A Himalayan Restaurant Taught Me How to Intensify Flavor with Water

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Janis Turk)

When trying to get tips from Himalayan Yak manager, Gyaltsen Gurung, on a potato recipe called Sho-Go Khatsa (Aloo Dum), he kind of shrugged and said, “It’s just cooked potatoes.” But it taught me so much more than that.

(Image credit: Janis Turk)

The recipe Sho-Go Khatsa for has moved up my queue to become a favorite side dish. Here’s how it goes. First, the potatoes are boiled until half-cooked. Then 1/3 cup of the potato cooking water is reserved in a blender along with garlic cloves and a few chiles. This is pureed and then sautéed with the potatoes as they are cooked a second time.

But here’s the interesting aspect of the potatoes: the chile-spiked potato water evaporates off in the cooking process so the potatoes soak up all the spicy goodness. Just like when I worked in a restaurant and a dab of chicken stock and spices was added to sautéed vegetables to make the flavor go around, I discovered a little water and a hefty amount of spices can be added into a pan of vegetables or starch, like the potato dish. Cook on medium-high, stirring constantly, so the water evaporates.

As the water disappears, the food will become coated with spices. Voila — instant flavor.

Cooking Secrets from Immigrant Kitchens

While working on my latest cookbook, Queens: A Culinary Passport, I chatted with cooks and chefs from diverse ethnic backgrounds (Himalayan, Cuban, Cypriot, Szechuan, and more). As I learned how to replicate their dishes in my own kitchen, I amassed a slew of tips from them that I began using in my everyday cooking life.