Aloo Palak; or how I discovered that elephants are surprisingly good swimmers, and that potatoes go surprisingly well with spinach.
On a recent trip to southern India with the Chief Correspondent, I learnt, in succession, two very surprising facts.
The first was that elephants are surprisingly good swimmers. I thought they might be rather clumsy, but they have a built-in snorkel, they sink majestically below the water, and proceed in a stately, elegant way. Extraordinary!
We got back from an afternoon spotting not just elephants but fabulous kingfishers, crocodiles, and an enormous guar, built like a tank.
And that was when I made my next discovery – aloo (meaning ‘potatoes’) palak (meaning ‘spinach’). I like both, but I had never though to mix the two. And they pair surprisingly well, helped along by a variety of local Indian spices.
This goes particularly well with spicy yoghurt chicken, or Red Rooster Spiced Yardbird.
This is what to do.
Recipe for Aloo Palak
• 300g/10 oz frozen spinach
• 2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
• 2 onions
• ½ tsp byadgi chilli or Aleppo pepper
• 200g/7 oz baby waxy potatoes
• 1 tsp turmeric
• 5 cm/1”/a thumb’s worth of grated ginger
• 50g/2 oz butter (to be authentic it would be better to use ghee)
• 1 tsp cumin seeds – ideally dry-fried
• ½ tsp ground coriander
• 1 tsp garam masala
• 2 tbsps double cream
• Olive oil for frying
1. Take the spinach out of the freezer, and put somewhere warm to defrost.
2. Boil the potatoes in boiling water until cooked – about 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, peel and slice the onions, and begin to fry gently in a medium saucepan, in a little olive oil.
4. After about ten minutes add the garlic and the ginger, and then add the spinach, breaking up if necessary. Blitz with a stick blender to transform the lot into a purée.
5. Add the butter, the turmeric and the cumin seeds. Cook gently for another five minutes or so.
6. Add the potatoes, the coriander and the garam masala. If it looks a bit dry add a tablespoon or so of water – not too much, because the cream will also moisten this dish later.
7. Simmer for a few minutes more to enable the potatoes to absorb some of the flavour.
8. Pour over the cream, stir in, and serve.
Below you can see a family of African elephants off for a swim…