How to cook the perfect aloo tikki

October 19, 2016

It is north India and Pakistans greatest street food but how do you recreate this intensely savoury potato snack at home?

Aloo tikki, or spiced potato fritters, are to northern Indian and Pakistan what the chip is to Britain: a near ubiquitous street food, best served hot, crisp, and satisfyingly salty. Substitute ketchup for chutney, and a banana leaf for a twisting of newspaper( or, less romantically, a foil dish for a polystyrene box ), and its a perfect match. Though it must be admitted that aloo tikki is a bit more sophisticated.

The great Madhur Jaffrey writes evocatively in her memoir, Under the Mango Trees, of the aloo-ki-tikiyas of her childhood, bought from a stalling just outside the theatre door: As soon as he got the order, the vendor would place a patty on a leaf, split it open and suffocate both portions with sweet-and-sour tamarind chutney. We would carry these hot patties back into the dark cinema house and eat them as we watched Hanuman trying to rescue Sita, the good queen, from the clutches of the demon king of Sri Lanka.

Similarly, Ismail Merchant, a man noted almost as much for his food as for his films, waxed lyrical about the pleasure, at the end of a days shopping in the bazaar, of a pit stop at a beautifully decorated cart for an aloo tikki, freshly prepared and served on an enormous banana leaf.

These days, you can even get a McAloo Tikki burger in Indian McDonalds, a development which, sadly, has not attained it as far as Britain. Happily, however, like chips, theyre simplicity itself to make at home for lunch, tea, or a party( they have an unparalleled ability to soak up liquor ), and have the crowd-pleasing benefit of being both vegan, and easily rendered gluten free. Just like chips, in fact.

The potatoes

Alfred

Alfred Prasads aloo tikki. Photo: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian

Though most of the recipes dont specify this fact, aloo tikki should be made from a reasonably fluffy potato: Meera Sodhas Made in India, and chef Alfred Prasad both indicate maris pipers for the task.

Boiling them in their coats, as Prasad, Madhur Jaffreys Invitation to Indian Cooking and Ismail Merchants Indian Vegetarian Cooking recommend, maximises their flavor; both call for them to be peeled before use, but as ever, I dont genuinely insure the phase; the scalp not only adds flavor and fiber, but devotes the cakes a more interesting texture. This is definitely not traditional though, so feel free to peel them if you prefer.

Anjali Pathaks Indian Family Kitchen simmers the potato pieces with turmeric and lemon peel, which devotes them a lovely flavour and colour obviously less noticeable if theyre cooked in their scalps, but still detectable nevertheless.

Other veggies and aromatics

Geeta

Geeta Guptas aloo tikki. Photo: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian

Sodha, Jaffrey, Geeta Gupta, sister-in-law of the Indian food blogger Mamta Gupta, and, according to her a great cook, all use onion( Sodha uses the red range, which I love for the extra pop of sweetness it adds ). Sweet onion pairs perfectly with the sugary little peas often found in aloo tikki. Jaffrey employs dried peas, soaked and simmered. Im fairly keen on both, but the fresh sort has the edge on flavor, as well as being substantially quicker to prepare; as Sodha and Pathak notes, you dont even really need to cook frozen petit pois, only thaw them out.

Prasad, whose aloo tikki is distinctly fancy, makes a spinach puree instead, with butter and fenugreek leaves, and pipes it into little coins which are then frozen for ease of stuffing the finished cakes. Its completely, utterly delicious, but gets lost among the other spices; the sweeter pea is a better idea.( I also try shredded cabbage, which Gupta suggests as an alternative, but find it similarly shy and retiring .)

Pathak and Gupta use garlic( very optional, according to the latter ), and Sodha and Pathak fresh ginger, both of which help to add zip to the potato, though my favourite addition is the popular coriander; Merchants peppery parsley alternative seems a bizarre option. Green chilli, use liberally by almost everyone, devotes a herbaceous, almost bitter heat to the cakes and, with a dash of lemon juice, demonstrates the perfect foil for all that wonderful, carby stodge.

