Atkins made the potato severely unfashionable, but it hasn't become any less tasty. If you're in the mood for some rapid fire food and can't be bothered with the elaboration of a full Indian dinner, there's nothing like the potato to rescue the day. Life was much better in America, I discovered, because potatoes came in cans already boiled and peeled.
Armed with that sort of weapon, suddenly a whole world of desi food opens its doors to you. There's aloo methi, aloo dum, aloo palak (yes, spinach comes in cans too) ... but nothing quite as worthy of lipsmacking dreams as aloo jeera. It's a very simple dish - even amateurs can make edible versions of it, but there's enough in it for the pro to show his tricks. And, having lived off many a can after a night of excess, I can safely lay claim to pro.
The basics are straightforward - heat the ghee, pop the jeera in hot oil, toss in potatoes with enough salt and red chilli powder - and in three minutes you're ready to wow the average American. To impress your mother, however, takes more work. First, you need cilantro - the stalks for cooking; the leaves are just for looking good. Second, you must avoid at all costs a non-stick pan. The thing is, potatoes and the starch they so liberally spread around does indeed stick if you're not using a non-stick, but considerable amounts of the taste seems to come from the browning that happens to these stuck bits. It takes a little effort to ensure nothing burns, but a couple of minutes of stirring later your non-non-stick pan will be coated with white starch that happens to have been fried brown by ghee underneath. Add a little water, deglaze the pan and pour it over the potatoes and I guarantee your mother will start feeling threatened.
Use cast iron pans if your wrists can stand them, but had-anodized aluminium ones are good too. Non-stick is for instant-noodle kiddies.