The heart of potato

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Full of flavour Dum aloo prepared by Monish Gujral
Full of flavour Dum aloo prepared by Monish Gujral

Dum cooking was intended for labourers but landed at the Nawab’s table, finds Monish Gujral

Dum Maro Dum” — reminds one of the famous song in the popular Dev Anand movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna and the image of a bunch of hippies puffing smoke rings in the air.

However, the word dum is an important term in the art of cooking. While dum means steam, dum pukht literally means to choke off the steam. The food is placed in a pot, usually made of clay, and dough is used to create a tight seal to prevent the steam from escaping. So the food is slowly cooked in its own juices, allowing the herbs and spices to fully infuse the meat or rice, while preserving the nutritional elements at the same time.

The origin of dum pukht style of cooking is traced back to Awadh, or present-day Uttar Pradesh. In the late 18th Century, Nawab Asaf decided to create jobs for people to alleviate hunger by decreeing the construction of a colossal building known as the Bara Imambara.

He ordered food to be made available to the workers day and night. Large cooking vessels were filled with rice, meat, vegetables and spices, then sealed to make a simple one-dish meal. Hot coals were placed on top and fires were lit underneath the vessels for the food to simmer. This allowed warm food to be available round the clock.

One day as the vessels were being unsealed, the aromas attracted the Nawab who was passing by. It was discovered that the cooking method retained the natural aromas and flavours of the food. The Nawab ordered that the cooking technique be perfected for the royal table, and it is from this that modern day dum cooking evolved. Dum cooking eventually spread to the courts of Hyderabad, Kashmir and Bhopal as well. A taste of such a dish can be experienced with this recipe.

Dum Aloo


8 medium potatoes 100 ml oil

1 tsp caraway seeds (shahi zeera)

2 chopped onions

1 tsp black cardamom, pounded5 tbsp raisins

5 tbsp cashewnuts

Salt to taste

For the curry

60 gms chopped onions 1 and 1/4 cup dahi

1 cup tomato puree

4 tsp ginger-garlic paste

3 tsp almond paste

1 tsp aniseed (saunf)

4 green cardamom

6 cloves

1/2 tsp mace powder (javitri)

4 tsp red chilli paste

2 tsp cumin powder

1 tbsp coriander powder

Salt to taste

Oil for frying


Peel the potatoes, slice off the tops and scoop out the centres. Fry the shells and the centres to a golden brown. Allow the centres to cool, then mash.

Heat the oil in a wok, sauté the caraway seeds and the aniseed. Add onions and sauté till transparent. Add the fried potato centres, cardamom powder, raisins, and the cashew nuts. Stir-fry for a few minutes. Season with salt and keep aside. Stuff the potato shells with the prepared mixture and keep aside.

For the curry — heat the oil in a thick bottomed pan and sauté onions till transparent. Add dahi, tomato puree, ginger -garlic paste, almond paste, aniseed, mace, caraway seeds, green cardamoms, cloves, red chilli paste, cumin powder, coriander powder, and salt. Stir fry for 10 minutes.

Place the stuffed potatoes in the curry. Cover the lid and seal with dough. Cook on slow fire for about 10 minutes. Then place the potatoes in a serving dish, strain the curry and pour on the top of the potatoes.

Serve hot with rice.

(The author is the MD, Moti Mahal Tandoori Trail chain of restaurants and can be e-mailed at




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