Alur dom (in Bengal) or dum-alu (in the Hindi belt) is a popular dish made in a variety of ways across India. The name implies cooking on “dum”, or in a tightly sealed vessel so that the potatoes cook in their own “breath”, so to speak; in practice, however, it’s rarely prepared that way in most homes. At least the potatoes are rarely cooked entirely on “dum”. This is certainly the case for this recipe, which comes to me from one of my aunts who is one of the best cooks in the extended family and has a very successful, small catering business in Calcutta. Ideally, you’d eat it with luuchis (luuchis are a lighter, fluffier version of puris) but it goes very well with parathas and rice. Indeed, match it with some chholar dal and rice and you’re all set for a great vegetarian meal.
This version uses tomatoes and yogurt. In some Bengali homes one or the other is used; in yet others tamarind is used as the souring agent. The principle in all of the renditions remains the same: heat some oil, make it fragrant with whole spices, saute onion and ginger in the fragrant oil, then add the souring agent and potatoes and cover and cook till done. Some make the onion and ginger into a paste, some mince the onion and crush the ginger. Some make it with a lot of “gravy”, some don’t. Play with it and see what you like, but ignore anyone who tells you there’s one canonical way of making alur-dom.
- Small round waxy potatoes, 2 lbs
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 1 tblpn grated ginger
- 3/4 tblspn cumin seeds
- 3-4 cloves
- 2-3 hot, dried red chillies
- 1 large piece cinnamon or cassia bark
- 1/2 tspn turmeric powder
- 1/2 tspn red chilli powder
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 cup beaten yogurt (I use full-fat yogurt)
- 1 pinch sugar
- Salt to taste
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 pinch bhaja moshla or garam masala
- 2 tblspns chopped dhania/cilantro for garnish
- Par-boil the potatoes and once they’ve cooled peel them and then fry for a few minutes in hot oil, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Scrape off any potato bits that may be stuck to the pan, add a bit more oil if necessary and then add the whole spices.
- After about a minute (or once the cumin seeds have begun to split) add the onion and ginger.
- Once the onion has begun to brown around the edges add the turmeric and chilli powder and stir for a minute or so.
- Next add the tomatoes,salt and sugar and cook over medium-low heat till the tomatoes have completely broken down.
- Add the fried potatoes and gently toss to coat with the sticky sauce. Saute, stirring all the while for another couple of minutes.
- Add the beaten yogurt and gently stir everything together.
- Add the water, bring to a high simmer, cover the pan and cook for another 10-15 minutes or till the potatoes are done (which ideally will be before they become soft or start to come apart when poked with a fork)
- If using garam masala, sprinkle it in before you take the potatoes off heat. If using bhaja moshla sprinkle it on at the very end and then garnish with the dhania.
- If you make the onion into a paste make sure to fry it long enough to remove the smell of raw onion.
- You can leave out either the tomatoes or the yogurt if you like.
- If you do use yogurt it may sometimes split on you in the last part of the cooking. If that happens, don’t panic, just stir it gently over medium-low heat and the sauce will come back together.
- Since I use hot dried red chillies in the whole spices stage I use a mild Kashmiri chilli powder in the next addition of dry spices, mostly for purposes of colour.
- If you want to be very orthodox, leave out the onion and ginger completely and deploy hing/asafoetida instead along with the other spices.
- If you want to skip the par-boiling stage just peel and fry the potatoes longer at the first step and then cook longer at the final step to ensure they’re done. When I’m using new potatoes this is how I do it (though they don’t need a lot of cooking time).