Indian Food Question

Yoo hoo, Tansu, tiggrl or anyone else who knows about Indian food and cooking. Tonight, in the process of cooking off some cauliflower, I decided to take a page from the Braised Cauliflower recipe that Tansu had submitted over at the recipe thread. I also had some cooked potato that I thought I’d add to the final mix.

An experimental idea that I have been mulling over for years involves making a potato salad using fried potatoes. A nice brown crust on them might enhance the overall flavor of the salad once the other ingredients are balanced correctly.

In a similar vein I decided to fry the potatoes before adding them to the curried cauliflower. While perusing a certain <cough> online forum <cough> I managed to almost blacken the potatoes on one side. Being undeterred by foodstuffs that many people would find repulsive I promptly added them to the curry and proceeded with sautéing the onions. Upon tasting the freshly added potatoes I was stunned.

The flavor was fantastic! It had a dark complex aroma and taste that was entirely reminiscent of some other fine Indian food that I have had. Like an idiot, I also added some stale masala spices (for the cardamom) and by the time the onions were in the pot the potatoes no longer had the peculiar flavor.

The closest that I can come up with is the taste of the crust on the crepe-like pancake of a masala dosa. Does anyone have a cite of which traditional Indian food flavor I managed to elicit here? I would be most grateful for any illumination that you might shed on the subject. Perhaps the masala dosa crepe is made from potato too?

One thing for sure, next time the curry goes over the heavily fried potatoes just before serving. I think that I’m on to something here.

v. quick semi answer - dosas are often made from rice with a bit of lentil flour thrown in.

fuller answer to come when I don’t have a meeting to go to!

Thanks Tansu, I knew you would come through. I didn’t think that the dosa was made with potato, it’s just the flavor set reminded me of a masala dosa.

I look forward to your reply.

I haven’t had masala dosa in a while, but I do know that there is a category of Indian dish in which the vegetables are allowed to burn on purpose. I have made a couple which involved potato and eggplant. They are similar to a standard curry, but the volume of liquids is kept low and the mixture is stirred carefully as it begins to form a crust on the bottom. The idea is to get a pleasantly smoky flavor, which sounds like what you achieved.

I believe that they are generally referred to as “char” curries, appropriately enough.

Here’s a sample from Yamuna Devi’s great book:

One other guess is that the flavor you recognized might be similar to asafetida, which, by itself, smells like a combination of old onions and burnt rubber, but which adds a lovely warm note to a lot of Indian food when used very sparingly. I believe it’s one of the spices used in papadums and may also be added to masala dosas.

I’m wondering if you also recreated that kind of warm, toasty flavor that comes from the Indian habit of toasting many of the seeds (mustard, cumin, etc. before grinding) that go into good spice mixtures. Just a WAG.

I think cher3 is right. In Indian cooking, things are sometimes made to go a lot browner than in western European cooking.

Garlic, for instance, is often fried until it goes deep nutty brown. In Italian cooking, garlic that had been fried that much would be thrown out, as its flavour would be considered bitter. It isn’t really bitter at all - it’s a lovely rich nutty flavour.

The richer kinds of pilau form a wonderful crispy crust where the bottom layer of rice dries out and goes brown. In Persian cuisine, the crust of the pilau is considered to be the best bit.

I can’t think of the particular dish that the dark brown potatoes reminded you of, but I do like potatoes done in that way.