I was born and lived in Bombay into my 20s, but in all those years I never once encountered a dish named "Bombay Potatoes."
So when I started to see recipes for Bombay Potatoes begin to pop up across the internet with no clear explanation of their origin but with quintessentially Indian ingredients, I was tickled curious.
Sure, we ate potatoes in Bombay--a lot. Bombay is a microcosm of India and you could find all kinds of potato dishes belonging to the many regional cuisines here. There was Batatyachi Bhaji, a local Maharashtrian, turmeric-stained, mustard-seed-studded side to scoop up with pooris, especially on picnics and outings. Jeera Aloo, a north Indian dish with cumin seeds as their main flavoring. A south Indian potato curry with tomatoes and sambar powder that was eaten in the homes of my Tamil friends in Bombay and that, Desi tells me, was a Sunday staple in his childhood home in Madras. There were the typical restaurant offerings: aloo gobi, aloo matar, aloo saag....but never Bombay potatoes.
What was just as confusing is that the various Bombay Potato recipes on the web seem to vary drastically. Some are just Jeera Aloo, others are almost exactly like Batatyachi Bhai. Still others use tomatoes, like the South Indian version.
Since I can't leave things well alone when they pique my interest, I kept digging into this until I could begin to make some sense. What seems very likely, although I didn't find a single source confirming this, is that Bombay potatoes -- or at least the name -- are British rather than Indian in origin.
It makes sense. The British introduced potatoes to India during colonial times, were rather chuffed about it because they were on a mission to introduce the rest of us to what they deemed "superior" vegetables, and then they took our chefs back home with them to spice up their own cuisine. These cooks went on to create a whole slew of dishes that have roots in India but were created in Britain, like balti, tikka masala, kedgeree and curry powder.
The Bombay Potato curry, then, is not so much an Indian potato recipe but rather a spin-off -- or amalgamation--of different techniques and flavors used to cook potatoes in India. That different Bombay Potato recipes have little in common except the fact that they have potatoes in them and are made with Indian ingredients is further confirmation of the fact that while the actual dish -- or dishes grouped under the name -- may have originated in India, the name almost definitely did not.
I'd love to know more, so if you happen to be an expert on Bombay Potatoes and their beginnings, be sure to drop a comment below and enlighten the rest of us.
Now, for these Indian-spiced Bombay Potatoes. I put my own spin on these and I think you'll love them. If you do, be sure to come back and let me know!
Why you'll love this recipe
- It's easy. There's almost no skill or expertise required to make these Bombay potatoes. Follow instructions and you won't be disappointed.
- It's delicious. Potatoes and spices. Need I say more?
- It's healthy. Potatoes can be incredibly waist-friendly, if they are not smothered in oil or butter. In this recipe the natural healthfulness of potatoes gets an additional boost from the flavorful spices.
- It's kid-friendly. Kids and potatoes. It's like peas and carrots, except in this case one eats the other.
- It needs just nine easy ingredients. And most of these you likely already have in your pantry.
- It's one-pot. Easy cleanup. What more can you ask for?
Since there is almost no agreement on how Bombay Potatoes should be made, I have put my own spin on them. Sorta.
I used tomatoes, because tomatoes and potatoes make a deadly combination, especially when you let the tomatoes cook long enough to crust the potatoes. And then I used curry powder because its flavor is perfect here and because it, too, is so confoundingly British.
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil is a great flavoring agent in south Indian style recipes like this one, in addition to being a medium for cooking.
- Mustard seeds: Black mustard seeds, as always, in Indian cooking. Sputter in the oil.
- Shallots (finely diced). I advise using shallots, when possible, in Indian dishes where the onions provide flavor, like this one. Indian onions are small and red, much like shallots, and the flavor works perfectly. If you can't source shallots, use red onions.
- Ginger. Grate before use.
- Turmeric: For color and health.
- Potatoes. Yellow or red potatoes are fine but don't use russets or any starchy potato.
- Tomato puree. You can use canned or puree fresh tomatoes.
- Cayenne. For heat and color.
- Curry powder. Use my homemade recipe linked here, or use a storebought powder you like. Taste and use more if you wish.
- Salt to taste
- Cilantro. This is for garnish, but optional.
Why use curry powder and not garam masala in these Bombay Potatoes
Before I go any further, let me get something off my chest.
First, of all, a curry powder is not Indian.
Second, it is not garam masala.
