Panchphoran Aloo ❊ Potatoes in Whole Spices

Yesterday I went to a local Asian market and stocked up on spices for some of the Indian dishes I want to make. The clerk was very helpful, as I only had the English names for what I was looking for, and some of the packaging used Hindi or other languages. With a little assistance in the translation department, I was all set and ready to continue my exploration of Indian cooking!

I already had some of the spices common to Indian cooking on hand as I use them in other dishes. Yesterday, however, I picked up some ingredients I hadn’t used before, such as Kalonji, or nigella seeds, dried curry leaves, mango powder and pomegranate powder. I now have a whole container full of spices that I likely will use principally for Indian or other Asian cooking. It’s so exciting to have all these new taste sensations to explore!

We had a rocking thunderstorm and heavy rain here this morning, and the temperature dropped considerably. The idea of a spicy dish for lunch was quite appealing. Years ago I tried this Indian spicy potato dish, and in the spirit of improv, I just went without whatever spices I didn’t have on hand. Today, however, I had everything the recipe called for and the result was much tastier and more vibrant.

Red chill powder and turmeric

Panchphoran Aloo is a quick and easy Indian version of home fries, really. Just not the kind of home fries I ever had at home! The spices are tasty and fragrant, and add textural interest. There’s just the right amount of heat, too. My Culinary Enthusiast really enjoyed these potatoes, and they had just enough kick for a cool afternoon.

Clockwise from top: fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds, fennel seeds, black mustard seeds and cumin seeds

The colours of the finished dish are vibrant … deep gold from the turmeric, flecks of red from the red chill powder, the sharp contrast of the deeply black nigella seeds, delicate green striped fennel seeds, tiny brown spheres of mustard seeds and golden hued nuggets of fenugreek seeds, all set off by the fresh green of chopped cilantro.

This was our entire lunch today, but these potatoes would make a great side dish for a larger meal. We enjoyed these in the cool, fresh air on the back veranda, overlooking the rain-drenched garden, the spicy and colourful potatoes in exotic contrast to the verdant nature around us.

Panchphoran Aloo (Potatoes in Whole Spices)

From Nigella Lawson’s book How To Eat, with some adaptation of the directions.

  • about 900 g peeled potatoes, peeled
  • vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 tsp nigella seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp white cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3 – 4 tbsp freshly chopped coriander

Slice the potatoes into 1/2 – 1 cm. rounds, then dice into small, evenly sized cubes. Using a wok or other non-stick pan, use the minimum about of oil needed (I used about 2 tbsp) and stir-fry the potatoes over high heat for a few minutes, getting them evenly coated with the oil and starting to brown. Turn heat down to medium and cover. Stir a couple of times for even browning. Once potatoes are about half cooked, add the turmeric, red chili powder and salt. Stir well, then add the whole spices and mix to combine. Turn heat to low and cover the pan again. When potatoes are nearly done, and before they get too soft, remove the lid, turn the heat to high and stir-fry briefly to allow any excess liquid to evaporate. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve.


    • Thank you, Karen. I was lucky to find an Asian market not too far from home. In the past if I didn’t have an ingredient for an Indian dish I would just skip it but it tastes better when I’m more faithful to the recipe (go figure!).

  1. Hello Auntie Mar,
    Indian cooking, that’s just what Brent has been missing.
    Sometimes he travels all the way to India when the need
    becomes too great. Now he won’t have to.

    Just kidding I think ?
    Take care now.
    Uncle Pauly

  2. Our temps dropped, too, although I missed the rain while I travelled.
    I’m happy to report I’ve got all of the ingredients but the potatoes (Ha!) and the nigella seeds — and I know where to get those. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned here but I live about 1/2 mile from “Little India.” Finding Indian spices is no problem. Yay!

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