Railroad Potatoes

Chris loves Indian food. Loves it. He’d never partaken of the tikka masala, the tandoori, the naan (etc) until I took him to a place in Grand Rapids with some friends. Good Indian but by no means comparable to the two places I know best, both located in Metro Detroit.

Sadly, in all this time we’ve been tgoether, I still haven’t been able to take him to either of those places (I also recently learned that Priya in Troy has new owners and is no longer very good or very clean).  For now, we have made do with regular trips to Sindhu in East Lansing. If this place were on the west side of campus instead of at the Epcot Center World Tour Plaza* (uh, Hagadorn Plaza) on the east side of Michigan State University, we’d probably be eating there weekly.

I tend to vary my choices there but usually get chicken biryani or some chicken dish which is not on the restaurantdb.net website menu so I can never remember what its called until I get there. Chris always gets chicken tikka masala. He’s obsessed, I think.

Not having a tandoor oven at home, its almost impossible to recreate the flavors for this dish as you get in a restaurant. Awhile back, I made chicken tikka masala from almost-scratch, a recipe I’ve repeated a few times since then. But on this President’s Day, despite having a 3 day weekend, I didn’t have the motivation or time to do a full court press. Plus, I was watching the Olympics! And knitting because that is my new hobby.
So, I used a jar of tikka masala simmer sauce. I wish I could tell you which brand I used but I threw out the jar already. It wasn’t great and I can say that it was not the Seeds of Change brand. We do like that one although there is not enough to cover 1 lb of chicken, in my opinion (I add yogurt or cream at the end). I had just a bit of the tandoori spice mix from the spice shop in Ann Arbor so I sprinkled that on the chicken before sauteing it.

My main focus tonight was on the side dish. Normally, we have rice and/or naan. However, over a month ago, I bought Chris a book about Indian cooking at home- using only 5 spices. I thought this would be perfect for him to try out as Indian food can quickly become complicated with many spices, frying seeds, grinding and mixing, etc.. Since, a month later, no Indian has magically appeared on the nights when it was his turn to cook, I grabbed the bull by the horns (or the book by the covers) and picked something out.

The five spices required in 5 Spices, 50 dishes are: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ground cayenne and ground turmeric.  At our last trip to Whole Foods, I picked up the coriander seeds and also some cardamom pods (green) because I like to add those to the rice. We already had everything else in stock. Side note: my spice “rack” is out of control.

This particular recipe uses 3 of the five spices.

Railroad Potatoes

(Slight modifications, as noted, from original in book)

1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes
3-4 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced (equaled 2 cups for me)
2 teaspoons salt (!)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

DirectionsSlice potatoes in to quarters then crosswise in to 1/4 inch slices. The original called for red skins and smaller chunks but this is what I needed to use up and hello, Olympics are on!

Make the tadka: Heat oil in large deep pan or wok. When oil begins to smoke, add mustard seeds and cover with a lid.  Once seeds stop spattering, add turmeric and stir. Then add onions and potatoes, salt and cayenne. Toss together, cover and cook over medium heat about 10-15 minutes.

Railway/road potatoes in all their yellow glory!

The book calls these Railway Potatoes because the author’s mother often made these up and served them during train trip vacations. For travel purposes, I think smaller potatoes and lots of onion would be fabulous on bread- just like she described.

One modification I should have made was using less salt. I got two cups of onion out of 1/2 an onion but the recipe suggested a whole onion and perhaps the extra salt would have been okay. Not that they weren’t good but they were a little saltier than I prefer.

A tadka, for the uninitiated is how the flavor of the spices get in to the oil (and hence in to the food) while also bringing out the best of those spices. Because you are working with hot oil, its important to have all your ingredients ready before you heat the oil, just like with Chinese stir-fry.

A quick note about my discovery of this book: I originally entered a contest to win it from the food blog Food on the Food. When I didn’t win, I ordered it from the ubiquitous Amazon. There are a lot of books that use 5-7 spices for making Indian food. I have no idea if this one is the best but I have several recipes marked and I believe that most are more authentically Indian that Chris’s beloved chicken tikka masala. I have the feeling this is the kind of food our old neighbors used to make, the stuff that made us want to just barge in over there on a nightly basis as the aromas filled the hallway of our building.

If any Michigan readers visit Food on the Food, try not to get too jealous. Tammy’s regular descriptions of her farm share, her fish share and all the locally available meats, cheeses, and the like make me pout. Instead, plan a trip to the Boston area using her posts as a travelogue guide- just be sure to get a hotel room with a kitchen so you can cook on your vacation. (Seriously, we are thinking of doing something like this next fall on a honeymoon anniversary return to Vermont).

**I am reminded of a childhood trip to Epcot Center when they had this International Village thing (at the time only 10 or so countries) where you could walk from section to section, visiting Mexico, France, Morocco and more in just steps. That is what I think of when I go to Hagadorn Plaza: sushi, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Mediterranean and even Jimmy John’s, all in one strip mall.

One final picture, a little Photoshop goof that came out really cool looking although I probably wouldn’t eat anything that looked like this:


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