Curry powder is believed to have been adopted by the British who were looking for a universal spice mix to replicate Indian dishes they had made, and fallen in love with, while in India. It more closely resembles sambar powder, a south Indian spice mix made with lentils, fenugreek and, sometimes, curry leaves, than it does garam masala. Commercial brands for curry powder available here rarely include the lentils or the curry leaves, perhaps because both have a shorter shelf life than spices do, and they often include cardamom and cinnamon, both essential in a garam masala but all wrong for curry powder.
You can sometimes substitute one for the other in an Indian-style recipe that is not trying to be authentic. So you could, for instance, use garam masala instead of curry powder in this Bombay Potato recipe. But keep in mind you'll get a delicious, but different tasting, dish with each.
You can find my curry powder recipe here. You can also use any curry powder you have on hand or can find in this Bombay Alu recipe, or use sambar powder, which works beautifully. If you can't get your hands on either, use garam masala.
How to make Bombay Potatoes
- Most Bombay Potato recipes ask you to start out by parboiling or boiling the potatoes first. I prefer not to do that for this recipe where we want the potatoes to cook with the tomatoes and develop that nice crust. Parboiling the potatoes will just make them soft and mushy and while that can be nice in a jeera aloo or batatyachi bhaji, it won't work here.
- The happy effect of this is it makes this recipe one-pot as well.
- Start out your recipe by sputtering mustard seeds in coconut oil in a wok or large skillet, and then sauteing shallots in that mustard-flavored oil until they are just slightly soft. You can use red onions but I like using shallots which more closely resemble local Indian onions, with a bolder flavor. There are so few ingredients in this recipe, you want to extract all the flavor from each element that goes into your pot.
- Don't cook the shallots too long by themselves. The reason for this is that they will continue to cook with the potatoes, and if you brown them too much at this stage they will overcook and probably burn.
- Add turmeric and grated ginger to the pot and saute quickly for a few seconds. Add the potatoes, cut in a small dice, to the skillet along with salt and saute. You want the potatoes to be small because we are adding them raw and they are going to cook entirely in the skillet.
- Put a lid on the skillet or wok and let the potatoes cook, over medium to low heat, until they are about halfway done. Stir the potatoes frequently to make sure they are not sticking to the bottom. A nonstick wok or skillet makes this much easier.
- Add the tomato puree to the pot along with the cayenne and curry powder. Mix well, maintain heat at medium to low, and cover. Check frequently and stir. Some potatoes might stick a bit to the bottom, which is fine, because that will help them become crusty. Don't let them burn, though.
- Once the potatoes are tender, take the lid off and let the potatoes continue cooking for another two minutes. Stir frequently so nothing stays at the bottom of the pot for too long. Check salt and turn off heat.
- Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.
What to serve with Bombay potatoes
- Dal and rice are the perfect accompaniment for these Bombay Potatoes. Try this Urad Dal or this Instant Pot Masoor Dal.
- Serve with Indian pickles or poppadum on the side.
- You can also just serve these potatoes as a side with any western-style dish. It'd be great, for instance, with these Sprouted Mung Bean Burgers.
- Nonstick wok or skillet
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 shallots (finely diced)
- 1 tsp ginger (grated)
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 2 pounds potatoes (or red, cut in a ⅓rd inch dice. Don't use russets or an extremely starchy potato here)
- ½ cup tomato puree (canned or freshly pureed tomatoes are both fine)
- ½ to 1 tsp cayenne
- 2 tsp curry powder (taste and use more if you wish)
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp cilantro (optional, for garnish)
- Heat the oil in the wok or skillet. Add mustard seeds and, when they sputter, add the shallots and saute for a couple of minutes until slightly soft. Add ginger and turmeric. Saute for 30 seconds, then add the potatoes.
- Add a dash of salt, mix in, then cover the skillet or wok with a tight lid. Let the potatoes cook over medium to low heat for 6-8 minutes or until they are about halfway cooked. Stir a few times during cooking to ensure they don't burn. This shouldn't happen if you keep the heat to the lower side.
- Add the tomato puree to the skillet along with the cayenne and curry powder. Mix well. Place the lid back on the skillet and continue cooking on medium low heat for another 10 minutes, again stirring a few times during cooking. The potatoes at the bottom of the pan should crust a bit but they shouldn't burn.
- Once the potatoes are cooked, take the lid off and continue stir-frying, now over medium-high heat, for two minutes. Add salt to taste.
- Turn off the heat and garnish with cilantro, if using. Serve hot.