Aloo Tikkis (Potato Cakes)
This just might be the time and place to make a profound declaration about my lifelong love for potatoes. If not now, when? No matter what else has changed in my life from childhood to adulthood, this spudevotion has remained unequivocal. You cannot hide a love of this magnitude even if you tried but why would you want to?
My family (extended included) have known it for the longest time and lovely, loving people that they are, have fuelled this passion at every opportunity they could get. If there was the slightest possibility of a visit from me, potatoes would be bought or brought out of storage, to be made into one (or two or three) of its many different incarnations. Oh, what a privilege to have people who love (& feed) you so! One aunt even went so far as to promise the then five-year-old me that she’d set me up with a potato farmer when I was older. Alas, she failed to keep her word but I still live in hope. I’m sure my husband will understand.
As an impressionable teenager, I once came across a news item about a woman who suddenly developed a severe allergy to potatoes (yes, there’s such a thing). One day she was fine eating potatoes, the next day, even the steam from a pot of potatoes boiling yards away would cause her an extremely horrific rash. I hadn’t known that 1) mild, unobtrusive potatoes were capable of offending anyone and 2) you could just wake up with an allergy to something you’ve consumed all your life. The mere thought of the possibility was enough to give me nightmares. Since then, each day that I wake up without developing this extremely rare allergy, I consider a good one.
There are innumerable ways to love a potato,
all most of them legitimate, but tikkis are amongst the top five on my list. And, in a (loose, very loose – for all you purists mathematicians reading) case of culinary recursion, tikkis themselves have countless variations – some have fillings, others are breaded, floured or battered, yet others contain cornstarch. In some cases, bread, either in crumbs or soaked in milk, is added to the potatoes. When I was very young, my Mum would make tikkis to use up leftover bread in the house but as my love for tikkis grew apparent, she bought the bread especially to make tikkis. She would briefly soak the slices in milk, then mash them up and add to cooked potatoes mashing and mixing as she went. This is how it’s done in some parts of north India. My own tikki recipe has evolved, for reasons that are incomprehensible even to me, from this soaked bread version to adding breadcrumbs instead. And this is the recipe that I share with you here. In its most basic form, all a tikki needs are potatoes, bread, salt and oil. So feel free to add or subtract the other ingredients to suit your whimsy. You could also add lemon juice, herbs, cooked vegetables, green chillies etc.
Tikkis may be eaten on their own, with chutneys (such as coriander/mint or tamarind), tomato ketchup or with a dried peas curry (in the west of India, known as Ragda Pattice) or a chickpea curry, chole (in the north of India).
The Potatoes: You can make tikkis out of any kind of potatoes but the fluffy kind are the best (the ones known as floury in the UK: Maris Piper and King Edward being the two main varieties) – these are the ones that disintegrate easily when slightly over-cooked and readily produce a mash. If you do decide to use the other kind (known as waxy in the UK and include varieties such as Charlotte, Jersey Royals & Anya), the gluey types that hold their shape, then you will need grate them as they do not mash easily.
The Bread: Soft white bread is the best (sliced, roll or loaf) but other breads such as sourdough or wholegrain provide a rustic character to the tikki if that’s what rocks your boat.
The Frying Pan: Of course you can make these on any frying pan but for the best results, take a leaf out of professional tikki makers’ book and use a heavy cast iron pan.
The Technique: Professional tikki makers add the tikkis to the hottest part of the pan (which is usually the centre), let them sizzle a bit on both sides in the hot oil and then move them to the periphery where the tikkis develop a crisp crust in the low heat.
Enough chitchat. On to the recipe.
Aloo (Potato) Tikkis
- 1 kg potatoes, preferably floury I use King Edward or Maris Piper
- 200 g white bread (about 4 - 8 slices, depending on the size & thickness)
- 30 g butter optional, but highly recommended
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 0 - 1 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp kasuri methi
- 1 tsp curry powder
- oil for frying
- First of all, cook the potatoes. You can use any method you like but I find the best way is to microwave them as this is not just quick and easy but also dries them out a bit and that is only a good thing when you're aiming for crispness. Wash and drain the potatoes, then place in a large microwave-proof bowl. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Check for doneness. Take out any small ones which might have already been fully cooked. Turn the remaining potatoes over and microwave in bursts of 5 minutes and repeating the process of taking out any that's cooked. Larger potatoes will probably take about 20 minutes in total. Set aside to cool.
- Process the bread into fine crumbs. You can trim the crusts if you want to, but I don't. Gently melt the butter, if using.
- Peel the potatoes and mash them in the same large bowl. Or if they are not easily mashed, grate them coarsely.
- Add the breadcrumbs, the melted butter (if using) and all the other ingredients. Mash well together, forming a homogenous mixture. Taking about a scant handful (approximately 1/8 - 1/4 cup) of the mixture at a time, roll them into smooth crack-free balls and then press down slightly to form a disc. The flatter and thinner this disc, the more surface area for greater crispness.
- Heat a frying pan (cast iron for preference: see tip above) over medium heat and add a tbsp of oil in the centre. Add 5-6 tikkis to the oil, let them sizzle a bit in the oil then flip and continue with the other side. Once slightly golden on either side, move to the periphery of the pan and let them cook on the lower heat while you repeat this process of frying tikkis in the centre and moving them to the side. Add oil as necessary. You don't need a lot, just enough.
- Keep flipping and checking the tikkis on the periphery until they are crisp. Remove to a plate as each looks done.
- Serve on their own with ketchup, chilli sauce or chutney. Or to make a meal out of them, top with chole (chickpea curry), green and/or brown chutneys, chopped onions, tomatoes, green chillies and coriander and sev.