Garam Masala Mashed Potatoes
I am a potato fiend. It’s true. I would go for a spud over a beefcake any day of the week. Total bonus points if there’s a peeler bar involved. So what is it about the lowly potato that’s just so great? Is it that mild and non-confrontational lack of challenge from a root vegetable? Or maybe it’s the flavor, all…comfortingly easy to digest. I don’t know, for sure, but god help you if you call taters boring or I’ll lock you in a camel-clutch sleeper hold until you cry for mercy. Potatoes may be a lot of weak-sauce things, but they’re not boring, and I turn into a defensive zealot whenever anyone seeks to compromise their honor. Yup. That’s me. I might not fight for freedom, but I’ll battle ’til the end for a tuber.
It should come as no surprise that I like potatoes braised, boiled, roasted, whipped, scalloped, gratineed, or essentially however they come. I also love every mashed potato side dish that I’ve ever eaten. Are they buttery and flecked with pepper? Perfect. Are they subtly flavored? Giddyup. I like mashed potatoes with roasted garlic. I like mashed potatoes with goat cheese and chives. I like them with cheddar and bacon, olive oil and artichoke, or broccoli and buttermilk. Basically, I just like mashed potatoes. And all potatoes. I think I might have found a theme here……
Right now you’re probably wondering why you even bothered clicking through today. I mean, seriously, I’m talking about potatoes. Or rather, I’m waxing romantically over them and composing spudly sonnets in my head. If you could see me right now, I’d bet you dollars to donuts that my eyes are shining and my face is flushed. What kind of a woman likes potatoes that much, you ask? Well, apparently, this one….sigh…..
I like this ‘recipe’, if you can even call it that, because it’s so easy to do but yields such a sultry, flavorful side dish. These potatoes are just as happy alongside a lemony roast chicken as they are nestled under cumin and pomegranate glazed lamb chops. They’re a delightfully easy side dish that just adds that little flair, that teensy je ne sais quoi to bring a boring old meat and potatoes dinner into the land of silk scarves and souk-like market places. And over active imaginations, apparently. There’s that too.
Garam Masala Mashed Potatoes
Serves 6 – 8 *
- 4 lb yellow flesh or boiling potatoes
- 4 cloves garlic
- 4 – 6 cups milk (enough to cover potatoes)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 tbsp garam masala **
- salt and pepper
* I am coming to terms with the fact that I have no idea what normal portion sizes are when it comes to side dishes. Growing up with two older brothers who used to mound their holiday dinner plates with both a horizontal and a vertical strategy (and that was the second or third portion) I’m really at a loss. It doesn’t help when I try to look at what Mike and I have consumed as an indicator of what 2 would typically eat, because I tend to feed him like a lumberjack with a tape worm and I, uh, I like to eat. Leftover mashed potatoes is never a bad thing though, because they’re so fabulously easy to re-purpose. Do you have a soup that seems a bit thin? What about making thick crepes or palak paneer stuffed potato patties? Unleavened caraway-masala brown bread? Back to the point though, I think 6 is probably a conservative estimate, and 8 might be closer to the truth…unless you have seconds. At which point, of course, I give up trying.
** Garam Masala is a South East Asian spice blend rather than a single spice. The spices used and their ratios vary enormously from cook to cook, but generally garam masala is richly fragrant and somewhat sweet smelling. When I sniff garam masala (and yes, I always sniff my spices before I use them. Does that make me creepy?) the first aromas to hit me are cinnamon/cassia, cumin, ground coriander and cardamom…although there’s plenty more to account for! You can buy the blend pre-mixed for you, which I do frequently, but the shelf life is fairly weak and you’ll want to either use it or replace it more regularly than you would with some other dried spices. You will be able to find the blend in specialty food or spice shops, Middle Eastern or South East Asian grocery stores, or online.
Peel the potatoes and chop them evenly into medium sized chunks, about 3/4″ cubes. You want the cubes to be slightly smaller than normal so that they’ll snuggle down easily together in the bottom of the pot and you’ll need less milk to cover them. You don’t want to go hog-wild and dice them up too finely though, or you’ll lose those valuable starches that keep mashed potatoes fluffy. Put the potatoes into a fairly large pot, or at least one which is broad (rather than tall like a stock pot) for a larger surface area. Peel the garlic cloves as well and add them to the mix.
Pour milk into the pot until the potatoes are just covered. Bring things to a simmer (not a boil) over medium heat and let this cook away for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure that the milk doesn’t scald on the bottom of the pot and burn.
When the potatoes are tender enough to be effortlessly pierced through with a fork and just starting to crumble at the edges, drain off the milk but reserve it on one side.
Now here comes one of my little quirks and quarks which has Mike quite convinced that I was a hobo in a past life: I save that milk. Of course I do. That starchy, garlicky dairy joy is perfect to add creamy flavor and body to soups, enrich your next scalloped potato or turnip and hazelnut gratin without cream, or use it in savory baking or quick breads. I poured that milky goodness into a Mason jar and it’s just waiting in the fridge for a fabulous rebirth. I’m fairly certain that he finds this (resourceful) practice appalling ants to throw it out. In fact, even typing those words I feel somewhat compelled to go tearing downstairs and make sure that my milk is safe, but I’ll try to resist until I’ve at least finished this recipe.
(Note: Mike, it had better be where I left it. I mean that. I’m watching you….)
Pour 1 cup of the reserved milk back into the potato mixture along with the butter and garam masala. Oh, and leave the garlic cloves in there when you mash because the flavor will have mellowed out nice and easy, but still provides a bit of punchy gusto to the dish.
Mash everything together until they’re at your favorite consistency. I’m one of those people who drinks coffee black, double double, or pretty much however it’s given to me. Ditto for the potatoes. The only thing that I don’t like are snivelling in-between potatoes. If you’re going to go lumpy? Hop on that camel’s back. If you want baby’s bottom potatoes? Get those elbows greased and whip ’em good. Just please, please don’t make The Mashed Potatoes That Tried.
Don’t forget to season the potatoes quite liberally with salt and pepper, because you know what potatoes like? Flavor. Just sayin’.
Also: I have decided that it’s incredibly difficult to make a mound of mashed potatoes look good. I suppose that the beige platter didn’t do us any favors either.
Garam masala mashed potatoes are still close enough to familiar comfort food that there’s no need for your reticent guests to be alarmed, and they pair remarkably well with a lamb roast, rich and peppery wine braised beef, or a smoky-sweet veal tenderloin rubbed in ras el hanout and drizzled with a honeyed shiraz reduction. You know, that too.
Just slightly East of the road more travelled, these mashed potatoes are a welcome change on the holiday table. Ooh, and bonus points if you’ve slathered the turkey down with a thick, yoghurty tandoori spice paste, or stuffed it with garlic and lemons before the roast (holy heebs, I swear I just heard a high frequency wail that sounded remarkably like, “YOURUINEDTHANKSGIVIIIIIIINNNNGGGGG”. But maybe it was just the wind). If not, hey, these taters also like a nice roast beast. They’re not the discriminating kind.