Aloo Bhaate or mashed potatoes is the most basic dish in Bengali cuisine. It happens to be our quintessential comfort food. I will go ahead a little further and say that Aloo Bhaate defines a Bengali to a certain extent.
When we are out for vacations and away from home for a long time, we come back home looking forward to Bhaat, Dal, Aloo Bhaate ( Rice, Dal and Aloo Bhaate) or Ghee, Aloo Bhaate with Bhaat (rice with ghee with Aloo Bhaate on the side) to achieve that inner tranquility.. When we are recovering from illness, we eat Bhaat and Aloo Bhaate – soothing our stomach and soul, bringing in normalcy to life. When I get wistful and am walking down the memory lane, on an afternoon like this, I think of Gorom Ghee Bhaat (hot rice with ghee) and the ball of Aloo Bhaate nestled on its side.
When I think of our kitchen back home, I see my maa tilting over the covered pot of rice on another utensil; draining out the phyaan or the extra water from the rice, the steam fogging the sink and making her face all hazy. I know there would be a potato or two inside that hot steaming pot of rice.
When the last drop of the starchy water dripped out from the rice, maa would tilt back the pot and give it a light shake, uncover and then fluff the rice. The boiled potatoes would then be separated from the rice and set aside.
Aloo Bhaate simply means potato in rice or rather cooked in rice. The rice we ate everyday for our meals was not the fragrant basmati. It was a different variety of rice with no fragrance and it takes a long time to cook. The process of cooking is different too. There is no exact or correct amount of water required. Once the rice is cooked, the extra water is drained out. This starchy water is called phyaan. It is a Bengali tradition to do a “Bhaate Sheddho”: throw in vegetables in the same pot that cooks the rice, so they cook all together. It is quite common in a Bengali home to have all kinds of “Bhaate” – bittergourd, okra, pointed gourd, taro and so much more. The vegetables are then drizzled with mustard oil and served on the side.
The only way the Aloo Bhaate bears similarity to the “mashed potatoes” of the western world is in its ability to pique nostalgic emotions and nudge that positive feeling of well being. Comfort food. That is what it does.
Besides the “comfort” and the potato in it, there are no other likeness between the western mashed potato and this one from the far east. There is no “gravy” dressing the Aloo Bhaate. There is no extravaganza of cream, milk or butter. It is only the yellow creamy potato-y goodness of tenderly cooked, well mashed potatoes.
Unlike the high starch potatoes that is required for a mashed potatoes in this country, (probably for the mealy and flaky texture), I prefer to use low starch potato like Yukon Gold or Red potatoes. The waxy texture of these potatoes work best for the Aloo Bhaate.
You would need only one thing to flavor it: pure golden mustard oil. The heart and soul of a Bengali. And a sprinkle of salt. Finally some finely chopped red onions and fresh green chilli peppers, only if you want. If mustard oil is not available, ghee can be used. Usually no onion is used with ghee here. But then again there are no rigid rules.
Then there are some more decorative varieties of Aloo Bhaate that uses kashundi or the tangy mustard, or toasted and crushed red chilli pepper. In the neighboring state of Bihar this dish is also known as Aloo ka Chokha.
With the holiday season coming up, give this a try: the simplest mashed potatoes ever! No cream or butter required to enjoy the creamy goodness. Cook the potatoes well and mash them even better, and you have the blissfull ball of comforting carbohydate.
The Aloo Bhaate is usually served in individual plates in scoops or balls. So there is perfect portion control. We rarely had extras left on the table for a second or third helping.
Aloo Bhaate/Aloo Makha: Mashed Potatoes the Bengali Way
- potatoes (pref. Yukon Gold or Red Potatoes or similar low starch potatoes)
- pure mustard oil (or ghee if you do not want to use mustard oil)
- finely chopped red onions
- finely sliced hot chili peppers (remove seeds and membranes if you do not want it spicy)
- salt, to taste
- Note: while the onions and peppers add the best flavors along with the mustard oil, it is not required. The dish can be made with only mashed potatoes, ghee and salt. Ghee adds a better flavor than butter (in my honest opinion) for this particular recipe.
- Then there are some more decorative varieties of Aloo Bhaate that uses kashundi or the tangy mustard, or toasted and crushed red chilli pepper. So feel free to adapt it to your style, while keeping the authentic essence in mind.
Boil potatoes until fork tender. Drain. Peel (if you boiled then skin on) and mash them really well until lump free.
Add salt, mustard oil (or ghee) , onion and peppers. Mash and combine everything together one more time.
Serve at room temperature.
Cooking Time: 15 -20 minutes (boiling potatoes)
Preparating Time: 5 minutes
Difficulty Level: Very very easy
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