One of my favourite quick weeknight dishes is zeera-alu—potatoes stir-fried simply with cumin, dried red chillies and turmeric. That’s the base recipe (not a million miles from the version posted here). After the initial frying step it literally cooks itself and so it’s a well I go to often. The last time I set out to make it, however, I couldn’t resist adding more and more things and ended up with a mixed-veg torkari (to use the West Bengali term for a slightly moist stir-fry of vegetables). And in true Bengali manner I also couldn’t resist when a packet of shrimp came to hand when I was looking for peas in the freezer. The resulting dish was really rather good and I offer you an approximation of it here. An approximation because—as the shoddy Instagram reel I made of the process shows—it was all done by the seat of my pants. Well, that’s home cooking—a little bit of plus/minus here and there is not going to hurt anything and I would hardly expect slavish fidelity to any recipe I post anyway. Give it a go. And you can just as easily leave out the shrimp and make it vegan.
- 1 lb potatoes, cut into medium chunks
- 1 lb cauliflower, broken into florets
- 1 small globe eggplant, cut into small cubes
- 1/2 lb small shrimp (optional)
- 3-5 dried red chillies
- 1 tspn zeera/cumin seeds
- 1/2 tspn methi/fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- 1 tspn coriander seed, coarsely ground
- 1 tblspn Chinkiang vinegar (or balsamic or sherry vinegar)
- 1 tspn jaggery or brown sugar
- 2-3 tblspns of mustard oil/or neutral oil of choice
- 1-2 tblspns chopped dhania/cilantro
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat till just smoking (if using mustard oil) and the reduce the heat to medium. (If not using mustard oil heat the oil over medium heat till it shimmers.)
- Add the dried red chillies.
- As soon as the chillies become glossy (very soon), add the zeera.
- As soon as the zeera becomes aromatic and darkens (very soon), add the methi.
- As soon as the methi darkens (very soon), add the potatoes.
- Add the haldi, mix in and stir-fry for 7-10 minutes till the potato begins to develop a crust on a side or two.
- Add the cauliflower, mix in thoroughly and stir-fry for another 5-7 minutes.
- Add the ground coriander seed and salt, mix in and stir-fry for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the eggplant and mix in thoroughly.
- Add the vinegar and jaggery, mix in and continue to stir-fry till the eggplant has softened considerably and the potatoes are almost done.
- Add the shrimp and continue to stir-fry till cooked through.
- Garnish with the cilantro and serve with dal and rice or chapatis.
- The shrimp is completely optional. Though if you do eat shrimp and adding it grabs your fancy you could add a lot more of it. Approximately 1/2 lb is what was left in the bag when I made this—I would have added a whole pound if it had been available.
- Similarly, you can vary the veg and add even more if you like. The key is to add them in order from longest to shortest cooking time.
- You may have noticed that in general approach this shares the architecture of Bengali panch-mishali torkari. No panch phoron used here though and there are other important differences too (the use of vinegar, for example, to say nothing of the shrimp).
- I think this is best when not made too spicy. But you could certainly toss in a slit green chilli or two with the shrimp too.
- Mushoor dal and rice and this makes for an excellent meal.