The wonderful thing about this simple potato and tomato dish – which is typical of northern India – is that I associate it with childhood picnics when I was growing up in Delhi. It's an ancient city filled with monuments, and there was a spot in the lovely gardens of the Qutub Minar tower where we would go to have big picnics. As children we went there and sat and opened all the packages put together by the women of the house, who had spent all day preparing dishes such as this one. They were all packed neatly in tiffin carriers, which we would heat up in the picnic grounds, and then eat with pickles and poori (deep-fried puffy bread).
To me this meal still symbolises the joy of being free. It reminds me of a time when we could do what we wanted, and play all the games we wanted in the fresh air. But it has a double joy, because I also associate it with the illicit thrill of food from the bazaars. As a rule we weren't allowed to eat food from the bazaars because it was considered unclean, but on Sunday mornings my father would allow my mother to send our driver to buy a bread dish ready-cooked from the bazaars, and this potato dish would come with it free.
The dish relies on a very simple method of cooking, which is typical of northern India, and which can be made without heat (for children) or with heat. For me, it represents the transition from being a little child unable to eat hot food to being older and eating hot food for the first time. And don't forget to add a pinch of asafoetida, a powder with a truffle-like smell, which gives the dish its deep aroma.
6 medium, waxy potatoes (about 600g)
3tbsp olive or other vegetable oil
Pinch of ground asafoetida
1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp fennel seeds
1tsp fenugreek seeds
3 whole, dried, red hot chillies
About 3 medium-sized tomatoes, grated on the largest holes of a grater
1tsp very finely grated, fresh, peeled ginger
1tsp salt, or to taste
Boil the potatoes in their skins and allow to cool. Peel.
Put the oil in a wide, medium pan and set over a medium-high heat. When hot, put in first the asafoetida, then the cumin and finally the fennel, fenugreek and chillies together. Two seconds later, add the grated tomatoes and ginger. Stir-fry until the tomatoes turn a deep red, turning down the heat as the cooking progresses so nothing burns. Add 350ml water.
Now break the potatoes by hand into pieces that are, very roughly, -inch cubes. They will all be different shapes, but that adds to the charm of the dish.
Add the potato cubes to the pan together with the salt, then stir and bring to a boil.
Cover, turn heat to low and cook gently for 12-15 minutes, stirring now and again. Serve immediately.
Madhur Jaffrey's latest book is 'Curry Easy' (Ebury Press, £20). Her recipes feature in 'My Kitchen Table' app, coming soon, free to download from the Apple app storeReuse content