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Indian Cooking 101: Know your Spice (Jeera Alu)

In my quest to dismiss the myth that Indian cooking is not for the faint-hearted and to help spread my knowledge on some simple and traditional Indian food recipes, like this Jeera Alu, I have started this series called Indian Cooking 101. To make it more interactive and as helpful as I can for my readers, I welcome you to email me any questions that you may have in the process. I will try and respond to the questions personally through email, or in the next part if it’s connected to what I have already planned to discuss.

Before I start to talk about cooking Indian food, here are a few tips that I think would help make the process a tad bit simpler, followed by a quick and easy recipe for Jeera Alu (Cumin Potatoes). While I already have a Quick-Start Guide on my homepage, this list is minimal for those who want to start slow.

SPICES: If you’ve never cooked Indian food before, and the only spice even remotely connected to Indian cooking ever to step into your spice collection is curry powder, then don’t fret. Start with the basics. Here is a list of the most standard spices that would help you cook many delicious Indian meals without making you go all out and splurge on many exotic flavours that you may be clueless about.

– Cumin Seeds
– Mustard seeds
– Turmeric powder
– Red Chili powder/Cayenne
– Coriander Powder
– Garam Masala

Once you have these staples and are confident about playing with them, then go a step further and try out a few more new to you. Slowly, but surely, you’ll have your own collection of spices that you’re fond of and those that you know would enable you to cook meals that you like.


UTENSILS: While certain dishes require certain traditionally designed equipment, a good start would be to invest in a few simple utensils that you already may or may not have.

– a non-stick wide pan
– a deep heavy-bottomed pot
– a kadhai, or wok, preferably non-stick or aluminum

When it comes to cooking simple Indian food, like this Jeera Alu, you would only need to be familiar with a few spices and the flavours that go with them. As a self-starter, it’s very easy to lose yourself in the wide selection of spices. True, they may seem intimidating at first, but then as you go along and acquaint yourself with the robust flavours they have to offer, you can’t help but get excited at the prospect of shopping and stocking your spice racks with some of your favourites.

As a first in this series, I thought I’d start with this recipe of Jeera Alu which is so simple, yet so flavourful, that would help you identify its distinct taste and aroma. Most Indian cooking would begin with a tempering, simply put, it’s just a process where spices like cumin or mustard seeds are added to hot oil and allowed to sizzle. Doing so adds plenty of flavour to the oil, which then helps in penetrating through the dish during the cooking process. Tempering, or tadka, is also a common way of adding a burst of flavour to a subtly spiced dal.

Recipe for Jeera Alu (Cumin Potatoes) taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for detailed recipe.

The one thing I like about this Jeera Alu recipe is how the cumin dominates in taste. Another reason for adding it to the menu today is to allow you to experiment and play around with some of the flavours you already love, or some that you wish to try. Potatoes are a wonderful vegetable to use when you need to experiment with a certain spice. Since they lack a strong flavour themselves and carry out others with ease, I’d suggest you use not more than a combination of 2-3 spices, to begin with. This would help you identify the flavours and also enable you to decide whether or not you like the mingling of them together.

JEERA ALU (POTATOES FRIED WITH CUMIN)

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time30 mins
Servings: 2
Author: Meena, www.hookedonheat.com

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp light cooking oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 potatoes cut into cubes
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  • Heat oil in a large non-stick pan and saute cumin seeds till they begin to sizzle. Add potatoes and stir-fry for 10-15 minutes on medium-high heat till potatoes start to soften.
  • Sprinkle red chilli powder, turmeric, and salt, and mix well to combine. Cook covered for a few minutes till potatoes are completely cooked through.

Some other alterations to try with this recipe would be:

  • Decrease the amount of cumin seeds in half, substituting the other half denomination with coriander seeds. Sprinkle a pinch of dried fenugreek leaves a few minutes before the potatoes are done.
  • Add about a cup and a half of bite-size cauliflower florets along with the potatoes to make Alu Gobi.
  • Add a cup of frozen peas and cook covered for an extra 5 minutes once potatoes are tender to made delicious Alu Matar.
  • Add a small onion, finely diced, before adding the spices. Follow the remaining method and add a chopped tomato towards the end of the cooking process. Let it cook covered till tomatoes soften and pulp.

Tried this recipe? Leave a Comment and let me know, also Rate it by clicking the number of stars on the recipe card. Want to share your version with me? Tag me on Instagram @hookedonheat

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37 Comments

  • Reply
    Raj
    September 18, 2014

    5 stars
    Fantastic recipe, the family loved it!

