Balti potatoes – my favourite side dish for a curry!

29 Apr

I have been making this side dish for a curry for years.  It was my Mum’s favourite.  Whenever she came down for the weekend, which was about twice a month, she would always ask for either a curry or a stir-fry.  She would never let me get away without making these potatoes if curry was on the menu.  They are quite spicy but you can calm them down a bit by putting in less chilli.  The recipe is for four people but I usually make extra as I find it is never enough.  Fennel seeds are one of the ingredients in this dish giving it a subtle but distinctive flavour.  I thought it would be good to find out a little more about this herb.

Fennel is part of the parsley family, and every part of the plant is edible.  Grown as a perennial in the Middle East and Europe, fennel has been harvested for hundreds of years.  If you have ever grown fennel you will know it is easy to cultivate but difficult to get rid of.  We had a plant in our herb garden and, years after we had pulled it up, we were still finding new fennel plants springing up in the most unlikely places.  Butterflies love it and I think the spread of the plant could be due to the seeds being spread by the butterflies and birds.

The slight licorice flavor of the herb complements sausages, fish and salads, making it popular in many cuisines.  The Greeks know it as maratho, named the herb after the famous Battle of Marathon, which was fought on a field of fennel.  It is used extensively to flavour their meats and stews. It is an ingredient in the Chinese 5 Spice powder and the Italians love to roast the bulbs in olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan or slice them raw in salads.  Fennel seeds are often used to add flavour to Italian sausages and they are a prime ingredient in some Indian cuisines.

Apart from the versatility of fennel in cooking, it has numerous medicinal properties.  Carminative properties of fennel are known from ancient times, as recorded in the Latin phrase “semen foeniculi pellit spiracula culi”, which literally means “the fennel seeds make blow the arsehole”.  Some may recognise the distinctive liquorice flavour in Gripe water, used to calm colic in babies, or in a cough linctus to calm the cough reflex.  In the Indian subcontinent, fennel seeds are eaten raw, sometimes with some sweetener, as they are said to improve eyesight.  Ancient Romans regarded fennel as the herb of sight. Root extracts were often used in tonics to clear cloudy eyes. Extracts of fennel seed have been shown in animal studies to have a potential use in the treatment of glaucoma.

Well, now we know fennel is great to have in the garden, lets look at the recipe.

Balti potatoes                                                    Serves 4

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 curry leaves
  • 1 scant tsp crushed dried red chillies
  • 1/4 tsp each of onion seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp grated fresh root ginger
  • 2 onions sliced
  • 6 large new potatoes (to make about the equivalent amount of potato to onion when raw)  sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
  • small handful chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 red or green chilli, seeded and chopped finely
  1. Heat the oil in a wok.  Lower the heat slightly and add the cumin, curry leaves, dried chillies, onion, mustard and fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, garlic and ginger.  Cook for about 1 minute or until the seeds start to pop then add the onions.  Cook gently for about 10 minutes or until the onions are soft and golden brown.
  2. Add the potatoes, coriander and green chilli.  Mix well, cover the pan and cook over a low heat for about 7 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

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