Unboring Boiled Potatoes with Cumin, Ginger & Cilantro

Ah, the boiled potato. In the world of hip, happening tubers, this guy ranks pretty low. (When, I ask, is the last time your meal out was served with a side of boiled spuds, outside of a homestyle diner in a small town? Exactly.)

But why? Why do we embrace potatoes that are roasted, mashed, shredded and pan fried, deep fried, but not those that are boiled?  

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Maybe it’s that boiling in and of itself is currently out. We are happy to steam and sous vide our veggies, but boil? Not so much. 

Or maybe it’s that folks my age who grew up eating boiled potatoes on a near-daily basis are staging a quiet culinary rebellion, looking for something other than pure nostalgia when they dine.

Or, quite possibly, it’s simply that we don’t like potatoes quite as much as we used to (the stats show that we’re eating fewer of them each year), and the boiled variety – the most basic of the bunch (another reason in its own right) – are just the first to take a hit.  

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Whatever it is, we’re missing out. Because boiled potatoes do something that most other potatoes don’t: They get kind of sticky. And that, I will admit, does not sound at all appealing. But sticky can be a good thing when you want to, say, roll your potatoes in a super-flavourful mix of cumin, ginger and cilantro. 

Where that mix would struggle to adhere to a roasted or fried potato, the sticky and strangely absorptive boiled potato soaks it all in. What you’re left with is soft, salty and intensely flavoured – a sort of curried comfort food.

Long story short, this potato recipe – a Madhur Jaffrey creation – is delectable (I’ve made it three times in as many weeks). So get a pot on the stove, friends, and boil yourself some potatoes.  


Potatoes with Cumin, Ginger & Cilantro (Zeera Aloo)
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Foolproof Indian Cooking
Serves 4-6 as a side

Note: When you read the recipe below, you may be tempted to cry foul at the mention of the frying pan, but let me explain! The frying here mainly serves to activate the flavours in the spices and take a bit of the edge off of the ginger. You could almost certainly toss your boiled potatoes in a oil-and-spice-and-herb mix without frying them and produce tastiness all the same.  

Ingredients
1lb potatoes, peeled if necessary, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tbsp olive oil (or other neutral-tasting oil)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander

Directions

1. Drop your potatoes in a medium-sized potato and cover with about 2 inches of cold water and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender when stabbed with a fork (you want them to have a bit of resistance – they shouldn’t be mushy). Remove the pot from the heat and drain the potatoes thoroughly.

2. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Drop the cumin seeds into the pan and stir for 10-15 seconds, or until the seeds are fragrant. Stir in the ginger, salt, cumin, cayenne and black pepper, heating for another 15-30 seconds or until fragrant. 

3. Add the potatoes and stir to coat them in the spice mixture. Fry over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently and squashing the potatoes down slightly with your spoon. Taste them as you go, adding salt and cayenne as needed (they should be well salted and a little bit spicy). Once the spice mixture seems to have fully soaked into the potatoes, they’re done! 

4. Place the chopped cilantro in a large bowl. Add the hot potatoes and toss to coat. Serve while hot! 

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