  • Reply
    Lori
    September 20, 2008

    5 stars
    I love this site!!! I’m teaching myself to cook Indian food.
    Blessings,
    Lori

  • Reply
    dys
    November 5, 2007

    5 stars
    Oooo … trying this tomorrow (with the added onion and tomato). Looking forward to learning more about Indian cooking through your blog.

    Love your photos, too! Quite lovely.

    dys — a ‘Merican in T.O.

  • Reply
    Mary
    August 31, 2007

    5 stars
    🙂 Ok – I’m clueless. I just read through your suggestions for changing up the recipe and saw that you suggested cauliflower. Sorry – I really should read more thoroughly (maybe that’s where my cooking goes wrong! 🙂

  • Reply
    Mary
    August 30, 2007

    5 stars
    This series is just what I was looking for. My boyfriend is from Calcutta – and I’m from the US. I’m really trying to learn how to cook some good meals for him that remind him of home – but finding that I’m trying dishes that are too challenging (luckily, he’s very understanding).

    One question about this – do you think that I could substitute cauliflower for the potatoes in this dish? What about other vegetable substitutes (like squash?). I kind of imagine that this basic recipe is something that can be used as a base for a variety of different main ingredients.

    Thanks again for all of this great information!

  • Reply
    Martin Nemo
    August 12, 2007

    5 stars
    Dear Meena,

    I love Indian food and I love your series of articles, and you’ve inspired me to try some recipes from scratch rather than using pre-mixed ingredients. 🙂

    But here’s a question I’ve never found the answer to; maybe you know it. The background: I suffer from sinus infections each spring, and I’ve found that a quick (and enjoyable!) remedy often is to go to an Indian restaurant and eat curry. If the curry makes me break into a sweat, my sinus infection usually clears up as a result. But it’s hit-and-miss, because not every curry, and not everything that tastes hot on the tongue, makes me break into a sweat.

    So the question is: what is the spice (or spice combination) that most makes one break into a sweat? Any comments would be greatly appreciated!

    Best wishes,

    Martin

    • Reply
      Meena
      August 13, 2007

      Hi Martin! From what I believe, it’s black pepper and cayenne (red chilli powder) that does wonders for sinus. Ginger also helps, from what I’ve heard. I’d suggest trying out new spicy curries and find out what suits you best. There are tons to choose from, and it won’t be long before you find your favourites!

  • Reply
    Riley
    July 13, 2007

    5 stars
    Meena,

    The Intro to Indian Cooking is informative and interesting. Judging from the photo, the potatoes look starchy, like a baking potato? Thanks,

    Riley

    • Reply
      Meena
      July 14, 2007

      Thanks Riley, I used red potatoes here since I prefer their flavour as compared to the white ones. Hope you like it!

  • Reply
    jeena
    April 7, 2007

    5 stars
    Hi Your food blog looks great and you have some
    lovely recipes, I will be back to visit you.

    from
    Jeena xx

  • Reply
    simcooks
    March 29, 2007

    5 stars
    Hi Meena, Thanks for this post. I was just reading some of your older posts and find this “Introduction to Indian Cooking” very useful in allaying my fears of the numerous spices that I need in Indian Cooking.

  • Reply
    Flipkeat
    March 7, 2007

    5 stars
    Hi Meena, I recently became interested in cooking with an Indian flair I guess you could say..I made my first Beef Curry the other night and we just loved it. In my quest for finding other good recipes….I happened upon your site..wonderful, simply wonderful!! Truly a pleasure being here..I will come back often…….This recipe looks terrific..So simple yet I’m sure chock full of flavour. Can’t wait to give it a try!! Thanks again

  • Reply
    vivek
    March 5, 2007

    5 stars
    Hi Meena, I’m a grad student here in the US. My roommate notoriously anti – subzi(vegeatable) , but I made this and it was a hit !! …thanks a lot!! 🙂 .. looking around for other such simple stuff that I can do using carrots, beans or beetroot.

  • Reply
    Lisa
    March 4, 2007

    5 stars
    Hi Meena, glad to discovered your blog, will definitely try out your delicious recipes. Bravo !

  • Reply
    MeltingWok
    February 24, 2007

    5 stars
    Meena, I love this kinda stir fry, did mine with chayote squash, I love the aromatic cumin seeds that blend so well with the spices..yums, thanks for sharing 🙂 Next time, I’ll do mine with potatoes 🙂

  • Reply
    Nidhi
    February 23, 2007

    5 stars
    Jeera Aloo, my favourite for all times and with every kind of dal or sabzi. I liked your version a lot and the picture is awesome…

  • Reply
    Diana
    February 23, 2007

    5 stars
    I’ve just recently started experimenting with cooking some Indian food.
    I have a question. Does Turmeric have a flavour or is it added to dishes mainly for the colour? It’s a spice I haven’t yet purchased. Just curious.
    I love your blog. It’s really just beautiful and inspiring. I liked the old layout and I like the new layout too. But for me, the photographs of the foods are the clincher! I want to try everything.

