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Now, here is a month I can get behind. It’s the right season for potatoes, after all. But what to make, in celebration of the potato, both humble and mighty that it is?
Potatoes are actually mightily nutritious. While somewhat lacking in vitamin C, it must be said that in the northern European isles, potatoes were the primary source of vities for several hundred years.
Plus, they’re tasty. Nothing warm the heart like a giant pile of mashed taties and gravy.
I thought of potato gnocchi but again, I have to look pretty in a dress this month and that’s just not conducive. I thought of a plain ol’ baked potato, maybe with some of my family’s “secret sauce” (sour cream), but then I yawned.
I decided, finally, on this recipe by Food Network star Anne Burrell: potato –crusted halibut. Sounds divine, non?
Well, the potato, despite slicing perfectly on my mandolin, was quite tricky and the fish-scale method did not work (i.e. did not fold over properly). I had to improvise, to ensure that the potato would actually cover the halibut and stay put.
What to put on top? I considered a lemon–mustard–caper sauce but decided instead on rémoulade. Despite the fancy name, it was not the sauce for the dish, alas. Too rich. Nonetheless, it’s a good sauce, so … here’s a lovely rémoulade recipe but that’s not what I made. Didn’t have all of the ingredients, quite frankly, and again we’re all about improvisation here. So in my rémoulade (likely all wrong), I stirred together:
- 2 T minced sweet onion
- 2 T chopped capers
- 2 T chopped fresh parsley
- 1 1/2 T tarragon mustard (saves buying a whole bunch of tarragon)
- 1 splash sherry vinegar (probably 2 tsp)
- about 3/4 C half-fat mayo
- a blurp or two of Tabasco sauce (likely 1/2 tsp)
It needs to sit a bit to let the flavours blend. It was lovely. Especially the sherry vinegar. But see below.
On the whole, the dish was tasty. I actually found the rémoulade quite overpowering; ended up scraping it off and was done with it. The fish was divine.
When I saw that today was dedicated to both potatoes and hot spicy food, one dish immediately came to mind – Aloo Gobi. It is a fabulous vegetable curry of potatoes, cauliflower, and onions in a sauce spiced with garam masala, ginger and garlic. Like so many dishes that have graced tables for several generations, there are too many recipes to count. Words like authentic and traditional have little meaning anymore. Everyone’s mother, grandmother or favourite restaurant has added their own unique twist on “tradition.”
In my Northern BC home, the word “vegetarian” was loaded with negative connotations – of bland food and of skinny, pasty-complexioned hippies. I have little doubt that they already knew about the amazing world of Indian spices, but these were flavours still unknown to me and that I would not be exposed to until I had left my hometown. What I know now is that when it comes to vegetarian cuisine, Indians have knocked it out of the park. Unlike my earlier visions of cardboard flavoured meals that satisfied neither the stomach nor the soul, I now relish the heartiness and crave the robust of flavours of many a vegetarian meal.
Aloo gobi is a great meal for many reasons aside from the fabulous flavours. For the inexperienced cook, it is easy to assemble. For the hurried cook, it is a one-pot meal finished in about 20 minutes. For the health conscious, it is light and cholesterol-free. For the spice-enthusiast it can be seasoned from mild to super-fire-hot. It can be eaten alone or with rice or with naan, topped with riata, chutney, crispy onions, raisins, etc. I like mine with chutney and crispy onions and a bit of naan bread for dipping.
Now comes the time when I have to admit that I didn’t make my own aloo gobi this time. I have all the ingredients in my fridge and I had every intention of whipping up a batch. However, after spending the better part of two hours sitting in traffic and another hour waiting for a service that should have taken 15 minutes, I was in no mood to serve, but rather to be served. The easy alternative was to order from one of my favourite Indian restaurants.
Now comes the plug for a great restaurant. Ashiana Tandoori on Kingsway in Vancouver. Ashiana has for several years now been ranked the third best Indian restaurant in the city by Vancouver Magazine, always trailing the well renowned Vij’s and sister eatery Rangoli. The owners at Ashiana seem okay with their ranking. Vij’s is arguably one of the best dining experiences in North America after all. Rankings aside, the food at Ashiana is brilliant. For the purposes of this blog, we ordered the Aloo Gobi and vegetable samosa (another amazing use for potatoes). In the past, we’ve had the Fish Curry and the Lamb Nawabi and loved both. The garlic naan was great and the chicken pakora was also wonderful. My absolute favourite Indian restaurant is in a nearby suburb. It’s a family run business in our old North Burnaby neighbourhood called Bombay Bhel. They produce the best Butter Chicken I have ever had and the Lamb Vindaloo is killer.
So back to potatoes and spicy food. I grew up with potatoes on the table for every meal. The tubers were ubiquitous. When I left home, potatoes were relegated to occasional side but I had never imagined them so full of flavour until I moved to Vancouver and was exposed to the wonders of Indian spices. So I say to you, mashed might be comforting, but aloo gobi is exhilarating. Make your potatoes exciting.
BTW… I tried this variation of Aloo Gobi by Michael Smith. It is made with sweet potatoes and I was really pleased with the results. Is it ironic that a chef from PEI is making aloo gobi without a PEI potato?