Dum aloo is true Kashmiri Pandit cuisine in that it takes a humble root vegetable, applies bucket loads of oils, yoghurt and spices and then employs time as the chief ingredient to cook all of that down to a ridiculously rich end result.
Cooked three times, dum aloo potatoes are all about tender innards, and a texturally meaty spicy gravy that takes its flavour from the warm and earthy Kashmiri spice tradition that favours aniseed, garam masala and ginger powder.
Just like with tandoori cooking, a traditional dum or oven imparts an extra flavour X factor that can’t be reproduced on a stovetop, but cooking the dish in a heavy-based pan will help to ensure caramelisation when the yoghurt, oil and spices split and reduce.
Maybe it’s because dum aloo is so rich that it never formed part of our weekly roster of meals growing up. Instead, dum aloo has been a staple at all of our family weddings, where Hindu tradition dictates that the lighting of the sacred marriage flame demands a vegetarian, alcohol-free diet on the wedding day.
Dum aloo is suitably festive, without breaking religious stricture by employing animal products. (Indian faith traditions like Hinduism don’t consider dairy animal by-products, though eggs are out.)
Suitably, Dad made this dish the central pivot of my own New Delhi wedding banquet back in the year 2000. That the same chefs who cooked at my wedding prepared dum aloo 19 years later at my dad’s funeral havan is the kind of full circle emotional food journey that I love.
I make dum aloo when I have an appetite for meat but when I similarly understand that, sometimes, my body really wants and craves a dose of vegetables.
This is deeply satisfying from start to finish.
Love this story? You can follow the author via Instagram @sarina_kamini. Photography, styling and food preparation by Sarina Kamini.
Kashmiri triple-cooked spiced potato (dum aloo)
Dum aloo is a potato sabzi (vegetable curry) that employs the Kashmiri culinary triplicate of mustard oil, yoghurt and asafoetida in a rich, multi-process cook that relies on the beautiful execution of simple methods. It is a festive dish that is often served and eaten at weddings and special occasions.
- 700 g chat or baby potatoes, skin on
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 1 cup mustard oil
- 5 tbsp mustard oil
- 4 tbsp yoghurt, heaped
- 2 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp aniseed powder
- 1 ½ tsp ginger powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- Pinch of asafoetida
- 6 black cardamom pods, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 clove buds
- 2 tsp fine pink salt
- Fill a medium-sized pot with water and boil on high heat. When boiling add in the baby potatoes and cook with the lid off until just tender so that a fork poked into a potato will meet little resistance, but will not break the potato apart. About 12 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool.
- Once cool, gently peel the potatoes. With a thin skewer, poke two to three holes in each potato to enable it to take on the spice.
- Heat a heavy-based, deep pot or cast-iron wok with two cups vegetable oil and one cup mustard oil until very hot, so that the potato immediately sizzles as it hits the oil. Fry the potatoes in small batches until deep golden brown, moving them gently through the oil so as to not break them apart. A crust should form on the outside of the potato. Drain potatoes of oil on a paper towel and set aside. Once the fried potatoes are cooled slightly, use a skewer again to pole two to three holes in each potato.
- In a separate, medium-sized heavy-based pot heat five tbsp of mustard oil on high.
- While the mustard oil is heating, mix together the yoghurt and red chilli powder in a small bowl and add to the hot oil. It will spatter, so be careful to step back. Stir the yoghurt, chilli and oil mix briskly until it splits. About one minute.
- Still, on high heat, add water and stir well. Add the rest of the spices and lettuce yoghurt, oil, water and spices keep cooking at a boil for one minute or until stirred through. Add the fried potatoes, turn the heat down to medium-low and keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is almost dry and the oil separates. This should take around 20 minutes. If you are having trouble with the potato sticking, turn the heat down further and take more time to reduce the liquid.
- Remove from the stovetop and serve hot with rice and dal, or chapati and pickle.
• Mustard oil and asafoetida can be found in all Indian and most Asian grocers.