Madhur Jaffrey says, “I love this dish with an irrational passion.” The first time I made this potato-coconut curry I easily understood the attraction. When coconut is cooked with garlic, cumin, and turmeric, the scent is intoxicating and unusual.
This was one of my favorite dishes to cook in college. My roommates usually requested this curry or the Mediterranean Lemony Potato Stew. Both recipes come from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, which was one of the two cookbooks I owned in college. Both are still favorites of mine.
The original recipe calls for fresh coconut, but I almost always use dried, unsweetened coconut. Fresh coconut has a fun chewy and silky texture, but it takes some time and effort to break open a coconut. If you use dried coconut instead of fresh, check the packaging to make sure it is unsweetened, and doesn’t contain sugar.
This is an extremely simple curry to pull together. It takes about 10 minutes to prepare (and less if you don’t peel your potatoes), and 45 minutes to simmer. Other than the coconut, the ingredients are staples you probably have in your pantry. Turmeric and cumin are more common in Western kitchens than, say, fenugreek or ajwain! This is one of those dishes in which you add ingredients to the hot saucepan in a quick procession, seconds apart from each other — so be efficient by preparing and measuring the ingredients before heating the stove.
POTATO COCONUT CURRY
3 medium-size boiling potatoes (about 1 1/4 lb)
6 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 whole dried red chili
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 cups grated coconut (dried and unsweetened, or fresh)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 pounds diced tomatoes, fresh or canned (16-20 ounces)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Peel the potatoes (I used white potatoes with delicate skin, and didn’t peel them). Cut into a 3/4-inch dice and put into a bowl of cold water. Mince the garlic. Measure the coconut and whole cumin seeds. In a small bowl, combine the turmeric, ground cumin, and salt.
Heat the oil in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the minced garlic. Stir for about 5 seconds.
Now put in the red pepper and the cumin seeds. Stir for another 3 seconds. The garlic should brown lightly, the red pepper should darken, and the cumin seeds should sizzle.
Lower the heat to medium, put in the coconut and stir around for about 15 seconds (I often stir for around 1 minute to toast the dried coconut a little).
Drain the potatoes in a colander. Add them to the saucepan, as well as the turmeric, ground cumin, salt, tomatoes (including the juices in the can), plus 1 1/2 cups water.
Bring to a boil. Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Stir gently every 7-8 minutes or so to prevent sticking. Put in the sugar and vinegar. Stir again and cook, uncovered, for 1 minute.