Poppy seeds* -- or poshto in Bengali and khus-khus in Hindi/Punjabi/Marathi -- have been used as an ingredient in cooking and herbal treatment for long. A little research revealed an interesting history behind the use, which you can read here.
For me, aloo-poshto has been part of the standard vegetarian meals that Ma served. Partnered with dhal/daal (from red lentils) served with slit green chillies and a dash of lime, and very tasty begun bhaaja (thick slices of eggplant, deep fried in mustard oil); this was usually a Sunday lunch. Given that the daal-aloo-poshto-bhaaja combo was usually followed by a tasty mutton dish -- Pa couldn't do without his meat -- aloo-poshto has always been a highlight for me.
The first time I made this dish in Australia, many wondered if, "Poppy seeds! Oh my god, opium...does this make you high?" The answer, (un)fortunately is, no it doesn't. Apparently it's only the 'natural' poppy seeds that give you a buzz if ingested. However, there are discussion threads on the Internet on how eating poppy seeds can give you a negative blood test (opiates found in the blood) and there have also been news reports on people getting addicted to poppy seed tea. Rest assured though, this dish does not give you a high -- only a gastronomical one -- and trust me on that, I've tried. ;)
My first experiment with cooking poshto was a disaster. Unless using on a bagel or in cakes/pastries, Indian cooking usually involves the poppy seeds to be finely grinded. And let me tell you the bloody things are very resistant to blenders/mixers. I learnt it the hard way when the first time I cooked aloo-poshto, it neither looked nor tasted anything like Ma's. No matter what the class or quality of your blender at home, keep a mortar-pestle ready to grind these seeds to get a perfect dish. The rest of it is fairly simple.
* Can be bought at any Indian specialty store, or most supermarkets also stock it
**The poppy seeds in India are white, while in Australia, I'm using the black ones; works the same way.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes, on low heat, covered
Try this with: Steamed rice or hot chapatis
Poppy seeds 4 TBS
Green chillies 4-6, depending on how hot you want it; 2 should be slit lengthwise
Potatoes 5-6 medium sized, diced small
Kalonji or onion seeds 1/2 TSP
Mustard/vegetable oil 2 TBS
Sugar 1/2 TSP
Turmeric poweder 1/2 TSP
Salt to taste
- As mentioned, poppy seeds are tough to grind into a fine paste. Prior to grinding, soak the seeds in hot water for 30 minutes. Keep a couple tablespoons of the water aside, drain the rest. In your blender, grind the seeds along with four of the green chillies. Take the resulting paste out and hand-grind them again in the mortar-pestle. The paste should be as fine as possible and should be slightly frothy.
- In case you prefer to dice the potatoes earlier, place them in salted water to prevent them from blackening (happens due to oxidising). When cooking, drain them well before adding to the hot oil; water in hot oil splutters a lot.
- Heat the mustard oil in a wok/frying pan till it smokes.
- Add the onion seeds/kalaunji and fry for 2 minutes till the seeds pop.
- Add the diced potatoes and fry for 5-8 minutes. You need to stir intermittently to avoid the potatoes sticking to the sides of the pan. The spuds are ready once they are browned and somewhat softer.
- Now add the poppy seed-chilli paste with half a cup of water and mix well to coat all the potatoes with the paste.
- Add salt, sugar and turmeric, mix well and fry for another 3 minutes.
- Cover the wok/pan and cook over low heat till the potatoes are done (should be soft).
- While you cook the spuds, keep checking and scraping the paste off the sides as it can get somewhat sticky.
- Once the potatoes soften, cook uncovered to dry out any water and scrape off the paste from the sides.