Saturday, September 24, 2005

Aloo Gobi Dreams

There is a fine establishment near my office called Naan and Beyond. Its hokey name tempted me in, but the aloo gobi made me come back. It arrives in a Styrofoam container, shrouded in plastic wrap, leaking turmeric-orange oil. This potato-and-cauliflower curry is available as a standard offering at many Indian restaurants, but Naan serves it only sporadically. I have begged for it to be added to the regular rotation, but the man behind the counter (he has the look of a Wu-Tang pirate--gold teeth, a shaved head, and a large gold hoop in his ear) always pointedly ignores me and calls for the next customer.

My efforts to recreate this wonder at home met with mixed success at first. My early batches were woefully heart-healthy, and thus rather dull. The solution, I soon learned, is oil and salt. But mostly oil. After some experimentation, I settled on a mix of corn oil and peanut oil. The reason you must re-create the Exxon-Valdez spill in your kitchen (minus adorable oily ducks) is that most of the oil gets soaked up by the potatoes.

Once you embrace oil, the rest is easy. Don't be alarmed by the large quantity of spices. As far as I can tell, obscenely profligate use of spice is what distinguishes a good Indian cooking amateur from a bad one.


Aloo Gobi
loosely based on Naan and Beyond's secret recipe

In an oversize skillet or dutch oven, warm over medium-high heat:
4 tablespoons corn oil (or other flavorless veggie oil)
3 tablespoons peanut oil

1 large onion, diced (I usually use vidalia, but any old onion will do)

Fry the onion until it is fairly soft, but not brown. Turn the heat to high and add:
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 generous tablespoons garam masala
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 or 3 small fresh chiles, minced (my supermarket calls them Thai peppers). They look like this:

Fry the spices until they smell good, say, a minute and a half. Add:
1 or 2 lbs. new potatoes, washed and quartered
1 head of cauliflower, broken into large florets

Stir to coat the potatoes and cauliflower in the spices. They should be quickly dyed bright orange. Then put the lid on, turn the heat to medium-low, and wait. I find that the cooking time varies a lot. You want the whole dish to be tender, but the cauliflower shouldn't disintegrate when you stir. Maybe 30 minutes. If the pan gets too dry and the veggies start to burn, add a smidge of water. Be careful, though. Soupy aloo gobi is foul.

I usually eat this as a side, with other Indian dishes and rice. But it's good with whatever protein you have on hand, as well.

Yours won't be as good as Naan and Beyond. No one's is. But it'll be good.

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