Monday, March 8, 2010

The Love Child of Aloo Gobi and Palak Paneer: Aloo Palak!

What happens when you don't have all the right ingredients to make a specific dish? Well, you adjust and improvise, of course. What started out as an endeavor to recreate one of my favorite Indian dishes, aloo gobi, became a small exercise in kitchen improvisation. Aloo gobi is a Punjabi dry curry delicacy made with potatoes and cauliflower. This is a dish that was made famous in the hit crossover British-Indian movie, "Bend It Like Beckham."

Assuming that I still had half a head of cauliflower in my refrigerator, I noted down all the other aloo gobi ingredients that I had to buy from my weekly grocery shopping trip. When I was finally ready to make the aloo gobi, it was only then that I found one of the major components--the cauliflower--was missing. Then it hit me that I had already used it a couple of days before. Duh! So what am I to do without any cauliflower? Rummaging through the refrigerator, I found a block of frozen spinach. On a whim, I decided to substitute the cauliflower with spinach instead, which essentially turns the dish into aloo palak! "Aloo" is the Hindi word for potato while "palak" (as in palak paneer, the well-known spinach and paneer cheese dish) means spinach.

So let's first start with the ingredients that you'll need to make aloo palak:

1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and 1/2" dice)
1 block of frozen chopped spinach (by all means, use fresh spinach as a substitute is possible)
1 medium can diced tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons of minced fresh ginger
1/4 of a red onion (small dice)
Cilantro leaves from about 10 stems (chopped)
2 teaspoons coriander powder
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 1/2 tablespoons of turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chili powder (cayenne is also acceptable)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1/2 cup coconut milk
Salt to taste

Start off by cooking the ginger and onions in a hot, oiled skillet for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and continue stirring for about 30 seconds. Next, add the potatoes plus all the spices and stir the mixture well so that the spices coat everything in the skillet. Pour in about 1/2 cup of water , stir again, turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until the potatoes become tender. Every five minutes or so, stir the contents of the skillet and add a little water if the pan gets too dry. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the spinach, the coconut milk and season with salt. Just before serving, add the chopped cilantro. As a companion to the dish, you can serve with with warm naan bread or roti paratha.

For anyone interested to learn more about Indian cuisine, one of the best cooking books on the subject is 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer.

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