This is a simplified version of the very first dish I learned to cook. I was in London, a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and desperate for family foods. I could not cook at all. I begged my mother in India to teach me, and she answered with three-line recipes written on flimsy airmail paper. That was the cheapest way to communicate then. I devoured those letters with my eyes first, and then rushed off to the Indian shop near the college to buy the ingredients. My landlords, a kind young couple in north London, let me use their kitchen, and I was off and away.

    I cook this potato dish in fifteen minutes, starting with boiled potatoes, which speeds up the process. Here I used fingerlings, but if you do not have access to them, any waxy potatoes will do. I like to eat this dish with flatbreads—chapatis or puffed fried breads are best, but you can choose any flatbread. You could also use whole-grain pita breads and heat them, one at a time, in the microwave for 20–30 seconds each. You should serve a dal, a green vegetable such as spinach, and a yogurt relish with it as well.

    SERVES 3–4

    • ¾ lb. waxy potatoes, boiled and cooled (leftover potatoes are fine)
    • 1 tablespoon olive or peanut oil
    • Generous pinch of ground asafetida
    • ¼ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
    • 1 dried hot red chili
    • 1 fresh hot green chili, cut crosswise into fine slices
    • 1 medium tomato (about 5 oz.), chopped
    • ½ teaspoon salt

    1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into ½-inch dice. If they are fingerlings, just cut them crosswise into ½-inch rounds.

    2. Pour the oil into a medium nonstick frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, add the asafetida and, a second later, the cumin seeds. Allow it to sizzle for a few seconds, then add the red chili. When it darkens, add the potatoes and green chilies. Stir for a minute or two, until the potatoes brown a little. Then add the tomatoes, salt, and ½ cup of water. Bring to a boil, mashing up the tomatoes as you do so. Cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes.