Ulli Ishto: Spicy Potatoes and Spinach with Blackened Chiles and Coconut Milk

I love Indian food. I love 660 Curries. I love Indian food. Love it love it love it. I didn’t feel like making any of the things I have “planned,” so I flipped through my beloved copy of 660 Curries looking for something using spinach and potatoes and for which I had everything on hand. I found this one, which was a new one for me. I even got to make a new spice mix: Panch phoron, which Iyer describes as a Bengali five-spice blend. Interestingly, it’s a whole spice blend so I didn’t even need to pre-toast or grind anything. I just mixed everything in a spare glass bottle and I was done. So Easy.

One problem, though: his version calls for nigella seeds, which I have not been able to get my hands on yet. I decided to check the internet for substitutes instead of just leaving them out and making a Bengali four-spice blend. I found this great page: nigella seed substitutes and chose celery seed since I like it and have it.

So my (maybe-not-so-) Bengali five-spice blend is composed of 2 tsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1 tsp celery seed, and 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds. I would use 1 tbs of this mixture in my Ulli Ishto (which was almost all of it).


The Ulli Ishto was pretty easy to  put together. First I chopped my potatoes. I heated some canola oil in my wok and then put 1 tbs of the Panch phoron in there, stirred it, then added 3 dried chili peppers, stirred, waited for them to blacken. Because the mustard seeds pop, I had to keep taking the wok lid on and off.


As soon as the peppers were blackened, I added the potatoes and put the lid back on. I had to turn the heat down. The potatoes sizzled for a few minutes and I kept stirring them up to coat them with the spices. After they started to brown up, I sprinkled 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp turmeric on them and stirred. Then I poured a can of coconut milk over them, turned the heat up, and waited for it to come to a boil. At this point I set up my rice to cook. When the coconut milk started to boil, I turned the heat back again and put the lid on the wok to let them simmer until the potatoes were fork tender. I stirred them occasionally. When the potatoes were done about 15 minutes later, I poured a bag of baby spinach over the potato mixture and covered with the lid to allow the spinach to wilt. Once wilted, I stirred it all together.


When the rice was done, I served it up. It smelled amazing and tasted amazing too. This is definitely something I’ll be adding to my regular curries. Also I will use more spinach next time. Thre recipe calls for more, but I used what I had.



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