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Click here to read the recipe for Aloo Mutter (spiced peas and potatoes)


Indian Inspiration

When Gursharan Singh came to the United States in the early 1970s, he lived in a New Jersey apartment with three other men. They all shared the same situation: recently married, they had left their wives in India for a year or so while they went ahead to find jobs and get settled in the States.

The men also shared cooking duties, and Mr. Singh became the head chef in the household — he had, it seemed, a knack for cooking. Two others were the sous-chefs, and the last the dishwasher. For a year they lived this way — mainly eating variations on rice and dahl (read All About...Lentils) — but by the time Mr. Singh's wife joined him in the United States, he had become so skilled at the stove that he and his wife, Rajinder, shared dinner duties from then on.

But how, I wondered, did Mr. Singh learn how to cook? The question yields the same mysterious answer from many home cooks: You observe when you're young; you learn; you figure it out.

Also, you persist. The basis of most North Indian cooking lies in an onion and garlic mixture that takes a good deal of practice to get right. Begin with ordinary yellow onions, the kind that are sold in mesh sacks. Blend onion and garlic in a food processor until they are mashed together. The mixture should have a pasty, "glop"-like consistency, which might require a couple of tablespoons of water. But the mixture can't be too fine or too liquid, or it will burn in the pan. The next step is cooking the onion-garlic mixture, stirring constantly until it turns caramel-brown.

Mr. and Mrs. Singh reside now in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I'll never forget a wonderful dinner I had at their house. It was, by their standards, an everyday meal: aloo mutter, roti paratha (the roti was stuffed with a spiced potato mixture and pan-fried), and plain yogurt. But to me, it was far from ordinary; and anyone who likes Indian food knows the tantalizing, addictive wonder of spices and flavors working together, balancing each other out. At the Singhs, I glimpsed how one might begin learning to eventually make such a meal.

Aloo Mutter (spiced peas and potatoes)

Serves: 6
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

2 1/2 medium yellow onions
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons water, if needed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound shelled peas, fresh or frozen
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
Salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves


  1. In a food processor, processes the onions and garlic until they reach a pulp-like mash. You may need to add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water for the mixture to reach this consistency, but take care that not to over-process or the mixture will be too liquid.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic mixture, stirring constantly over medium heat until the mixture becomes caramel-brown. Add chicken stock by the tablespoon, as needed, to keep the mixture from drying out and sticking to the pan.
  3. Add the ginger, chili powder, turmeric, chopped tomato, tomato paste and salt and stir to combine thoroughly. Add the potatoes and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the peas and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Finally, stir in the garam masala and more salt to taste, if desired.
  6. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Traditionally, this dish is served with rice and plain yogurt on the side. It's also good with grilled lamb or chicken.

Nutrition Facts (per serving):

Calories: 285
Total Fat : 10 grams
Saturated Fat: 1 grams
Sodium: 215 milligrams
Dietary Fiber: 11 grams
% Calories from fat: 30 %
% calories from saturated fat: 4 %

By Bich Minh Nguyen

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