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Tuesday 31 January 2012

Spice School: Simple Potato Curry

I know. No sugar. Do not readjust your screens: DDD has gone savoury!

Dish Name: Simple Potato Curry
Spice: Mustard Seeds
Level: Tiffinwalla

With those pesky lamingtons out of the way for another year, I am free to shout from the roof tops about the real excitement going on this January: Spice School is finally underway!

I have had to keep this fairly quiet recently (though credit is due to the more eagle eyed among you who noticed me add the little tab up there in the menu a few weeks ago), and am so happy to be writing the first proper post about Delicious Delicious Delicious and Ko Rasoi's collaborative series. You can read all about it here, but the short version is this: Sanjana is teaching me how to become a Spice Guru. Over the next 12 months, we're going to cover the basics (and beyond!) of Indo-Vegetarian cuisine, and I am so excited about it I'm semi-palpitating.


I hope you at home reading follow along (or even cook) with us and get as much out of this as we do. You have no idea how long we've been wanting to do this, and the both of us really want you to enjoy it.

So, the first assignment for Spice School uses mustard seeds and is called Simple Potato Curry. I should say up front that I was a little disappointed when I read its title. I'd imagined that this project would have me grappling with far more complex dishes than this (not that it tastes 'simple', mind you). However, as it happened, I had such a busy few days last week that the time I'd planned to devote to my first assignment had to be put to, ahem, let's say 'other uses' (basically, ironing - the pile of shirts in the corner was starting to resemble Kilimanjaro, thanks to Mr. Other P who wears shirts socially as well as to the office). I ended up with a scant hour and a half on Monday afternoon to shop, cook and photograph this curry, but managed it with ease. And actually, this is exactly what I wanted to get out of Spice School. I asked Sanjana to teach me to cook Indian food; that doesn't mean only complicated, elaborate and involved Indian dishes (though I suspect they're on their way!). Despite being rushed off my feet, I still managed to get a richly spiced, sprightly, tomato-based curry on the table in under thirty minutes, and learn a few new tricks in the process. I'd say that was not bad going for first attempt.

Mustard seeds aren't new to me; I make a great salad from time to time of shredded carrots, chopped cucumbers and lemon juice, with oil and mustard seeds. It's pretty special, but in this curry, the mustard seeds really are the star. Their rounded spiciness is carried all the way through the slightly sour tomato gravy and accented by the cumin which is added after the hot oil has caused the mustard seeds to pop and release their beautiful fragrance. I know I sound like a bad wine critic, but it's true: this is a really fragrant, spicy curry (though not overly hot, so don't be afraid, Chilli Fearers). I'll definitely be making it again.

Some things I learned from my first assignment:
  • Preparation is essential - chopping everything only took about three or four minutes, but once the mustard seeds start popping there's not long before they start to burn. Having your spices to hand, and garlic and chilli ready to go will mean everything runs smoothly.
  • Cooking each spice until you can smell them before adding the next - for example, adding the cumin after the mustard seeds have burst, and waiting to add the garlic and chili until you can smell the cumin - is important. There's no stock used in this dish to add flavour. Everything is natural, so making sure the spices are properly cooked is essential.
  • Crushing some of the potatoes and returning them to the curry to thicken it is the idea of a genius. It worked perfectly, and the texture of the dish was fantastic.
And now the confession that no student ever wants to make to their teacher - that I didn't follow the instructions exactly as they were written. I couldn't find any red chillies in my local Indian shop and didn't want to make a shopping expedition out of it, so I replaced the chopped red chilli with a long, green finger chilli. Which I didn't even chop; I just pricked it with a fork a few times and left it whole.
In a further display of arrogance and my inability to accept authority, I think I may have added slightly more ginger than required. I think I just love my microplane grater too much. It still tasted wonderful though, despite my rule breaking...
(Sorry, Sanjana - I hope this doesn't mean I fail!)
So that's it. First assignment done and dusted. I'm already looking forward to next month's, and hope you come back to see how I do. And of course, if you make this recipe yourself, let Sanjana and me know how you liked it. Because you surely will!
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Simple Potato Curry
You will need:
1.2kg potatoes, cut into 1-inch dices
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp asafoetida (optional)
1 tbsp concentrated tomato puree
½ tsp cumin seeds
500g chopped tomatoes (fresh or tinned)
½ tsp turmeric
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1 tbsp fresh red chilli, chopped finely
1 large clove garlic, crushed
400ml hot water
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Handful fresh coriander, chopped
  • Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan (one that has a lid – you will need it later). Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop. Next, add the cumin seeds, asafoetida, ginger, chilli and garlic.
  • Add the tomato puree, chopped tomatoes, salt, sugar, turmeric, and hot water. Bring to the boil.
  • Add the potatoes and stir to combine. Place a lid on top of the curry and turn the heat down. Allow to gently simmer for around 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  • Remove the lid and place 1/8 of the curry into a bowl. Mash the potatoes with a fork and return to the rest of the curry. This will thicken the sauce and give the dish a great finish. Garnish with freshly chopped coriander and serve.


  1. what a lovely idea... you are so lucky and yes I will follow along with glee... such a pretty picture too... you clever boy!

  2. I love the picture at the top! I just posted mine. Even though I'm not a big fan of the spud, I liked it. I think it was the mustard seeds. http://marymaryculinary.blogspot.com/2012/01/spice-school-course-in-masala-mischief.html

  3. Woohoo! I just found your blog (and love it!) and would really love to learn how to cook Indian food from scratch! Thanks for the awesome recipe and the tips!

  4. Dom - and with ghee as well, I hope?

    Mary - hopping on to check you out right now.

    Grace - join in! Leave your post in the comments and we'll check it out.

  5. Lovely! Indian food is so delicious and fun to make. I was actually just telling a friend that I don't know as much as I'd like about the spices - how timely! This sounds great and I can't wait to see what else you post :)

  6. Gorgeous blog!
    I will follow you with pleasure.
    Hope to see you in my kitchen soon :)
    Good day!


That's what he said.

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