Saturday, February 07, 2009

Enlightened Taste: Aloo Bonda

Nita and Raj, our Indian cooking guides from Casa Italia in Sarasota Florida.

A plate of Aloo Bonda accompanied by Cilantro Chutney.

Enlightenment comes when you least expect it. It came to me recently in the form of taste. My guide, a lovely women named Nita, standing at the head of a stainless steel table, is conducting an Indian cooking class. Raj, her devoted assistant and husband, stands nearby watching over the simmering pots. We roll across the Indian landscape as she explains India’s exotic aroma and tastes. All this in the confines of an Italian market.

Nita and Raj own Casa Italia in Sarasota, they carry many classic Italian favorites including a special autumnal first pressing of olive oil called Picolo Molino. Once the oil is sold, there is no more until next year. Every Thursday, Nita prepares Indian meals and offers them “to go”. From what I have heard, people wait in line for a taste of her home made dishes.

In short, Nita’s classes follow a tradition in the history of Casa Italia. Italian cooking classes have long been a feature at the store, most recently taught by Gulliano Hazan, son of cookbook author Marcella Hazan. Nita teaches in a way that lifts the veil of mystery and intimidation, of Indian cuisine. My misconceptions of “exotic” washed away as the pleasure of bright fresh flavors filled my senses.

By the time the class is finished, doors to culinary thinking open for me, revealing new methods and flavors. Enlightenment is to awaken.

Nita has graciously allowed me to publish her taste bud awakening recipe for “Aloo Bonda” Savoury Potato Dumplings. Here it is.

Sometimes the potato dumplings come out looking like little sputniks. This was a favorite among the class.

Aloo Bonda (Savoury Potato Dumplings)
serves 4-6

1 lb potatoes
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp garam masala
1 tsp amchoor powder
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbs finely chopped cilantro
1 tbs finely chopped jalapeño pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 tbs finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tbs lemon juice

for the batter
1 cup gram flour (besan)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp baking powder
approx 1 cup water.

1. Boil the potatoes in their jackets until tender. Drain and let them cool. When cool, peel and coarsely mash them. Transfer to a wide bowl and add peas and all the dry spices, ginger, jalapño and lemon juice. Mix well, making sure all the spices are evenly distributed.

2. Make small balls, about 1 inch across, and keep in a plate. Cover with plastic wrap.

3 Sieve gram flour into a bowl and add salt, cayenne pepper and baking powder. Mix thoroughly. Now gradually add water to make a thick batter.

4. In a deep frying pan, heat enough oil to be about 2 inches deep. When hot, dip one potato ball at a time in the batter and carefully drop it in hot oil. Put enough balls to fill the pan in a single layer. Turn heat to medium and fry bondas till golden brown. Drain well and serve with cilantro chutney.

Cilantro Chutney:
serves 6
2 cups chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 fresh hot green chili or j jalapeño pepper
1 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1–4 tbs water

1) Blend all ingredients in a food processor until you have a smooth paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
2) Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Note: all the spices here can be adjusted for personal preference. This recipe is lively and your mouth will wake up to the zing of spices.

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