I first heard of Holi when I read A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth last year. (Great book, you should read it!). Holi, in the most basic description I can think of, is a festival to welcome Spring and this is done with some pretty wild celebrations using lots of colors, which people smear on one another.
This year I got curious about food that is typically eaten as part of Holi celebrations. I found this short essay and accompanying recipes, and decided I wanted to tackle the first three: Dahi Aloo Curry, Kesari Chawwal (Saffron Rice), and Pichkari (Saffron and Mango Cannoli).
I was surprised to see cannoli there, since I always thought of those as a southern Italian treat (more specifically Sicilian and even more specifically coming from Palermo, it turns out) and decided I really need to make those. But because I want to make the shells myself and this whole exercise was becoming more daunting as I considered all the steps I would have to carry out, I decided to leave out the cannoli this time. I will have a separate post for those at a future date. I am determined to make them.
So…I decided to focus on the curry and rice dishes. Even though it registered in my brain that both dishes required yogurt, I didn’t fully appreciate just how much yogurt until I set about making the dishes. I decided it was way too much yogurt…Why have two dishes featuring yogurt in this way? Also, it looked like a thoroughly daunting task when I started creating a plan of execution, especially since I had never made these dishes before. Therefore, I settled on making just the curry and decided to make some plain basmati rice to accompany it.
The recipe says to use a large stew pot. I usually cook curries in my wok, but I very quickly realized why the recipe says stew pot: 1 quart of yogurt mixed with 1 quart of water would not have fit in my wok, but my dutch oven would work just fine. Also, the recipe calls for whole milk yogurt. I cannot eat whole milk yogurt without getting sick, so I replaced it with Greek yogurt. I’m not sure this was the right decision; more on that later.
Anyway, I more or less followed the directions: I washed and boiled the fingerling potatoes.
While they were boiling, I prepped the ginger, onion, chili peppers, and tomatoes (I used a couple handfuls of grape tomatoes instead of two small tomatoes). I measured out the turmeric and added it to the ginger since they would be added to the pot together. When the potatoes were done (I stuck a fork in one and decided it was done…total guesswork on my part), I drained them and set them aside to cool.
While they were cooling, I whisked (stirred, really) the water into the yogurt in my biggest mixing bowl. While I waited for the mustard seeds to pop, I made sure I had my other spices lined up: dried red pepper (I didn’t smash it) and cumin seeds. I also set up my rice; because it requires about 20 minutes after coming to a boil, I knew the timing would work out just about perfectly. So I turned on the burner and made sure I had the lid nearby.
Adding the yogurt-water mix was a little nerve-wracking because I really did not want to curdle the yogurt. Luckily, I was successful in that manner. Unfortunately, I am not going to call this dish a great success.
To me, it smelled about ten times better than it tasted. Not that it tasted bad, it was yummy, just not quite as wonderful as I had been anticipating. I’m not sure about the reasons for that, but since it turned out as more of a soup than I had envisioned in my head, I think I would like it better if it were thicker…so one idea I have is to cut the water in half next time. Also, I might want to try regular low-fat yogurt, which I can tolerate, unlike whole milk yogurt. Greek is the safest for me…but tastes more tart…but maybe the recipe needs to be sweeter? Oh–another thing: I did not have any fresh curry leaves. I am determined to find and obtain them, though.
The other thing that struck me was the method for cooking the potatoes. Now, I’m not from India, I just really love the food. In all the other potato curries I have made, the potatoes never get boiled first. They cook in the sauce of the curry. So next time I may try that. I will add the potatoes to the pot with the onions and peppers and let them cook in the yogurt sauce.
If anyone has any thoughts on authenticity of this dish, either the way it is explained in the directions or the changes I am considering, please tell me! Speaking of authenticity, since I didn’t grasp that this dish would be soupy compared to other curries I have made, I was not sure at all how to present it. We decided just to spoon it over the plain rice, which worked fine. We have a large amount of leftovers, though, and I think I’ll make some naan and we can eat it with the naan.
Also, please, if you have any recommendations of dishes for Holi, please tell me. I’m already planning next year. 🙂