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Dum aloo, also called dam aloo, is a traditional Indian dish that originated in the northern part of the country. It is specifically Kashmiri cuisine consisting of potatoes, onions and tomatoes that are cooked in a curry or masala sauce. There are many variations of dum aloo, but most of them involve cooking the dish over low heat in a special clay pot. This is considered one of the more fragrant Indian potato dishes because the cooking pot is frequently sealed and not opened until it is time to be served.
The name dum aloo refers to both the main ingredient and the cooking method. Aloo means "potato," and dum literally means "warm breath" or "steam," and in a culinary context it refers to a particular style of cooking. The dum style of cooking involves using a heavy-bottomed clay pot called a handi. This pot is placed over slow-burning coals with a lid on top. The edge of the lid is secured with a water-and-flour paste that seals it like a pressure cooker.
The first step in making dum aloo is preparing the potatoes. This can be done either by boiling them until tender or soaking them in lightly salted water. Some recipes call for the potatoes to be used whole or to be cut into smaller wedges. Other recipes require the potatoes to be cut in half, hollowed out and then later refilled. The potatoes also can be fried in a pan until brown for added flavor and texture.
The liquid portion of the dish begins by preparing a dry spice mix, sometimes called a curry or masala. Much of Indian cooking acquires its distinctive taste by roasting spices in a specific order in a heavy-bottomed pan. For dum aloo, the common spices are cardamom, cumin and coriander seeds. Depending on the recipe, spices such as fennel seeds, dried chilies or star anise might be added. Garlic and ginger might be used as well, although for religious reasons, a powder called asafetida is sometimes substituted.
The cooked spices and potatoes are added to the handi along with tomatoes, onions and possibly some almonds or cashews. The lid is sealed with the flour paste, and the dish is allowed to cook for 20 minutes or more. If a handi is not available, any clay cooking pot will do. A slow cooker can also be used. The important attributes for a dum aloo cooking pot are a heavy bottom and a lid that can be sealed.
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