    • Reply
      Meena
      February 24, 2007

      Hi Diana! Turmeric doesn’t have a flavour per se, but when added in large amounts can result in a bitter after taste. It’s mainly used in Indian cuisine for its health benefits and colour.

  • Reply
    Larry
    February 23, 2007

    5 stars
    Great beginning to a series I know I will enjoy – should be a fun adventure – nice job.

  • Reply
    Spandana
    February 23, 2007

    5 stars
    Hi Meena,

    The recipe looks simple and delicous. And the picture looks tempting….

  • Reply
    Lakshmik
    February 22, 2007

    5 stars
    Hi Meena

    Simple and exotic recipe. Thanks for the same.

  • Reply
    Kanchana
    February 22, 2007

    5 stars
    Meena,

    Congrats on your food porn! Well, that is how they featured your shrimp picture on slashfood.com.
    I am impressed! You are an inspiration….

    Kanchana

  • Reply
    soumya
    February 22, 2007

    5 stars
    Hi there,
    I just love to visit your blog.I too prepare this recipe but add kasuri methi also to it at the end.You picture looks awesome.thanks for sharing

  • Reply
    Mythreyee
    February 22, 2007

    5 stars
    Jeera Aalu Looks Fantastic.

  • Reply
    Nithya
    February 22, 2007

    5 stars
    This new layout is neat. Good to view the photo at the side rather than scrolling down each time, gives it a magazine effect. & ur’ Intro to Indian cooking’ is unique when compared to other blogs. Keep up the good work, & the inclusion of ‘alterations’ is indeed very helpful.

  • Reply
    Trig
    February 22, 2007

    5 stars
    Meena, you are a beacon in a world of pretentious blogs. It’s great to see such elegant, simple and informative posts and such good presentation of the importance of clean, distinct flavours. I like your “alterations” section. I have just started to include information about what can go wrong in cooking a dish because for beginners this is so important.

    • Reply
      Meena
      February 22, 2007

      Thanks Trig! I plan on doing the alterations section in all parts of the series to encourage readers to take a step further and experiment on their own. You never know what you’ll like if you don’t try it, now will you! 😉

  • Reply
    Hester
    February 22, 2007

    5 stars
    Wow – this is so amazing – I made your butter chicken last night and am definitely going to try this tonight! I will be following along your virtual Indian cooking class :-). Thank you!

    • Reply
      Meena
      February 22, 2007

      Hey Hester, if you made and enjoyed the Butter chicken, then this dish would be a breeze for you! It’s got to be the simplest recipe in my repertoire, and not to mention, my favourite as well! 🙂

  • Reply
    Mehak
    February 21, 2007

    5 stars
    Ohh lovely…One of our all-time & easy recipe…I prepare Jeera Alu once a week or so.

    Looking forward to lots of gyan & fun with the Indian Cooking Series 🙂

  • Reply
    Julie O'Hara
    February 21, 2007

    5 stars
    Meena,
    This is great stuff! Indian food (in all its infinite variety) is one of my very favourite things to eat, but my forays into cooking it have been very simple. I am going to make an effort to try some of these easy recipes and work up to more complex ones. I’d like Indian cooking to feel more like 2nd nature the way Italian or Greek food feels to me. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Sakshi
    February 21, 2007

    5 stars
    I have to say I am a big fan of your blog. I love the way you present ideas in a simple way. And your “Intro to Indian Cooking” has been sent to most of my American friends who love Indian food. Keeps them off my back about how to go about making certain things 😉

  • Reply
    bee
    February 21, 2007

    5 stars
    wicked. simple and scrumptious.

  • Reply
    Mishmash!
    February 21, 2007

    5 stars
    Such a simple recipe and dish and it looks awesome in that pic!  – Shn

  • Reply
    Pamela
    February 21, 2007

    5 stars
    Those potatoes look really great!! Great recipe, thanks for sharing!!

  • Reply
    april_d
    February 21, 2007

    5 stars
    This is one of the first Indian food recipes my boyfriend taught me and we binged on it in college. Maybe not something I would recommend it, but it is so super good. I still cook it whenever I just want a simple yet comforting dish.

  • Reply
    Gluten-Free By The Bay
    February 21, 2007

    5 stars
    What great timing – I just bought a bunch of cumin seeds and was not quite sure what to do with them! Looks tasty.

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