My Uncle’s best friend, Dipudada, lived in the house right opposite ours, and his mother used to consider me to be one of the family. Every year, I would go over for Rakhi or Bhai Fota, after a long bout of fasting, and sit opposite him, finishing the rituals bred into my system from a very tender age. My Aunt would bring out thick puris with bowls of gorgeous vegetable curries. They were vegetarians, you see. My brother would sometimes eat eggs, but otherwise they preferred eating food which would be devoid of garlic and onions mostly. It is in this household where I would spend a considerable part of my childhood reading books – I was an inveterate book reader, and his house was a treasure trove of beautiful books.
Out of all the vegetable dishes I would eat at their place, one was my perennial favorite. I would look forward to it every time there was an occasion at their place, and sure enough, it would be there on the menu. The cook cum housekeeper, Loha Raam, would make it in the kitchen, mumbling slowly about the growing prices of vegetables, and I would watch him cook. The slower his mumble, the faster his fingers would work. And as I watched, dish after dish were on the process of being made. The recipe I have today is what he taught me by cooking the dish in front of me.
The Rassewala Aloo is a simple enough dish. Start by boiling 500 gm. potatoes, kept preferably whole. Once the potatoes are soft, peel them and then roughly smash them into big and small pieces while hot. Set aside. If possible, keep the water in which the potatoes were boiled aside.
Chop 300 gm. tomatoes. Heat a thick-bottomed vessel and add a tablespoon of refined oil. Once the oil heats up, add to that 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin, a big pinch of hing (asafoetida), and 3-4 whole dry red chillies. Let the chillies splutter. Add the tomatoes, chopped, and stir well. Cook over high heat for a minute, then reduce heat and simmer the tomatoes for 3-4 minutes, or until soft.
Mix together a teaspoon of turmeric powder (haldi), a teaspoon of chilli powder (kashmiri mirch works too), a teaspoon of coriander (dhaniya) powder and half a teaspoon of dry mango powder (amchur) with 1/2 cup water. Pour this in the pan with the tomatoes.
Add the potatoes and a cup of water. Stir thoroughly, breaking up any extra-large lumps. Let the potatoes cook for 10 minutes. Add a handful of chopped cilantro (coriander leaves, dhaniya patta) and let the potatoes cook for a few minutes more. Add salt at the last moment, and remove from heat.
I love eating this with puris, but somehow, my mother likes it with rice. Jeera Rice to be precise. But that’s another post.