Come to think of it, it was the very first vegetable I learned to handle and cook to perfection. The very one that I turned to when I stepped out of my parents' house. That still hasn't changed, actually. It remains the vegetable of choice almost all seven days, in this house. When I am happy. Or too bored to cook. Especially when I am down. And on other occasions when there's barely anything in the house.
Today, though, I am somewhere in between intense nostalgia and a celebratory mood. It's one of those days when I truly wish we were close-by to bring in the festival of Raksha Bandhan with cousins, siblings, uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents. To cook, cheer and laugh together around my maternal grandmother, Nanima's, modular table in Central Mumbai. Amid steaming plates of sweet coconut rice, a delicious medley of seasonal vegetables, alongside hot-off-the-griddle-phulkas, grandmother's lentil specialty -- ambat varan -- atop mounds of fragrant plain rice and clarified butter.
And at the heart of it all, my family's favorite. Piping batata-wada's. Or mashed potatoes that are first mushed into a verdant paste of chilies, cilantro, ginger and garlic, only to be thrown (for some more brightening) over chopped onions, seasoned with a tiny bit of sunny turmeric, lots of lemon juice and the freshest of curry leaves from the green grocer down the street. Then to be molded into little spheres of delectable goodness by an aunt or my grandmother, lightly rolled around in a comely yellow batter of chickpeas and fried in hot oil until a crispy reddish-brown.
So, to celebrate those who are with me, those who aren't, and especially for my special spud who has withstood being chopped, mashed and cored at my hands, I turn to my great grandmother's recipe for battered-fried potatoes that has been passed along quite a few generations and one that I hope my great grandchildren will celebrate as much as I do.
Nothing short of heirloom would do for the potato and I, today.
In case you see a golden beauty or two missing from this post, they are most probably having quite the "ball" with the rest of the brethren, distant cousins, uncles and aunts at http://madteaparty.wordpress.com/2008/08/15/its-all-coming-together/.
♣ Heirloom Batata Wadas
3 large potatoes, boiled and mashedTo be ground to a fine paste:
1/2 of a largish red-onion, finely chopped
A dozen very fresh curry leaves or kadipatta
1/4th tsp of turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1/4th tsp of sugar
Juice of half-a-lemon
A tiny pinch of mustard seeds
A dash of hing or asafoetida
Peanut oil for frying + 2 tablespoons
A handful of cilantroFor the batter
4-5 hot green chilies
5-6 garlic cloves, peeled
3/4th inch ginger
About two fistfuls of gram flour/besanRecipe:
1/4th teaspoon of salt, chili and turmeric powder, each, for seasoning
A tight pinch of baking soda
1/3 cup of water
Place the potatoes in a microwave safe bowl with about a third-of a cup of water, cover with a lid or plate and microwave on high for about 9-12 minutes. Alternately, pressure cook the potatoes for a good three to four whistles until wonderfully soft.
While the spuds are getting ready for their big day in the oil cauldron, grind all the ingredients for the fine paste in the mixing-bowl of your food processor. Then chop the onion into a comely fine dice, wash the curry leaves and dab dry with tissue and set the two aside on a plate.
Once the potatoes are done, quickly peel and mush with the tines of a fork. Remove a tablespoon of the ground (chili, cilantro, garlic, ginger) paste, and then mix in the rest with the potatoes.
Now in a medium-sized saute pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil and into it sprinkle the hing and throw in the mustard seeds. As soon as the seeds pop, dump in the curry leaves followed by the onions in quick succession and stir around until the onions start blushing a rosy pink and turns slightly translucent on you. Spoon in turmeric, the tablespoon of ground paste you had set aside earlier, salt and sugar and give it a quick whirl or two before harmonizing with the potatoes. Quickly remove on to a waiting plate and squeeze over half-a-lemon. Once the potato mixture is near room temperature, mix in the lemon juice using your hands and also fish out the curry leaves.
Then, pluck portions and mold into equal-sized balls and set aside. My mother-in-law likes to keep the wadas overnight in the fridge before battering and deep-frying them. I find that they do hold together very well this way.
But, if you can't wait to get the dang frying done and bite into them wadas, pour peanut oil to cover a small wok a fourth of the way up. While the oil heats up, whisk in all the ingredients for the batter. Check to see if the oil is hot -- a small drop of batter should come running to the top as soon as it hits the oil -- take as many wadas as your wok will accommodate, coat them thinly
with the batter and carefully slide in the oil.
About 15 seconds in, start swishing them around deliberately with a spider or slotted spoon so that they turn evenly reddish-brown all over. Remove onto a wire rack (absolutely fantastic and essential for everything deep fried) and smuggle in some lovelies for the gullet. Two at a time. Or depending on how much your mouth can accommodate at one go.