The spices

Madhur

Madhur Jaffreys aloo tiki. Photo: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian

Though I try aloo tikki spiced with everything from fenugreek to the pungent, aesfoetida-rich chat masala, having gone for a sharp, green flavor profile, Im going to keep dried spices to a minimum, to give the potato a chance. Pathaks mustard seeds dedicate a burst of sour heat and a satisfying crunch, while Sodha and Guptas garam masala renders a subtle sweetness add a little dried chilli powder if youd prefer your version to have more of a kick.

Binding and coating

Anjali

Anjali Pathaks aloo tiki. Photo: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian

Some aloo tikki recipes, including Jaffrey and Pathak, are pure, unadulterated potato, but theyre easier to shape and cook if you include some sort of binder. Sodha suggests flour, and Gupta cornflour and bread, while Merchant mixtures in so much fat in the form of cream, petroleum and egg that his taste like the various kinds of thing you might find on top of a fish tart.( And is a great pleasure the objective is, too .)

It seems most sensible to use the same thing to bind the mixture as to coat it before frying( this is similarly optional, but Id highly recommend it for creating a crisp outer crust) and again, flour runs fine, as would breadcrumbs, or even Prasads soaked sago pearl, which are deliciously crunchy when fried. My vote, however, goes to Pathaks semolina for its slight grittiness, which attains for a pleasing contrast with the fluffy potato.

Shaping and cooking

Most recipes stuff the potato with the spiced pea mixture, in the traditional way, but my testers opt Sodhas version, which stirs them through the whole mixture, with the result that you get a little of everything with each bite. Controversial, perhaps, but worth health risks in my opinion.

Pathak and Prasad chill their aloo tikki before cook, to help them keep their shape, but I dont find this is a problem if you use a binder indeed, it attains heating them through without burning the outside somewhat trickier for the amateur.

Gupta deep fries her aloo tikki, with predictably delicious outcomes, but its not necessary; frying them in a shallow pond of fat( petroleum, or petroleum and Merchants butter, if youre feeling especially decadent) runs a treat, and with much less in the way of clearing up.

Best served with chutney( Prasad has a delicious sweet-and-sour date-and-tamarind version here ), though it is also astonishingly good in a roll, McAloo Tikki style.

The perfect aloo tikki

The

The perfect aloo tikki. Photo: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian
( Makes about 15 bite-sized versions ) 500 g medium floury potatoes such as desiree or maris piper
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp neutral petroleum, plus extra to fry
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1-2 medium green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/ 2 tsp garam masala
100g shelled peas( frozen is penalty)
3 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 tbsp semolina or cornmeal( or plain flour)
Knob of ghee or butter( optional )

Put the potatoes, whole and unpeeled, into a pan only big enough to hold them, along with the turmeric and a generous pinch of salt and cover-up with cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer until very tender and drainage. Set back into the hot pan for a minute or so to steam dry.

Meanwhile, heat the petroleum in a frying pan over a medium heat and then fry the onion until soft and beginning to caramelise. Stir in the ginger, garlic, chillis, mustard seeds and garam masala and fry for another minute. Stir in the peas and cook for a minute or so to defrost if necessary.

If you must, peel the potatoes, then mash well, and add to the frying pan. Stir in the lemon juice and two tablespoons of semolina, mix well then season to taste.

Roll the mixture into golf-ball sized sections, then flatten into cakes. Press both sides in semolina.

Coat the bottom of a frying pan with petroleum, and add the ghee if using. Heat over a medium-high flame, then add the tikki( they should sizzle ). Cook until golden brown, then carefully flip over and repeat. Serve warm with chutney.

Aloo tikki: best street food ever, or does India boast even better hot and salty snacks that we all deserve to know about? And how do you make it into an aloo tikki burger ?

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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