Spicy Potato Soup (Aaloo Ras)

I love to cook fresh and local - and we try to grow our own tomatoes, cayenne pepper, bell pepper, curry leaves and basil/cilantro in pots on our deck. We have been lucky enough to have had wonderful harvests for the last three consecutive years. I can probably attribute this to the fact that we haven't gone on an extended vacation for the past three years! Vacations are sure 'harvest-killers' unless you happen to be one of those lucky people with the good-Samaritan neighbors. While all my neighbors are very nice - I don't happen to be one of those lucky few. We moved to a new 'larger' home just - you guessed it - three years ago! My home can officially be considered the main reason that we haven't gone on vacation for the last three years! Pramod insists that that our new mortgage is scandalous. Obviously, I was the one hankering for the new 'large' home, and so we must be content to vacation in our home for a while -or so he says.
He suggests that I try sleeping in a different bedroom every night.. hmmmph.
The soil in our backyard is too rocky to grow anything (not surprisingly since I watched my house being built from scratch, and the workmen buried everything and the kitchen sink under the grass). We haven't been enterprising enough to create our own raised soil-beds. Its a project we keep planning but, there never seems to be enough time or inclination to dig - so - I have to rely on the farmers markets, and neighboring farms for my potatoes and other vegetables.
Yesterday I made a spicy potato soup which is so simple and easy, that I find myself cooking it quite often.
There is general agreement among contemporary botanists that the potato originated in the Andes. Most modern potatoes grown in North America arrived through European settlements and not independently from the South American sources. Historical and genetic evidence suggests that the potato reached India not very much later than Europe, probably taken there by the Portuguese in the 16th or 17th centuries. There are about five thousand potato varieties world wide. Three thousand of them are found in the Andes alone, mainly in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. The list of varieties found in European, North American or Asian markets is very limited, and these varieties are all of the same species - Solanum tuberosum. In India, the potato is one of the most affordable foods and can be cooked in so many different ways. It is one of my favorite vegetables, and growing up, I remember my mother cooked it one way or another almost everyday. Mainly, I suspect, due to the the fact that one of my two sisters would refuse to eat a meal that did not include a potato! This resulted in my mother improvising almost every dish so that it contained potatoes. The potato soup below, is not one that I remember my mother making for us, rather - one that I discovered as a quick meal option!


6-8 medium potatoes peeled and chopped into cubes
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
2 whole dry hot red chillies broken into pieces (optional)
1/2 tsp garam masala (optional)
1-2 tsp canola oil
2 tsp whole cumin
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder (optional)
salt to taste
2-3 cups water
Coriander leaves
1/2-1 tsp tamarind paste (optional)

Take oil in a wok or shallow pan and turn the heat on medium high. When the oil is hot (test it by adding one cumin seed and if it sizzles then it is hot enough) add the cumin, turmeric powder, asafoetida powder and dry red chillis (if using). Next add the potatoes with about 2 cups of water. Bring the heat to medium and add garam masala and chilli powder (if using) and let the potatoes cook until soft. be careful not to let all the water evaporate. If you feel the potatoes start to stick, then add more water. When the potatoes are done, take the back of a large spoon or a masher, and coarsely mash the potatoes. The soup should have a thick consistency, but there should still be some small chunks of potato to add texture. Now add salt to taste and 1/2 -1 tsp of tamarind paste. Garnish with Cilantro leaves.

Authors Notes:
This versatile potato soup can be eaten alone or can be served with crusty bread, naan, chapatti or on a bed of rice or couscous. The tamarind lends a tangy flavor to the soup, and can easily be substituted by the juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime. All the above ingredients are available in Indian grocery stores. I strongly encourage the use of at least 1 dry red chilli - the flavor imparted is incredible.



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