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Aloo Tikki (Indian Potato Cakes)

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Last fall, for the first time ever, I hosted Thanksgiving at my place. Max was traveling overseas at the time, so I hosted it solo to boot. Wah! There were 15 of us and although my guests (Joanie and her whole crew) brought plenty of delicious side dishes and some dessert, the big things - turkey! stuffing! gravy! pies! mashed potatoes! green beans! uh, cranberry sauce! - were on me. It wasn't the first time I'd done a full Thanksgiving dinner - I cooked one for 40 people at Soho House a few years ago - but that was in a professional kitchen with two sous chefs to help. Also, perhaps most importantly, I was being paid to do so. It was still one of my most insane days in the kitchen, except for that one time when we had to reshoot 11 of the Classic German Baking photos. In one day. While I had the flu.

In other words, I know from stressful kitchen days. So on Thanksgiving, I outsourced my children to my sainted parents, blasted The War on Drugs (excellent getting-shit-done tunes, among other things), put my head down and just did it. And, wow, is it different to be the Thanksgiving cook in your own home than it is to just show up with a few side dishes and a pie in hand, my usual role.

(A million seasoned home cooks roll their eyes and yawn, while mouthing ya think, genius?)

I learned so much. Like to err on the side of having a too-big turkey, rather than a too-small one (insert chagrined emoji face here). That baking an apple pie for close to two hours really is revelatory. To stay away from, how should I call them, newfangled variations on cranberry sauce. And that you can't have too many mashed potatoes, as long as you know about this way to use them up: Aloo Tikki, also known as Indian Potato Cakes, also known as my favorite kitchen discovery of 2017.

On Thanksgiving, propelled by some hard-to-articulate terror that we wouldn't have enough food, I made - hold tight - almost 9 pounds of mashed potatoes. After our feasting, this is what I was left with:

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Woah.

I couldn't figure out where to begin re-purposing what looked like about 5 pounds of leftover mashed potatoes. So I took to Instagram to ask for help, and almost 200 comments rolled in with ideas. I mean, people, the wealth of inspiration! It was incredible. (It's here, but warning: don't click on that if you're hungry and not in possession of an obscene amount of leftover mashed potatoes.)

The thing that most tickled my fancy was the idea of combining fresh, hot Indian flavors with the potatoes. Not only did it sound delicious but I was pretty sure it was going to be the best way to get excited about working through leftovers after that first obligatory meal of Thanksgiving leftovers (you know, pretty great the first time, pretty heinous the fifth). Also, they seemed dead easy and if you know anything about me at this point, you know that I will always, ALWAYS choose the easiest way.

So. Aloo tikki. You take a whole bunch of leftover mashed potatoes. You mix in some chopped red pepper and scallions, some cumin, coriander and turmeric, and an egg and flour for binding. Then you make little cakes out of the mixture. Fry them in oil. Whisk up an yogurt sauce (NON-NEGOTIABLE, DO NOT SKIP, PRACTICALLY THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS WHOLE POST). Serve them together and watch your mashed potatoes disappear faster than the speed of light. Magic!

Now a quick word of caution. I do not know authentic this recipe is. I found it on Genius Kitchen, which is the new home of the old Food.com. Some cursory searches online turned up other recipes for Aloo Tikki that certainly sound even better - with fresh ginger and garam masala and peas (PEAS!). But let me put it like this: this basic recipe already was the greatest thing I made all year, perhaps precisely because it was such a cinch. So don't let it stop you and then make the ones with peas (wherein the journalist calls aloo tikki Pakistan and India's greatest street food I REST MY CASE) and report back. Deal?

Aloo Tikki
Adapted from Genius Kitchen
Serves 3-4

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 large red bell pepper, finely diced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 large egg
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder
Vegetable oil, for frying
1/3 cup yogurt (plain or Greek)
1/4 cup minced cilantro, or more to taste
1 jalapeno, minced (with seeds for hotter sauce, without for milder)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt, to taste

1. Place the mashed potatoes in a mixing bowl. Add the red pepper, scallions, egg, flour, and spices. Mix well, then set the mixture aside for 10 minutes.

2. In the meantime, make the yogurt sauce: Place the yogurt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the lime juice, oil, cilantro, jalapeño and salt to taste. Set aside.

3. Put 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet (preferably non-stick) and heat over medium heat. Form as many 2-3 inch patties as you can fit in the skillet and gently put them in the hot skillet. Fry each side until golden-brown, remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining potato mixture (adding more oil to the pan if necessary). You can keep the cakes warm in a 200 F/95 C oven. Serve hot with the yogurt sauce.

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