Way back when the first space craft went into space and man walked on the moon and so on, when people pictured the future, it was very different from the way life really is right now. We were supposed to be moving around in a vehicle that floated in thin air, like the Jetsons, and wear seriously contricting head to toe gear with boots. Food was supposed to be only nourishment, i.e. we would pop food pills to keep us alive and healthy.
Well, guess what? We're still driving around in automobiles and since roads are material, unlike thin air, we do constantly get stuck in traffic jams. Clothing has moved through cycles of contricting to deconstructed and few people live in boots. And while we do pop pills, that's over and above food. Which I am thankful for, because food is just so intrinsically connected with emotion, for many cultures but particularly so in India, that living without food would be like wiping out emotions. I'm just not ready for that stage of emotional detachment yet - Nirvana can wait while I gulp down some chaat at the nearest street corner!
We all have our own versions of comfort food. For most men, I think, it tends to be the food their mothers made, as that is probably one of the most tension-free relationships they have ever had or will have. For Madhur Jaffrey, one of my favourite food-writers, it's mucilaginous food like moong ki daal which she describes as her first favourite food. For me, it has to do with starchy carbs like potatoes and arbi. Whenever I'm feeling stressed or low, I tend to turn towards these veggies and they have to be cooked in a particular way, too. When I think about it, I find it a little strange because you would think something I ate at my mother's home, like saaru-anna, would be more like it, but no, it's potatoes.
My stress-relief potato sabzi is dry and spiced, with no added fallals like onions or tomatoes to get in the way. I typically have this veggie with rotis, but it tastes great with dal chawal, curd-rice or even saaru-anna (rasam chawal). I have even been known to eat it by itself with a bowl of curd. This flexi-veg can even go into an old-fashioned sandwich the next morning - the kind made in a square contraption into which you place 2 slices of bread with a veggie or some filling in the middle and then hold over the gas stove for it to get toasted. One of the nice things about this recipe is that apart from being fool-proof it takes only about 15 minutes to make - sometimes simplicity is divine!
Potatoes, washed, boiled, peeled and cubed ( We typically count 1 large potato per head and 2 for the pot)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp/ to taste chilli powder
salt to taste
Put the oil into a wok ( preferably non-stick). When hot, pop in the turmeric and cumin seeds. When the cumin turns darker, add the potatoes and turn flame to medium-low. Cook slowly, turning occasionally, until the potatoes turn browned and crisp on the outside. Add salt and chilli powder to taste. Stir to mix and serve hot.
You can replace the boiled potatoes with boiled arbi ( colocasia) which also tastes great, though I prefer slicing the arbi rather than cubing it, to ensure it turns crisp. Even jimikand tastes good this way. If you want to jazz it up, you can add amchur (dry mango powder) and a touch of heeng ( asafoetida) and top it with coriander leaves for garnish.
My ajji ( grandma) makes a version of this beloved by all her grandkids but requiring the kind of patience only a grandma can summon up. She cuts the potatoes into really fine cubes - about 1/2 cm square - and then slow cooks them until each and every golden piece is crisp, before salting and chilli-ing them. It looks ( and tastes) great and I would love to serve this at a party but who has the patience to make it?