In the days before calorie counting became such an obsession, life was a lot of fun.
Deep fried treats were an integral part of every meal and a favourite was aloo bhaja (deep fried potato sticks).
Meat obsessed Bengalis deign to make the exception only for very few vegetables. These irresistible deep fried potato sticks, generously sprinkled with salt are among the few that make the cut.
Even with unfaltering calorie defiant love it is impossible to monopolize this mouth watering dish. Every Bengali worth his salt at some point in his life has been in the raptures of love with this dish and once a lover always so.
Every family has patented their own version of this fantastic discovery. It is impossible to play favourites with the recipes. Each one is resplendent on its own throne. The fan following is staunch. The throne impossible to usurp.
The aloo bhaja stands its ground alone and when the occasion demands partakes in delectable threesomes and foursomes. The heavenly combination of dal, bhaat and aloo bhaja is the comfort food of an entire region for good reason. It is so reassuring and filling that it lulls you to sleep.
Aloo bhaja has held its own despite the efforts of frozen French fries because of their sublime character and their ability to merge into rather than dominate the plate.
Fry aloo bhaja and you will attract several noses followed by the respective hungry stomachs to your kitchen.
Long live the aloo bhaja!
Classically aloo bhaja is fried in Mustard oil. In deference to rising cholesterol levels, mustard oil has been substituted with refined oil. A tablespoon of Mustard oil added to the refined oil imparts the flavour.
The tough part is the cutting of the potato. Matchstick thin slices are difficult to produce but a few bleeding fingers later one does acquire the requisite patience and skill.
1. Peel a potato and cut it up into matchstick like pieces. If that is too tough, do thin round slices. The advantage here is that the slices can be on the thicker side and still taste good.
2. Soak the slices in water for half an hour and then drain the water.
3. Dry the slices in a strainer and allow all the water to drain out so that the water does not make the hot oil splatter.
4. Sprinkle and mix in some salt on the dried slices.
5. Heat oil for deep frying in a kadhai and add a few slices at a time.
6. Fry them until they are golden brown
7. Remove them from the kadhai and drain the oil on a paper napkin.
8. Sprinkle some salt on top and serve
The trick in getting a crisp finish without ending up with a lump of limp sticky potato is to fry in small batches. Allow the oil to heat up before you add the next batch. The oil should be hot enough to brown the outside of the potato as soon as it hits the oil. Small quantities added to hot oil keeps the temperature high enough for this. Too many slices lower the temperature abruptly and with that out goes the crispness.