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It's not curry. It's Rai no Papeto
Or atleast, mustard potatoes.
It was my second week at Macleans College, New Zealand. My second week being around boys, all day. You see, I had only been to girls’ schools all my life, hung out with my girl-friends, mum and Mumma when I wasn’t at school and didn’t have a brother either.
I was NOT used to a classroom of 15-year-old boys shouting “Penis. Penis. Penis.” for (apparently?) no reason while I blushed profusely in the corner trying to figure out if this was some weird welcoming ritual.
I was however figuring out that passing my board exams in India and then being in 9th grade math made me some kind of genius. Would being able to multiply two sets of 4 digit numbers without a calculator really be my ticket to fame?
Turns out, no.
Because just after I had amazed yet another Kiwi with my fast multiplication skills (thank you Mrs Mistry, for all the chalk bits you threw on my knuckles from the front of the classroom as a child), it was lunch break.
Girls and boys poured out of every classroom in Macleans as they all walked to their ‘houses’ for lunch. Most of them chose to sit outside in the sun and proceeded to unpack the sticky plastic coating their thin, limp sandwiches, which I later learned was called ‘cling wrap’.
Me? I went back to my locker and removed the glass lunch box Mum had packed for me, and walked back toward the microwave, which sat in a lonely corner of the common room. As I waited for lunch to heat up, Chris, a freckled, tall, boy - straight out of my Mallory Towers novel - walked up to where I was standing casually tossing his rugby ball in his hands. His hair was gelled so stiff not a hair moved and his pale cheeks were pink from the cold wind outside.
I can’t remember now what he asked me. All I remember was breathing a sigh of relief, having almost an out-of-body experience as I realised I was doing it. I was talking to a boy. Without blushing, without stepping over my words and we were having what felt like a proper conversation.
That’s until the microwave pinged and I opened the door. The aroma of the hot potatoes and mustard seeds filled the room.
Chris took one look at the crispy curled up curry leaves in my box and wrinkled his freckled red nose. “What’s that? Is that curry you’re eating then? For lunch!?”, he said as he started walking away.
15-year-old Perzen never said anything. I put my head down secretly checking no one else was offended the smell of my potatoes. That day when I went home I told mum all I wanted was a sandwich for lunch tomorrow choosing to ignore mum’s confused almost-teary eyes that were surely wondering what had gone on in school that day.
I never really spoke to Chris again. But, were I to meet Chris again in my office what I’d really do is grab his rugby ball to make sure he was paying attention.
I’d then say, “No Chris, that’s not curry. Can you see how there’s no gravy? Curries have gravy. They are mostly made with coconut. The correct name is Rai no Papeto. Or atleast, mustard potatoes.
Come, let me show you how to make it.”
What is rai no papeto?
Simply put, it’s potatoes stir-fried with black mustard seeds and curry leaves. A simple preparation of potatoes that’s common in the state of Gujarat (where people are predominantly vegetarian).
Rai = black mustard seeds
no = with
Papeto = potato
Think of this preparation as a base dish you can keep ready to use in multiple ways. Mum would take some of this potato and stuff it into roti’s for school. Or, she would mix some cabbage through it when we all had eaten enough potatoes. This mix also tastes great as a stuffing inside dosa.
Don’t tell your fellow Gujarati friend but I reckon it’d taste amazing with some leftover Sunday roast too. And, when there’s not much of it left, you can always make Papeta per Eedu replacing the wafers with these potatoes.
Rai no papeto (makes enough for four)
4-6 large potatoes
4 tbsp ghee
1.5 tsp black mustard seeds
20-30 curry leaves
1 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Handful of chopped coriander
Optional: 2 green chillies, thinly sliced, 0.5 tsp amchur dry mango powder, squeeze of lemon juice
Wash the potatoes scrubbing off any dirt. Peel them if you so desire.
Cut the potatoes into small cubes and keep them in a mixing bowl filled with water so they don’t start browning.
In a large saucepan (big enough to hold your potatoes and give you space to stir), add 3 tablespoons of the ghee and allow it to heat up.
When the ghee is hot, add in quick succession, the mustard seeds, green chillies and then the curry leaves. Careful, the tadka will splutter and protest as the curry leaves go in. Once, the leaves turn crispy, turn the heat down and add in all your potatoes.
Sprinkle in the turmeric powder and the salt. Mix thoroughly.
Add in about 1/4 cup of water to ensure your potatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan, lower your flame and allow the potatoes to cook for about 13-15 minutes giving them a stir every now and then. Cook the potatoes to your liking - I prefer them just cooked rather than mushy.
When the potatoes are soft, your Rai no Papeto is ready. Mix in the final tablespoon of ghee, squeeze in some lemon juice and sprinkle on fresh coriander and then give it a final mix. Serve the potatoes with soft, fresh roti’s.
Tips: If you wanted to create Cabbage Papeto, you’d add in about 1/4 head of a grated green cabbage when the potatoes were half cooked.