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).
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.
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.
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
*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.