“Don’t you know the rules?”
When you are Indian (as I am) and tell well-meaning people you work in film (which I do), there are inevitably some repetitive questions that are asked several times over the course of your life. These questions tend to involve the subjects of Mira Nair, Bollywood, and whether Monsoon Wedding is my favorite movie ever.
For the record, I don’t have a real penchant for Bollywood melodrama, and I didn’t really like Monsoon Wedding. My soul-crushing negativity aside though, there is one Mira Nair film that I have a soft spot for, and that is a film called Mississippi Masala, starring a dreamy-looking Denzel and an actress I like quite a bit named Sarita Choudry. It’s a love story set in the South between an Indian woman and an African-American man, and ta-da, you’ve got yourself an appropriately-titled movie. With decent acting and a half-decent storyline, the movie really isn’t that bad, unlike most race-based movies that try to be thought-provoking.
I’d of course be remiss to not point out that my own torrid love affair with a certain significant other matches up to that movie ethnicity-wise. Terence grew up on collards and fried steak, while I…well, very much didn’t. So when I saw in my mother’s kitchen a cookbook called American Masala that contained recipes not only for fried chicken but for how to make your own garam masala, I tucked the book away into my suitcase and promptly made several things out of it when I returned to New York.
I highly, highly recommend this cookbook. The recipes are incredibly flavorful, well-written and practical, with Indian recipes that are spot-on and approachable, despite the heavy Western influence. I use this book for my basic dal and chutneys when I can’t get my Mom on the phone.
The below recipe is a dairy-free mashed potato dish, that is bright with lemon juice, cilantro and a little jalapeno. If you can’t find mustard seeds at your grocery store, try a local ethnic grocery store, or order them online – many a good source recommend http://www.ishopindian.com.
Mashed Potatoes with mustard oil, cilantro and onions (Aloo Bharta)
Adapted from American Masala by Suvir Saran
1 medium red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
Juice of ½ a lemon
6 medium (about 2 pounds) red potatoes
Chopped fresh cilantro (about 1 cup)
1 jalapeno (cored and seeded if you prefer a milder flavor), finely chopped
1 tablespoon mustard oil, or about 1-2 tablespoons of mustard seeds fried in a few tablespoons of canola oil
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt (less if using sea salt)
Place the onion in a large bowl. Mix with the lemon juice and set aside.
Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil, cooking them until they’re tender. Drain and set aside. When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and set them aside to come to room temperature
Add the washed, chopped cilantro and jalapeno to the onions. Add the mustard oil, salt and potatoes. (Or, fry the mustard seeds by heating up a few tablespoons of canola oil in a very small saucepan on high heat, before adding the mustard seeds. When they start popping energetically, pour the oil and seeds into the bowl).
Stir and mash the potatoes and ingredients until the mixture is creamy with some chunks. Serve immediately or leave at room temperature. Though you can refrigerate it, this dish will lose some of its pungency if eaten the next day.