These Masala Potatoes are fiery red, zesty and appetizing. They are the perfect side for a plate of dal and rice, and they work as a snack too! A one-pot, vegan, soy-free, gluten-free and nut-free recipe.
I don’t explore the cuisine of my father’s land of birth, Karwar, as often as I should on this blog, although over the years I’ve shared with you some traditional gems like Watermelon Rind Dosa, Sanna Polo, Dalitoy and Moogache Molay Gathi.
These are simple, homely dishes you will almost never find at Indian restaurants. But that doesn’t mean they are any less delicious. Even better, most are impeccably nutritious.
Karwar is a coastal city in the south Indian state of Karnataka, and it is a land so gorgeous, it knocks your breath away. My dad, like most Indians of his generation, maintained deep ties to his roots, although his family had moved out of Karwar when he was a little boy. He’d sometimes insist on going to Karwar for the summer holidays and my brother and I would look at each other with heavy hearts and roll our eyes. It seemed just too cruel to make us leave Bombay with all of our friends and spend a month in a sleepy town.
We’d take the long bus ride from Bombay and I remember looking out of the window of the bus, splattered with monsoon dust, as it entered Karwar, and being awestruck by the spectacular beauty of lush palm trees on a clean, sandy beach, skirted by the frothy ocean.
My father would rent a house, or a portion of a house, from one of the locals, since the relatives we had in Karwar were too distant to impose upon. Despite our misgivings, my brother and I would find lots of things to do, and new friends to make. We’d spend our days playing with the neighborhood kids, climbing trees, and going to the beach, all the time never quite getting over the peaceful nature of our surroundings.
Sometimes our family would take the ferry out to Sadashivgad, a picturesque island with an old fort, because some of dad’s relatives live there. Around those small homes with red-tiled roofs were trees bearing every kind of fruit: huge, thorny orbs of jackfruit, orange, upside-down cashew fruit, and jambul, a dark-hued berry that turned your tongue purple. At night, after dinner, we’d devour whole mangoes that also grew locally, the juice of the bright orange fruit running down our chins and elbows.
Karwar’s cuisine is complex and diverse, with lots of seafood, coconut and rice thrown into the mix. Pickles, called lonche (lon-chay), are a favorite, with local cooks dunking just about everything in a brightly flavored pickle sauce, from green mangoes and small, green, cucumber-like fruit called bimbli to locally caught mackerel. Often, these pickles are made on short order, to be devoured the same day or the next.
Like these spicy, fiery red Masala Potatoes made with picking spices.
I can attest that my dad’s family would not eat a curry until it was red enough, with the redness being a barometer for how delicious the food was. By that barometer, these potatoes would be right up there because of their distinctive color and flavor.
The color in this recipe traditionally comes from byadgi, a chilly pepper that grows in Karnataka. It is a moderately hot pepper, by local standards, but it gives almost everything cooked in Karwar that red-hot color. It is almost impossible for me to find byadgi here in the D.C. area, even at the Indian grocers, so I usually substitute with Kashmiri chilies, also moderately hot but with a lovely, rich color. My curries and pastes never end up as fiery red as those of my parents, however, because I am not as uninhibited with the spice as they are. If you can’t find Kashmiri chilies, use a guajillo pepper.
I love these Masala Potatoes not just for their truly unique flavor, but also because they go from start to finish in under 30 minutes, and are perfect to serve with a simple dal like Dalitoy and rice for a delicious weeknight meal. Contrary to what you might think after looking at these photos, they are not very spicy at all and therefore kid-friendly too — in fact, Jay was gorging on them. You can even make these for a snack.
- 10 medium red or yellow potatoes, cut into a 3/4th-inch dice
- 4 Kashmiri or Byadgi chilies, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes (Use 2 guajillo peppers if you can't find these)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- Salt to taste
- Juice of 1/2 a lime
In a dry saucepan or cast iron skillet, roast the garlic, skin on, for a couple of minutes, turning over once, until slightly soft. Peel and place in a blender with the soaked chilies and 1/2 cup of water or the soaking liquid. Blend until smooth and set aside.
In a large wok or saucepan, heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and when they sputter, add the fenugreek and fennel seeds and turmeric. Stir for half a minute, then add the potatoes.
Stir well to coat the potatoes with the spices. Turn the heat to medium and place a tight-fitting lid on the pan. Pour some water over the lid (a rimmed lid works best for this-- the water on the lid helps the potatoes steam without sticking or burning). Cook the potatoes for 15 minutes or until they are fork-tender but not mushy.
Add the red chili-garlic paste and stir well to mix. Let the potatoes cook in the past for 2-3 minutes until the water dries out. Add salt to taste and lime juice and garnish, if desired, with coriander.
Serve hot with rice and dal.
More recipes to try from the Konkan coast: