Making Aloo Anday with Zainab Shah
“When I was growing up, if it was Sunday, that meant aloo anday,” says Zainab Shah as she gathers the few basic ingredients for this most quintessentially Pakistani breakfast dish. Aloo anday as the name suggests (it literally translates to “potato-egg”) consists primarily of two main ingredients, eggs and potatoes.
As she peels potatoes into a bowl of water, Shah amends her original assertion, admitting that nihari, the famed Pakistani braised lamb dish topped with fried onions probably takes top honors for the most storied breakfast dish in Lahore, where her family now lives. “But they’re both really popular. If you don’t feel like going out or spending the time to make nihari, then you have aloo anday,” Shah suggests. Unlike Nihari, which can take hours to cook, aloo anday comes together in no time at all. “And all the ingredients are things that you always have at home anyway,” adds Shah.
Shah was born in Seoul and lived in Hong Kong, Lahore, and Toronto before arriving in New York. She tells me she learned the basics of cooking from her mother, who gave her a crash course before she left Lahore for Toronto. Thinking back on it, she laughs as she recalls the widespread craze for canning home-cooked food around the time her brother was leaving for university in London. Parents, anxious about how their young children would feed themselves so far from home, started asking local restaurants to commercially can and process batches of their home-cooked nihari and kheema (a highly spiced dish of ground lamb or beef). One of Shah's friends, sitting on the couch watching TV asks why we're not having nargisi kofte, one of the crown jewels of fine Pakistani cooking. Shah laughs, explaining, "Nargisi kofte are for really special occasions." Like the "Game of Thrones" season debut? "Exactly!" says Shah. "It's not something I'd make for a lazy Sunday brunch," she continues, pointing a reproving wooden spoon at her friend.
The beauty of aloo anday, like so many simple dishes, is its endless adaptability. No two recipes are ever the same, and every family has its own way of making it. Shah uses a large nonstick wok for the dish (“It’s just easier. The egg just sticks in a regular pan.”), and seems to be improvising the recipe as she goes, adding spices as the urge strikes her. “It’s not traditional, but I like to add whole coriander seeds,” she tells me as she pours in a small handful of the aromatic round seeds.
As the dish comes together, a group of friends begins to gather. The house is filled with laughter, the sound of sizzling onions, and the pungent aroma of frying coriander, chile, ginger, and garlic. After the onions are cooked and the tomatoes have broken down into a rough sauce and the spices have reached the height of their pique, the eggs get tipped into the wok and cooked just till they’re set. “Some people like to cook the eggs hard, but I prefer them soft,” Shah explains. When it’s done no one can wait any longer: the piping hot mixture is eagerly spooned straight from the wok onto waiting toast soldiers and scattered with finely chopped cilantro. Each bite is filled with a delicate heat from finely chopped green chiles and a good dose of red chile powder, but undercut with the rich eggs and starchy potatoes. Truly is this a dish made in brunch heaven.
1 big onion, finely chopped or puréed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 heaped teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 tsp cumin seed
2 tsp red chile powder or flakes (or to taste)
2 green chiles, stems removed, and finely chopped (or to taste)
3 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped
3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into slices roughly the size of poker chips
Canola or other neutral oil for cooking
6–8 large eggs
Heat 2–3 tbsp oil a large nonstick wok or pan over medium high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion and cook, stirring, until much of the moisture has been cooked out and the onions are sizzling in the oil.
Add the minced ginger and garlic and cook until both are fragrant and have turned a light gold. Make sure not to burn them.
Add the coriander seed and powder, the cumin, and red chile powder. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the oil is thoroughly infused with the spices. Add the green chiles and sauté briefly.
Add the tomatoes and 1.5 tsp salt and cook till they are broken down and have begun to form a thick sauce.
Add potatoes and reduce heat to low. Cover the pan with a lid and let cook for 5 minutes or so. Add ½ cup of water and stir through the mixture, making sure that nothing is sticking to the sides or bottom of the pan. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the potatoes are cooked through. Check for seasoning and add salt, chile powder, and green chiles to taste.
Add upto ¼ cup more water if it looks like the sauce is beginning to stick to the pan. Turn the heat up to high.
Break the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk thoroughly with 1 tsp of salt until no streaks of white remain.
Tip the eggs into the bubbling tomato-onion-potato mixture. Gently fold the eggs through the sauce, stirring to make sure that it gets thoroughly incorporated. The eggs should coat the potatoes and form delicate but large curds—don’t let them cook too long or they will get hard and rubbery.
Off heat, scatter with finely chopped cilantro (and more green chile if desired) and serve hot with toast soldiers or on a piece of grilled bread.