I’ve had a trip to India in the works for the past four years, but something always comes up that derails it. To tell the truth, I’m sure that the few weeks I have set aside to visit won’t be enough to see and eat everything I’d like to. I think I’d need another lifetime or two to even become reasonably familiar with the grand country. And so I am drawn to three resources each Indian person I meet has to share: their personal stories, which dishes feel like “home” to them, and where they go for the best Indian food in whatever town we’re both in at the time.
The stories told by Chitra Agrawal — founder of Indian condiments line, Brooklyn Delhi — on her blog The ABCD’s of Cooking are perfect examples of the intersection of those three resources. Chitra has put her stories and recipes into a cookbook named Vibrant India, and this week’s recipes for Potato Stir-Fry with Onion and Ginger and the accompanying Cilantro Coconut Chutney are from her book. You will definitely need to stop by a grocery selling Indian groceries to stock your pantry with a few of the items if you don’t regularly prepare Indian dishes, but once you have them, I’m sure you’ll keep coming back to these wonderful flavors. —Kristina
Why Chitra loves this recipe: I like the contrast between the refreshing and crisp lettuce leaf and the buttery and soft potato curry — the coconut chutney brings it all together. I first made this recipe for a dinner I hosted at Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village. I came up with the idea to take advantage of the abundance of butter lettuce at the farmer’s market at the time. For that dinner I added sweet potatoes to the usually savory potato curry served with a dosa and topped it with a cilantro coconut chutney. It was a huge hit, and from then on I started to serve it as an appetizer when I catered events.
Food photography: Erin Scott | Portrait: Alana Lowe
Potato Stir-Fry with Onion and Ginger
This is the special potato palya or potato stir-fry that is used to fill a masala dosa. I actually serve it on its own quite a bit as well. The potatoes are spicy and tangy and cooked until they are soft enough to melt in your mouth. I’ve served this palya many different ways for the events I’ve hosted. I’ve put them inside a butter lettuce leaf with cilantro coconut chutney for a spin on Asian lettuce wraps and in vegan enchiladas.
You can also substitute steamed sweet potato, which also makes a wonderful dumpling filling. These potatoes are perfect as a side to eggs, too.
— 3 medium red or Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed (about 1 1⁄2 pounds)
— 1 teaspoon salt
— 2 tablespoons mild-flavored oil such as canola, plus more as needed
— 1 tablespoon ghee or unsalted butter
— 1⁄2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
— Pinch of asafetida (hing) powder
— 1⁄2 teaspoon chana dal
— 1⁄2 teaspoon urad dal
— 4 or 5 fresh curry leaves
— 2 teaspoons peeled, grated fresh ginger
— 1 Indian green chile or serrano chile, chopped
— 1 medium yellow onion, diced
— 1⁄4 teaspoon turmeric powder
— 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed
— 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
Place the potatoes in a pot and add water to cover by 2 inches. Add the salt to the water and boil over medium-high heat until the potatoes are cooked through and tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them cool. When cool, coarsely chop the potatoes into bite-size pieces.
Put the oil and ghee in a wok or large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add one black mustard seed. When the seed sizzles and pops, add the rest of the mustard seeds and asafetida. Keep a lid handy to cover the pan while the mustard seeds are popping. When the popping starts to subside (a few seconds), immediately add the chana dal and urad dal. Stir to coat with oil, and turn the heat to medium-low. Continue to stir the dals so they evenly roast, until they turn a reddish golden brown and smell nutty, less than a minute. Rub the curry leaves between your fingers a little to release their natural oils, and drop them, the ginger, and green chile into the oil. Cover immediately, as moisture from the curry leaves will cause the oil to spatter. Then stir to evenly coat everything with oil and continue to fry until the ginger and chile are less raw, 10 to 15 seconds.
Add the onion and turmeric powder to the pan. Turn the heat to medium. Mix well and cook until the onion is softened and translucent. Mix in the potato and stir-fry until they start to become soft and mashable. If the pan is getting dry, add a little oil. Turn off the heat. Mix in the lemon juice and cilantro. Taste for lemon juice and salt and adjust if needed before serving.
