There are a few dishes that become closely associated with our childhood. They evoke memories that transport us to simpler times: times when things were simpler, relationships were easier and our loves and hates were frequent but fleeting.
I still remember Saturday afternoons, when I used to come home from school, glad to be greeted at the door by my mom. As she was a working mom, these occasions were special and therefore treasured. She knew I loved her special potato tawa bhaji and used to make it on those days so I could enjoy it. The thali with steaming white rice, yellow Dal and the slightly burnt crispy potato bhaji was a combination that never failed to lift my spirits. No matter how bad the day might have been, finding mom home, making the potato bhaji was enough to make my day.
Life is indeed a series of such small pleasures. A steaming home-cooked meal, a cup of hot coffee on a rain-soaked evening, the smell of earth after the first showers, finding a good book after rummaging through stacks of used books – there isn’t much to compare these pleasures.
I remember the first time I made this dish by myself – my mom was ill and she had asked me to cook lunch for both of us. I was scared but also eager. I had watched my mom cook a thousand times and helped her in the kitchen as I could. But this was different. I had to make everything from scratch and not make a mistake. I kept running out to where mom sleeping and asking her every little detail that hadn’t seemed so important till now – how much water should I add to the Dal & how much in the cooker, how long should I cook the potatoes, how much salt is just right and how much chilli powder is too much. The questions never stopped and finally the meal was ready. I eagerly awaited mom’s verdict. She took the first mouthful and made a face. I was heartbroken….thank god, it was because the food was too hot. I finally gathered enough courage to ask her how the dish fared. She replied, quite oblivious to my mental state,” Very good! Tastes just like mine.” My heart did a summersault and I was hooked on cooking.
Now the recipe
Potatoes : 8 medium sized
Groundnut Oil : 3 Tbsp.
Mustard Seeds : 2 Tsp.
Asafoetida (Hing) : a pinch
Turmeric Powder : 1/4 Tsp.
Red Chilli Powder : 2 Tsp.
Salt : To taste
Sugar : a pinch
Boil the potatoes till done and peel them. Cut the potatoes into 1/2″ (inch) dices. Rub the pieces with salt and sugar.
On an iron griddle, heat oil. Then add the mustard seeds, asafoetida and turmeric powder. When the seeds crackle, add the chilli powder. Now add the potatoes to this mixture and toss them with a spatula. Make sure the potatoes are evenly coated with the masala. Now spread the potatoes in a layer on the griddle and let the potatoes cook on medium flame till crispy on one side. Now turnover the potatoes and let them become crispy on the other side. If the potatoes burn a little, don’t worry. It gives a nice, smoky flavour to the dish.