June 02, 2012

Aloo Matar (Dry) and Samosa Pie

My generalized dislike of green peas is almost legendary in my family, even though by age 10 or so I had conceded that peas in the context of a dish that was not only about the peas was entirely acceptable. I fell for snap peas and snow peas early and hard, as most kids do, but the pyramid of naked green peas as the vegetable du jour remains on my least beloved list. Split peas, however, were never on my bad list, as I've always categorized of them more as a lentil than anything else.

When I cook with peas, I tend toward using snow peas or snap peas, and I like them equally well (slightly) cooked or raw. I don't usually buy frozen peas, because I have so little use for them. However, I can think of a few uses for peas where they really shine, and the dish wouldn't be the same without them: 1) My mother's Spring chicken noodle soup, 2) raw in a salad or straight out of the garden (shelled, of course), and 3) potato-pea samosa filling.

Lately, I've found myself eyeing every restaurant listing for samosas that I can find. I prefer to know ahead of time what style of samosa is available, so I usually need to ask questions. Phyllo is not my favourite pastry for the samosa oeuvre, nor is puff pastry - the first being too shattery (or leathery), and the second being too rich and too thick. Since I am both fundamentally lazy and afraid of frying things, I decided that I should simply make one big samosa - i.e. a pie - using my usual all-purpose pastry shell, and make up my own filling: potato and pea, of course - my favourite samosa.

Having never made samosas before, I started looking at recipes for fillings and concluded that they were simply a dry aloo matar (mattar, muttar, mutter), and simply made up my own recipe as I went along. I was thrilled with the filling, and happily mounded it into the pie crust to bake in the oven.

The samosa pie was quite pretty, I think, and absolutely delicious - with one caveat: the peas were overcooked. Now, this wasn't the end of the world (although overcooking peas is a kind of tragedy) largely because I have an aggressive hand with the seasoning, which concealed some of the sins of overcooking. Now that I've considered the problem (and re-heated leftover pie a few times) I think I have the solution. Cook everything but the peas, allow the filling to cool, stir in frozen peas, mound into pastry shell and bake. As I was starting with a hot filling, and then baking it at 425 F for 45 minutes, of course the peas got overdone. But with a pre-cooked, cool or cold filling, and frozen peas, the outcome should be much better. I will be sure to report back when I try it again.

If you are not making pie, however, and just want a delicious, substantial dry curry, follow the directions for the peas below.

Aloo Matar

Serves 6—8

4 large yellow potatoes (about 2.75 lbs / 1300 g) peeled and diced medium
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 cup frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil or mustard oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon masala of your choice (garam, tandoori, madras, etc.)
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or more)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (or equivalent fresh)
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (less if your masala contains salt)
pinch of turmeric if you want a yellow-y colour boost (not pictured)

Set the peeled and diced potatoes to cook until tender - about 10 minutes for simmering. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic until translucent. If you want, you can add some finely diced hot chiles here, too. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds, and about half the rest of the seasonings (you can mix all of the ground seasonings together beforehand). Add the frozen peas, stir and saute until the peas are all nicely covered with the oily spices, and either turn off the burner or set on a very low flame until the potatoes are ready. When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them in a colander and spoon them into the skillet. Sprinkle the rest of the spices evenly over the potatoes and, using a spatula, carefully fold the potatoes through the peas mixture until everything looks evenly distributed. Serve with mango or tamarind chutney.

As always, feel free to tinker with the spices to best suit your tastes.

For Samosa pie, make the filling as above, omitting the peas. Cool the potato filling, stir in the frozen peas, and mound into the pastry shell of your choice. Bake at 450 F for 40 - 45 minutes, checking periodically, or until the crust is a lovely golden brown. For gluten free and/or vegan, you will need to accommodate those factors in your choice of pie crust, naturally, but the filling meets both requirements on its own.

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