Cilantro Coconut Chutney
Makes 2 cups
This is the chutney I make most often. Coconut chutney (pictured in bowl far left, below) is the quintessential South Indian condiment. My mother would usually make her coconut chutney with cilantro leaves, as opposed to the more traditional mint leaves. Like her, I am a huge cilantro fan and enjoy any recipe where it has a starring role. It is usually served with idlis, dosas, or fried appetizers but is equally delicious on a sandwich or just mixed with hot rice.
This recipe is essentially two chutney recipes in one, because if you are short on time, you can skip the last step of frying the spices in oil. The majority of the chutneys made in our family use roasted chana dal to give the chutney body and creamy texture, but you can substitute blanched almonds or leave them out for a perfectly tasty chutney. I have also made this recipe with basil leaves or a mixture of mint and cilantro leaves.
Serve with dosa or idli, or as a condiment with any meal. It also goes great on sandwiches, tacos, or eggs and is a perfect accompaniment to appetizers like shisito pepper bhagj or lettuce dosa wrap.
— 3⁄4 cup unsweetened grated coconut (fresh, frozen, or dried)
— 3 tablespoons roasted chana dal (chana dalia)*
— 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
— 2 or 3 Indian green chiles or serrano chiles, stems removed
— 1⁄2 small red onion or 1 shallot, quartered
— 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup water, or more as needed
— 2 cups packed cilantro leaves and thin stems
— 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed
— 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
— 1⁄4 cup plain yogurt
— 1 teaspoon mild-flavored oil such as canola
— 1⁄2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
— Pinch of asafetida (hing) powder
— 1⁄2 teaspoon urad dal
— 3 fresh curry leaves
— 1 dried red chile, broken in half
*If you have chana dal that is not roasted, you can soak it in hot water for 15 minutes. Otherwise, use blanched almonds or almond flour or leave it out.
Thaw frozen coconut or place dried coconut in a little hot water to plump it up.
In a blender, first grind the roasted chana dal to a powder. Then add the ginger, green chiles, onion, and coconut. Grind, adding as little of the water as possible, just enough to get the blades moving. Next add the cilantro, lemon juice, and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt. Add a little more of the water. Keep blending and scraping down the sides. The chutney is done when it reaches a creamy, pastelike consistency but still has some texture from the coconut. If you want a thinner consistency, add more water. At a low speed, add the yogurt and more salt if needed. Transfer the chutney to a bowl. (If you are short on time, you can serve the chutney as is.)
Put the oil in a tempering pot or small pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add one black mustard seed. When the seed sizzles and pops, add the rest of the mustard seeds and the asafetida. Keep a lid handy to cover the pan while the mustard seeds are popping. When the popping starts to subside (a few seconds), immediately add the urad dal. Stir to coat with oil, and turn the heat to medium-low. Continue to stir the dal so it evenly roasts, until it turns a reddish golden brown and smells nutty, less than a minute. Rub the curry leaves between your fingers a little to release their natural oils, and drop them and the dried red chile into the oil. Cover immediately, as moisture from the curry leaves will cause the oil to spatter. Then stir to evenly coat everything with oil, a few seconds. Turn off the heat.
Immediately pour the oil and spices over the chutney. To get all of the oil out of the pan, put a spoonful or two of the chutney into the pan, stir, and spoon it back into the bowl. Taste for salt and lemon juice and adjust as needed.
The chutney is best served fresh but will last a few days in the refrigerator. If you refrigerate the chutney, it will thicken up; just mix in a little water or lemon juice to return it to the right consistency.
Reprinted with permission from Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn by Chitra Agrawal, copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
About Chitra: Chitra Agrawal is the founder of Brooklyn Delhi, an award-winning Indian condiments line. Since 2009, she has been serving, writing about, and teaching her family’s vegetarian recipes from India with a slant on seasonality and local ingredients. Chitra writes the popular recipe blog The ABCDs of Cooking, teaches vegetarian Indian cooking classes at Brooklyn Kitchen, Brooklyn Brainery, and Whole Foods, and hosts pop-up dinners throughout New York City with creative Indian-inspired menus. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Food & Wine, Saveur, Zagat, and others. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Follow Chitra on Instagram here, and Brooklyn Delhi here. On Twitter, find Chitra here, and Brooklyn Delhi here. Interact with Brooklyn Delhi on their Facebook page, here.