A classic north Indian dish, aloo matar begins with a spiced tomato masala sauce into which you add tender, bite-sized pieces of potatoes and peas. It's easy to make if you have a few key Indian spices on hand.
In Central New Jersey, where I spent my teenage years, there were large northern and southern Indian, Bengali, and Pakistani communities. Not only did I get to taste home cooking from many regions, there were also many great Indian restaurants, especially featuring south Indian food, from which I developed a love of dosas, idli, uttapams, and more. Not that I discriminate: I also love north Indian food, from kormas and tandoori anything (naan!) to dishes made with the wonderful onion and tomato masala base we'll be making here.
Aloo matar is similar to matar paneer, another north Indian favorite: the two dishes share the same wonderful Indian masala, a thick sauce made with onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, spices, and ghee or oil. Whereas matar paneer features peas and gently fried paneer cheese (often called Indian cottage cheese, but I'd compare it to halloumi or farmer's cheese instead).
Indian onion and tomato masala
I learned about the place of onion and tomato masala in the Indian home kitchen from My Heart Beets—see her comprehensive resource on Indian Onion Masala. It's the secret to many delicious Indian vegetarian dishes. To make it, you cook down onion, ginger, and garlic with tomatoes (fresh or canned) and spices. Specifically, you want most of the water in the vegetables to cook off and for the oil to begin to separate out, a classic Indian sauce technique. You can use coconut oil for parve dishes, or, if you're going dairy, ghee (Indian clarified butter) makes the dish extra good. Ghee is now widely available, well, here in L.A.; it's usually sold in jars and most brands I've seen are kosher.
What spices you'll need (and where to find them kosher)
For this recipe you'll need:
- Cumin seeds: You want the whole seeds here, not ground. It shouldn't be too difficult to source these kosher. I usually buy Sadaf or Golchin brands.
- Ginger-garlic paste: A smooth blend of these two key ingredients; Christopher Ranch makes a kosher-certified one called Garlic & Ginger Stir-Fry that I always keep on hand. If you don't have it, you can also use minced ginger and minced garlic in equal proportion. The frozen cubes also work here: you can use two cubes of each for this recipe.
- Garam masala: The signature Indian spice blend (with many regional variations): it's not too difficult to find kosher, I like Spice House's blend and I've also used Pereg Garam Masala.
- Turmeric: Widely available kosher.
- Coriander: That is, ground cilantro seed. Widely available kosher.
- Hot paprika: This is a stand-in for Kashmiri red chili powder, which I've never been able to find kosher. From my understanding, hot paprika, which is mildly hot, is a good substitute. I use Pereg brand, and use half hot and half sweet. You can use all hot if you prefer.
How to make aloo matar
After looking at different methods for making the dish, I went with Madhur Jaffrey's suggestion for cooking the potatoes: boiling them separately, then adding them to the onion masala. So, you'll start off by boiling the potatoes, then add the peas, letting them cook while you make the masala.
To make the masala, you first toast some cumin seed, then add the onions and cook them down until they're soft and browning. Then the ginger-garlic paste goes in, followed by the spices and tomato sauce. Simmer away, and when the sauce is thickened, fold in the tender, drained potatoes and peas.
Aloo Matar (parve or dairy)
- 3 medium potatoes or 6 small - peeled and cubed
- 1 ½ cups frozen peas - 225 g
- 2-3 cups water
- Boil the potatoes and peas:
- Bring water to a boil in a cooking pot. Add the cubed potatoes and peas and cook until tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain.
- Make the masala:
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and toast for 30 seconds. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and begin to brown, about 7 minutes.
- Add the ginger-garlic paste. Cook, stirring, another minute.
- Season the onion mixture with turmeric, garam masala, coriander, hot paprika, sweet paprika, a pinch of sugar, and salt, to taste. Stir well.
- Add the tomato sauce and stir again. Cook for several minutes, until thickened and most of the water in the tomato sauce has cooked out. The oil should begin to separate out.
- Fold the drained potatoes and peas into the masala.