. I find that stove / burner heat intensities vary, so that could be the issue. Perhaps the burner was on high for too long. I would suggest that you add a little bit more water on an even lower flame. Hope it works out next time. Do write again if you have a problem.

  10. Thanks Shayma. What a great website. Really looking forward to trying some of your other great recipes after my vacation.

  11. Just tried this recipe – it turned out amazing!!! Going to go through your site to find some more goodies 😀

    Thanks for taking the time to write this blog… Sharing is Caring! <3

  12. Hi Shayma, I love your recipes and follow them a lot. I tried this one also. And while the taste turned out good enough, I am sad to report that the aloos themselves became hard and crunchy and brown! Not all soft and and lovely and translucent looking like yours. I cooked them for exactly 20 minutes, but could be and the heat on my stove is different or the aloo variety was a different one. In any case, I will try again! Keep the great recipes coming.

    • Hi Alliya, Thank you for trying out my recipe. Each potato is different, so the ones you used may have required a little more water and time on the stove. Hope it works out next time. Best, Shayma

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