Saturday, January 15, 2011

Spicy Potatoes and Spinach with Blackened Chiles and Coconut Milk (Ulli Ishto)

It is amazing to me how delicious vegetables are if you prepare them well. I remember the first Indian restaurant I ever went to. I was a vegetarian at the time and the only thing on the menu that sounded relatively inoffensive was a dish called channa saag. The menu said it was made of spinach and chickpeas. I thought, well, I'll choke it down and at least get some greens out of it. I couldn't believe it when I took the first bite. Spicy, creamy, and delicious. To this day, the various spinach dishes at every Indian restaurant are my first choice and among my favorite foods.

Of course, this means when I get cookbooks full of Indian recipes (such as my favorite, 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer, which is the source of this recipe), I make an effort to cook every spinach-based dish I can find. This recipe is an excellent addition to my list of delicious spinach dishes. Some of the spices were a little hard to find, but I was finally able to find Nigella (also known as Charnushka or black caraway) at Penzey's in St. Paul.

First, mix the the panch phoron:

Panch Phoron (Indian Five-Spice Blend)
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp nigella
1/2 tsp black or yellow mustard seeds

Combine in a small bowl and mix 'em up. I usually put them in a covered bowl and shake it to mix. Makes 1 tbsp.

Spicy Potatoes and Spinach with Blackened Chiles and Coconut Milk (Ulli Ishto)


2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp Panch Phoron
3 dried red chiles (Thai or cayenne), stems removed
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-1 inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup unsweetenened coconut milk
8-10 oz fresh spinach leaves, chopped coarsely in a food processor

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is hot and shimmering slightly.
  2. Sprinkle in the panch phoron and let sizzle 10-15 seconds.
  3. Add the chiles and stir fry until the chiles darken, about 10-15 seconds.
  4. Add the potatoes. Stir to coat the potatoes in spice, cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes.
  5. Stir in the salt and turmeric.
  6. Stir in the coconut milk. Heat to a boil.
  7. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the potatoes are tender (12-15 minutes).
  8. Stir in the spinach. Cover the skillet and simmer until the spinach has wilted and the flavors have melded, about 2 minutes.
  9. Serve with naan or rice!

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