Dum Aloo: Whole Potatoes in Spicy Yogurt Gravy

I'm leaving my comfort zone and hoping to release my inner Gandhi, with a little help from Julie SahniToday I'll make some Indian food...at home. This is a giant culinary leap.
I've been cooking for a few years now and for some reason nothing makes me more nervous (in the kitchen) than cooking Indian food. Okay, that's a bit hyperbolic. There are more serious things that make me nervous in the kitchen. Say, for example, having another burn incident (courtesy of a butternut squash and apple soup) or a knife slippage accident (courtesy of panzanella). Ouch!
But making my own Indian food is definitely something that has caused me to pause and required me to harness a good deal of self confidence. The food consumed by over 1 billion people has intimidated me, until now.
I know many seasoned cooks who have also shied away from making even the most basic sub-continent dishes. But why? Is it the cumin, mustard or coriander seeds? The ghee? The quintessential Indian spice--garam masala--that scares them away? Or is it the fear that the stews, sauces, and soups take way too much time and effort?
Maybe it's all of the above. Maybe it's the combination of unfamiliar ingredients and the fact that Indian food seems very complex to make at home.
But I feel like I've been missing out. Indian food has some of the most varied vegetarian options in the world and it's also one of my most favorite cuisines. Yet for years I have stubbornly refused to make it in my own kitchen, opting for Delhi Palace or Rasoi buffets instead. 
Thank goodness for Julie Sahni. She is one of the premiere cooking instructors for Indian food and some of her books are in their 42nd edition. She's pretty serious. I decided to start with her recipe for Whole Potatoes in a Spicy Yogurt Gravy (Dum Aloo).  Malai kofta, stuffed dosas and saag paneer will have to wait for another day...and a bit more self-confidence.  But until then  आप का खाना स्वादिष्ट हो (Bon Appetit)

Whole Potatoes in Spicy Yogurt Gravy, Dum Aloo (Courtesy of Julie Sahni: Classic Indian Cooking)
Serves 6-8 
12 even-sized small boiling potatoes, such as red wax (about 2 pounds)
7 tablespoons Indian vegetable shortening, or light vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (about 1 1/2 onions)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper (I went with 1/2)
1 teaspoon Mughal garam masala
2 cups chopped or pureed fresh tomatoes, or 1 cup canned tomato sauce (I pureed 1 cup of plain diced tomatoes)
2/3 cup plain yogurt
4 teaspoons Kosher salt
2/3 cup heavy cream

  1. Peel potatoes and prick them with a skewer or knife in 4 or 5 places.  Put them in a bowl of cold water until you are ready to cook them.
  2. Heat 5 tablespoons of shortening or oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  When the oil is very hot, drain the potatoes, pat them dry on paper towels (I used a clean dish cloth), and add.  Fry them until they acquire several tiny browned spots and a crust (about 8-10 minutes), turning and tossing them to ensure even browning.  *This is an essential step, as the browning prevents the potatoes' falling apart during prolonged cooking.*  With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a bowl.
  3. Add the rest of the shortening or oil to the pan along with the onions.  Fry until the onions turn caramel brown (about 15 minutes), stirring constantly so that they do not burn.  Add ginger, and fry for an additional 1/2 minute.  Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, red pepper, and garam masala all at once, and stir rapidly for 15 seconds.  Add tomatoes, yogurt, salt and the fried potatoes (in one layer), and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer very gently, covered, for 35 minutes or until the potatoes are fully cooked.   (Do not let the gravy stick and burn.  If the gravy looks thin and runny, increase heat and then reduce once desired consistency is achieved.  If the gravy is too thick, add a few tablespoons of water.
  4. Add cream, stir, and simmer until heated through.  Check for salt and serve. 
Note:  This dish improves with keeping.  For best results, make a few hours before you are going to serve it.  It can be refrigerated for up to 4 days without loss of flavor.

You can make another dish to serve alongside the potatoes such as lentils with garlic butter, mung beans with mustard seed, stir-fried Okra or salad.  I served it with some left-over sesame patties and yogurt with a side salad.  Delish!!
Looking for Spices? Many speciality stores have online ordering in case you are looking for spices that are hard to find in your neighborhood. Here in New York, Kalustyans is a great resource for spices, grains and nut purchases. You can also try Sahadi's on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, though they specialize primarliy in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean spices. I like the Patel Brothers location on 74th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens. Jackson Heights has the distinction of being the most diverse zip code on the planet (it's believed that 167 languages are spoken here) and you can find everything you need to prepare a fabulous Indian meal.