Whether you like your potatoes boiled, steamed, mashed, (air) fried, roasted, baked or sauteed, there are no limitations on creativity when it comes to cooking with this spud of a vegetable. If you wanted to, you could cook potatoes differently for every day of the week and never tire of it!
Potato is classified as a starchy vegetable because it contains a higher amount of carbohydrates than non-starchy vegetables like broccoli or beans. Think twice before you peel your potatoes as the skin contains both fibre and nutrients, so it is worth keeping them on (it also grants your potatoes a crunchier texture if roasting them). Some of the key nutrients contained in potatoes include Vitamins C and B, potassium and manganese. Potatoes do not contain gluten, which makes them an easily accessible and filling option for those who suffer from coeliac disease or intolerances. An interesting fact that you may not know about this tuber, is that it was the first vegetable to be grown outside of our beloved earth and aboard Space Shuttle Columbia as early as 1995.*
Colonialism and the Spread of the Potato
Potatoes are native to South America (specifically, Peru) and the crop was spread worldwide as a result of Spain’s aggressive colonial pursuits spanning nearly four centuries in length (beginning with Columbus in 1492 and ending in the 1800s). Once the potato reached European shores, it became a staple that replaced wheat and grains. The potato became so intrinsic for some European diets that its shortages brought on famine, suffering and death in Ireland during the Potato Famine of 1845. The British took the crop and spread it during their colonial conquest of the world.
It is hard to believe that potatoes were only very recently introduced to the Indian diet by way of the Portuguese and Dutch colonists, who brought the crop to western parts of India. It was the British, through the East Indian British Company, that promoted and even incentivised potato farming and consumption amongst the rural communities. The company even exempted it from transit taxes to encourage its cultivation. Like all things colonial, the intention behind propagating the crop was a self-serving one; failures in rice or wheat crops would compromise the health of labourers serving the Empire, and an unhealthy or undernourished workforce resulted in less output.**
The efforts of the colonialists to spread the potato across India were fruitful, and it seamlessly integrated into the regional cuisines of India, adopting the flare, fire and pazaz characterised by Indian cooking.
Our Favourite Potato Dishes
When it comes to preparing vegetables, almost any kind can be paired with potato to make a delicious dish. Below are a few of our favourite pairings:
Aloo Methi - Ayurveda considers Fenugreek to have many medicinal properties which you can read about in our post here. The potato and spices balance against the slight bitterness of the leaves and if prepared in ghee (like butter, but better), it takes this dish to a whole new level.
- Aloo Shimla Mirch - Another beautiful pairing with similar results to Aloo Methi. Indian green capsicum, which is slightly bitter and much smaller in size than what is available in Australia, is diced and cooked with potatoes and spices. Another variation of this dish which I prefer, but is more time-consuming is stuffing halved capsicums with spiced mashed potato and roasting or pan frying it until the capsicum has charred and the potato has crisped.
- Jeera Aloo - A simple combination of potatoes cooked with minimal spices and enlivened by being sauteed in hot ghee and crackling cumin. We recommend that you boil the potatoes first to reduce cooking time.
Other famous dishes containing potato including potato as a key ingredient are:
Masala Dosa - This south Indian specialty can be described as a savoury crepe (made with fermented rice and lentils ground into a batter) and tastes best when it is crisped up and stuffed with a spicy mash potato filling. Served on the side will be katoris (small steel container) of a tomato chutney, coconut chutney and a piping hot sambhar (vegetable curry).
Samosa (cover image) - The filling of our favourite triangular pastry and chai time snack has always been known to have a flavourful potato filling. Before the introduction of potato in India, it usually contained minced meat and onion, as it was introduced by ruling royals heralding from Persia.
- Biryani - In times of scarcity, potatoes were used as a filler in addition to meats, so much so that in Kolkata, it became a key ingredient in the biryani as it eloquently absorbs the spices and flavours of the meat.
Aloo poori - An absolute classic and household favourite! A spicy curry with a tomato base is prepared and simmered with potato until the pieces dissolve on the tongue. It is scooped up with little deep-fried breads made of wholewheat flour.
- Aloo tikki - Similar to bubble and squeak but heavier on the spices and therefore, in our learned opinion, tastier on the palate. Potato is boiled and then mixed with spices before it is shallow fried and served alongside some tangy chutneys or with slivers of red onion.
*Kohli, D [23 June 2022] ‘How the Potato Came to India and Conquered Our Loves’ <https://www.cntraveller.in/story/how-the-potato-changed-from-a-novelty-to-our-daily-tuber-kolkata/>
** Atlas Obscura [9 April 2019] ‘In India, the British Hyped Potatoes to Justify Colonialism’ <https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/potato-history-india>