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Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach – pommes de terre aux épinards à l’indienne


Spicy potatoes

Spicy potatoes

One French Word: épinards, a recipe for Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach

Spicy potatoes - main ingredients

Spicy potatoes – main ingredients

You either love or hate spinach. Most children won’t even come to table if there is spinach on the menu, but it’s a favourite vegetable of one of my little grandsons. Baby spinach leaves are preferable to larger, more mature ones, but the latter have more flavour. In India, spinach is used in an enormous number of recipes. Just wilted, it keeps its colour and a lot of its nutrients. I add a handful to all sorts of things – last night I had baked eggs with spinach, the day before the recipe I am about to share. I eat baby leaves in salad, wilted by pouring crispy bacon bits and their fat over them.

The French language bit:

épinards (masculine plural noun) (theoretically it has a singular but this is never used) = spinach (never pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of the word).

We saw last year that the circumflex (^^) often denotes a missing s in English, that is, if you put an ‘s’ in the place of the circumflex, you will sometimes be able to guess what the word means. It is often the same with an initial é. Replace it with an s and you will have, sometimes exactly, sometimes near enough, the English word. So épinards = spinach; épice = spice, I can’t think of any more right now.

Just one expression with épinardsmettre du beurre dans les épinards = to ameliorate something, to allow a little luxury (literally to add butter to your spinach), for instance a second salary will make everything easier = un deuxième salaire mettra du beurre dans les épinards.

And so to the recipe.

Ingredients for 1 person as a main meal, 2 people as a vegetable dish accompanying meat :

  • 1 very large potato
  • 2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
  • 4tbs corn or peanut oil
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, about 2cm square, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely sliced (the slices going from top to bottom and not across)
  • 1 smoked cardamom (they are large and black), opened up, the seeds only to be used (if you can’t find this, try green ones, or leave it out altogether)
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbs turmeric (curcuma)
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1tbs mustard seed
  • a little salt
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds

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Preparation:

  • Cut the washed potato into 6 pieces (you do not need to peel it), place in cold salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15mns.
  • Wash and drain the spinach (you don’t need to pat it dry, just get rid of as much water as possible)
  • Drain the potatoes and cut into smaller pieces.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the spices and the garlic, the ginger and the shallot to the hot oil and fry for a minute or two, stirring.
  • Add the potatoes to the pan and stir to coat with the spices. Don’t be gentle with the potato, it is better if it crumbles a bit, it will go crispier later. Fry for 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring and turning the potato pieces so that they brown on all sides. It doesn’t matter if the shallot colours and crisps up.
  • When the potato is quite browned, add the spinach to the pan, stir to wilt thoroughly, salt with great parcimony, as the spices have probably given enough flavour. You can always salt later if you find there is not enough.

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  • Sprinkle with a tsp of nigella seeds before bringing to the table.

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This is an excellent vegetarian dish, very satisfying. But if you feel you need meat, it can accompany any meat dish. Of course I cannot pretend to have invented this, but let us just say that I used no recipe to concoct it! I just pulled spices out of the cupboard and thought very hard of a dish I tasted in India.

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Bon appétit!

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One French word: parmentier, a French recipe: hachis parmentier


Parmentier, a surname which has become an adjective : parmentier (invariable), denotes a dish in which the potato plays a great part. Pronounced par-maan-tyé,  with no particular stress.

Monsieur Antoine Augustin Parmentier, 1737-1813, was by profession a chemist, whose major work was in agronomy and nutrition. The humble potato arrived in Europe from Peru in the 16th century, but was cultivated simply as animal fodder. Considered unfit for human consumption, it was the work of Parmentier that convinced the Faculty of Medicine in Paris in 1772 that the potato was a useful source of carbohydrate for the starving population.

Parmentier, 1737-1813

Antoine Augustin Parmentier, picture taken from wikipedia

His findings, however, did not convince many people. So he resorted to a ruse to get the population to try the new tuber: he had the potato fields outside Paris kept by armed guards during the daytime, but not at night. Puzzled as to why the fields were valuable enough to be guarded, people came to steal the potatoes by night and found them to their liking.

Thank you, Monsieur Parmentier; where would we be without the potato today? Now you will know if you see “parmentier” on the menu of a French restaurant that we are talking about potatoes. All sorts of dishes are named after him, but the most famous surely is my recipe for today: le hachis parmentier, the French equivalent of shepherd’s pie (hachis simply meaning chopped, here chopped meat).

Hachis

This is what the texture of the chopped meat should look like

For 6 people you will need:

  • The meat taken from the remains of a joint of lamb, about 160gr per person
  • A large onion
  • A bunch of fresh parsley
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Left over gravy and meat juices
  • 800gr potatoes
  • Some cream, butter and grated cheese

Preparation:

  1. Peel and halve the potatoes, put them in a pan of cold salted water, bring to the boil, and cook for 20 minutes or until quite tender (but not disintegrating).
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, cut the meat into large cubes and put into your mixer with the peeled and quartered onion, the washed parsley, and a couple of garlic cloves. Add a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce, a little freshly ground pepper, a little salt (not too much, the meat has already been salted and the potatoes will be too), and the remains of any gravy or meat juices from the meat dish. Grind on “pulse”, coarsely (you don’t want to end up with a paste, it is nice to have texture left, but the pieces of onion shouldn’t been too evident).
  3. Place in a fairly shallow serving dish (or individual dishes). The proportion meat:potato should be about 2/3:1/3.
  4. Pre-heat your oven at 160°C.
  5. Drain the potatoes, add a large lump of butter and mash with a potato masher or ricer, not in the mixer, as I have said in another post, this makes them goopy.
  6. Add cream until the texture seems to you to be pleasing.
The mashed potato topping

The “parmentier” part.

7. Spread a layer of potato over the meat in your serving dish or dishes. Make pretty marks on the top with a fork, sprinkle with grated cheese (optional but delicious) and pop two or three little pieces of butter on top.

Butter and cheese

With butter and cheese on top

8. Put the dish in the oven for 25 minutes, and finish under the grill to brown the top of the potato and/or the cheese.

Crusty hachis parmentier

This dish freezes wonderfully, so it is worth making a lot. I freeze individual portions.  It’s so lovely to have it sitting there when you don’t feel like cooking. You can either freeze just the meat in portions, and add potato later, or the whole thing, cheese and all, before the oven stage. Then all you have to do is unfreeze and heat up.

Bon appétit.

There is a good little children’s cookery book called Les Recettes de Monsieur Parmentier which teaches them easy recipes.

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