SRILA PRABHUPADA called pan-fried potatoes "dry potatoes," and they were one of his favorite vegetable dishes. He might ask for them any time, from breakfast to late-night supper. We typically served him capatis or puris with these crispy potato nuggets, which are succulent inside and fragrant with aromatic seasonings. Newcomers to dry potatoes might try them with sourdough toast, whole-grain toast, or thin-sliced rye toast.
In India, dry-textured potato dishes take on many regional faces. In the north, they might consist of pan-fried diced vegetables laced with toasted cumin, crushed chilies, and a sprinkle of turmeric. In the east, black cumin seeds and cassia are typical seasonings. In the west, a sprinkle of lime juice, minced cilantro, and refined sugar might round off flavors. In the south, grated coconut and fresh curry leaves would likely find their way into many versions.
Everyday Dry-textured Vegetables
While dry-textured potatoes are an enduring favorite in India, several other vegetables lend themselves to the technique. If you want fresh new ways to prepare everyday okra, eggplant, cauliflower, summer squash, or green beans, take a look at the dry-textured vegetable section in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine. How about trying Okra Supreme, Spiced Green Beans, or Summer Squash and Green Peas? Or how about Spicy Cauliflower with Braised Tomatoes, or Crispy Diced Eggplant with Toasted Fenugreek Seeds?
If you don't have some of the seasonings recommended in the recipes, use a few of the everyday ones recommended in my last column: turmeric, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fresh herbs, and crushed hot chilies. Follow the procedures and techniques in the recipes, but simplify the seasonings and let them breathe to suit your family's tastes.
Techniques for Low-fat Cooking
Today more and more people are interested in healthy eating. Eating more vegetables not only makes meals more interesting; it's a vital part of good nutrition. It's an ideal way to fill up and not out, provided you keep added fats to a minimum.
Since writing Lord Krishna's Cuisine, I have greatly cut down the fat I use in cooking. It's easy to reduce the suggested amount of ghee or oil in dry-textured vegetable recipes going from 4 or 5 tablespoons to as little as 2 or 3 teaspoons provided you use quality heavy-bottomed nonstick cookware. Two new brands I can recommend are Meyer's Duralon and Farberware's Millennium, the former with a ten-year warranty and the latter with twenty years.
To reduce fat when following recipes, add sprinkles of water or cooking liquid to "water-fry" instead of "fat-fry" the vegetable, and when cooking in small pans use less heat and reduce the cooking times. Once you begin to reduce fat in your cooking, you'll enjoy the seasonings in a fresh way.
If you are following the cooking classes, make a few dry-textured potato dishes: Sesame Yogurt Potatoes, Baby Potatoes with Seasoned Tomato Sauce, and Crusty Potatoes with White Poppy Seeds (use almonds if you don't have white poppy seeds).
The recipes above can easily take center stage for a simple meal. Both are loosely based on creations prepared by Srila Prabhupada's early disciples Malati Dasi and Janaki Devi. It's easy to see why Prabhupada showed approval for the dishes.
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning books Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post.
Malati's Dry Potatoes with Cashews
Malati whipped up this terrific dish in a makeshift kitchen in Vrndavana, India. Her gift for creating masterpieces under the most trying conditions always enlivened me. Though she used cassia leaves, called tejpatta and available at India grocery stores, bay leaves work equally well.
2 pounds waxy red potatoes
1/3 cup dry-roasted cashew bits
1 cup cilantro leaves
½ cup water
1 ½ tablespoons unrefined corn oil
½ tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2-3 cassia or bay leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
Boil or steam the potatoes until they're fork-tender. Peel them and cut them into ¾-inch cubes. Place the cashews, cilantro, and water in a blender and puree.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the cumin and fennel seeds and toast them until they darken a few shades. Drop in the cassia or bay leaves, and within seconds add the potatoes. Pan-fry until the potatoes begin to brown. Pour in the cashew puree and fry a minute or so. Season with salt and pepper before offering to Krsna.
Janaki's Dry Potatoes
You have three options here: plain potatoes, potatoes folded into nonfat yogurt, or potatoes folded into sour cream.
1 ¾ pounds waxy new potatoes
1 tablespoon ghee or virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon crushed hot chilies
½ teaspoon turmeric
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons parsley
1/3 cup nonfat yogurt or sour cream (optional)
Boil or steam the potatoes until they're fork-tender. Cool, peel, and cut them into ½-inch pieces.
Heat the ghee or oil in a large nonstick skillet. When it is hot but not smoking, add the cumin and chilies and fry them until they darken slightly. Stir in the potatoes and turmeric, and pan-fry until lightly browned, adding sprinkles of water a few times. Season with salt and pepper. Before offering to Krsna, fold in the parsley and the optional yogurt or sour cream.