Tok is Bengali for sour and also the name of a broad genre of dishes that feature sourness, often imparted via the use of tamarind. Alur tok, or “sour potatoes”, is one such dish in the genre. I am, however, calling this dish khatta alu, which is Hindi for “sour potatoes” because the ingredients owe more to the North Indian spice box—broadly speaking—than the Bengali one. There’s no panch phoron here, for example, only zeera or cumin seeds, and the other major spice is coriander seed. There is, however, a Bengali touch at the end: the sprinkling of bhaja moshla over the finished dish. Bhaja moshla is the name of a family of masalas made by dry roasting and then powdering a mix of spices (the word “bhaja” means fried but no oil is used in the roasting). There’s a fair bit of variation in the recipe from home to home but they all provide a burst of flavour to whatever dish they’re sprinkled over. I use my mother’s recipe but as it is proprietary I am not going to share it with you—some secrets even idiot food bloggers must keep. You can google recipes for yourself or you can just use whatever garam masala you have at hand.
- 1.5 lbs potatoes, cut into large chunks
- 1 tspn zeera/cumin seeds
- 1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 tspn grated ginger
- 1 tspn grated garlic
- 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- 1 tspn coriander seeds, ground to a fine powder
- 1 tspn hot chilli powder
- 1 small ball wet tamarind (let’s say, why not, 10 gms) soaked in 1 cup warm water
- 1 tblspn jaggery or dark brown sugar
- 4 tblspns mustard oil or oil of choice
- 1 pinch bhaja moshla or 1 pinch garam masala
- Heat 2 tblspns of oil over medium heat in a deep pan and when hot add the potatoes. Fry the potatoes, stirring constantly, until beginning to brown all over. Remove the potatoes to a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the rest of the oil to the pan and when hot add the zeera.
- As soon as it splits add the onion.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and saute the onion till softened and browned (15-20 minutes minimum).
- Add the ginger and garlic, mix in and saute till the raw aroma is gone.
- Add the haldi, ground coriander seed, chilli powder and salt, mix in and saute for another minute or so.
- Return the fried potatoes to the pan and mix in well.
- Pour the tamarind solution into the pan through a strainer, pressing down on the solids to make sure to extract all the tamarind flavour.
- Add the jaggery, mix in and bring to a high simmer.
- Cover the pan and cook over low heat till the potatoes are completely done. Uncover the pan from time to time and stir to make sure nothing is scorching at the bottom of the pan. If the water evaporates completely before the potatoes are done add more hot water 1/2 cup at a time. The finished dish should have a a thick sauce just clinging to the potatoes.
- Sprinkle a pinch of bhaja moshla over and serve with chapatis or with dal and rice.
- If you use garam masala add it in the panbefore turning the heat off.
- You might consider the use of mustard oil to also be a Bengali touch but Bengalis aren’t the only ones who cook with mustard oil.
- In many respects this is like alur dom/dum alu except with tamarind rather than tomato as the souring agent.
- If you don’t have tamarind at hand but do have amchur/mango powder you could add a teaspoon or so with the other powdered spices and then add a cup of water at the point where you would add the tamarind solution.
- That said, the tamarind really makes this dish and makes it taste even better on the second day.
We’re not much on potatoes in this house but I have to say I enjoy seeing recipes that come with some context and that do not hew 100% to their location of origin. Preparing a (at least nominally) Bengali dish with northern Indian flavors is a great changeup.
To complicate matters further, there are also sour preparations of potatoes with tamarind made in other parts of India as well—including in North India. But like a lot of my cooking, this recipe doesn’t follow any particular regional style faithfully. You could think of it as a potato-tamarind dish made by a Bengali who eats and cooks a lot of other Indian food as well. A sort of hybrid approach.
Would you lean towards starchy (ie, Russet) or waxy (red, new) potatoes for this? Is there a “typical” potato used in Northern vs Southern Indian dishes?
Waxy—I use types in the Yukon Gold family. I don’t know enough to answer the second question.