This is a post about loss. Well … not so much about loss as losing things. I’ve had a bad track record the last few weeks. While vacationing in London last month I lost my lunch. Literally. It went missing. Where exactly it went astray, I have no idea. Maybe I left it at the Tesco while struggling with the self-serve register. Perhaps it flung itself from my bag with great vigor, seeking it’s own personal freedom as I walked to Kew Gardens. I do know that when I settled on the steps of a beautiful greenhouse and reached for my much-anticipated lunch, it wasn’t there. I emptied my satchel and turned it inside out, baffled at how a sandwich could just disappear. In a cloud of hunger and disappointment, I mourned its loss but I got over it. The next one wasn’t as easy to accept. A few short weeks later, my computer hard drive failed, died actually, and I lost everything. The pictures from that London trip that I had just transferred from my fancy camera the week prior? The posts I’d been working on? Hundreds of recipe documents? Gone. Or so I thought.
Right after you lose something, there are waves of panic and regret that vary upon the loss. It might last a few minutes or a few weeks; it really depends on the situation. A sandwich or your electronic life warrant different responses. But magically, at a certain point acceptance sinks in and you start developing coping strategies to rebuild/recreate. Or you just learn to live without. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you realize it really wasn’t all that important anyway. Few things really are.
I lost my lunch but then I bought something better that I might not have had a chance to try otherwise. I thought about the now empty iTunes library and started rationalizing that I could reload those CDs over a couple weeks. All those missing recipe archives could probably be put back together, Humpty Dumpty-like, through a combination of cloud storage accounts and sent emails. The pictures … well, I couldn’t do much about those but I could ask my traveling companions to share theirs. It would take time but could work.
As soon as I became OK with recreating, repurchasing and rebuilding, things started looking up. I got a call from the company who was running tests on my laptop. Yes the hard drive was a gonner but they were able to save all my data including the pictures, the recipes, the documents. They actually rebuilt my computer bigger, faster and stronger than it was, the Steve Austin of laptops. How about that?
But I never did get over that missing lunch. Sure I bought something else, a delicious chicken pie from a flirty pieman, but the thought of the one that got away kept bugging me. What was really in that golden brown phyllo parcel the woman with the table next to the Kew Gardens tube stop sold me? Labeled “Bombay Potato”, I really have no idea what was inside. Potatoes, one would hope, but beyond that? Not too sure, yet I kept thinking about it. The lunch that never was became a minor obsession.
I started imagining what it might have been. Flaky phyllo of course, that was as obvious as the potatoes. I looked up “Bombay Potatoes” and got a sense of a basic spice mixture then started building on that idea. Onions, potatoes, peas, a little tomato, cilantro and a bunch of Indian inspired spices with just enough heat to give it a good kick in the pants. Tucked snuggly into buttery layers of phyllo that baked up crispy and golden, they were gorgeous parcels of joy. And utterly delicious.
I like to think that that’s exactly what they would have tasted like sitting on a few marble steps leading up to a large, foggy Victorian greenhouse. Shattering crisp, slightly spicy, hearty and a hint of sweetness; with some bright punchy cilantro chutney they were delicious. They’re definitely best within a few hours of baking but I reheated one or two the next day in a toaster oven and they were still pretty good. With a small salad, I had an ideal lunch on my hands.
STRESS THEARAPY BAKING FACTOR: TAKE CONTROL. Can’t find what you want? Figure it out yourself. Though I never got to try that lunch I purchased in London, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I missed. Rather than moan and groan about it, I worked out my own version. I also have a strong feeling that mine are probably much better than the original. That’s what I’m choosing to believe anyway. If you like, make these smaller for delightful party appetizers – they can be made a few hours ahead and served hot or room temperature.
On this blog four years ago: Classic Summer Gazpacho
On this blog three years ago: Peterson Garden Project update
On this blog two years ago: Raspberry Crème Croustillant
On this blog one year ago: Bastille Day BBQ – Figgy BBQ Sauce
BOMBAY POTATO PARCELS
Serve warm or room temperature with a spicy sauce or mango chutney. A quick note about phyllo … a few years ago, phyllo packaging seemed to change. Rather than one large roll of pastry, there are now two rolls of half sized sheets. I make this recipe with one sleeve of the later, smaller sheets. If you happen to have the former, cut the sheets in half and we’ll be on the same page.
3 medium waxy potatoes
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ medium sweet onion, quartered and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
½” fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 serrano chile, seeded and finely diced
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 plum tomatoes, cores removed and diced
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/3 cup frozen peas
½ package phyllo dough, defrosted in the fridge (24 sheets or so)
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- For the filling: Quarter the potatoes and place in a saucepan with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and cool water to cover.
- Bring to a boil and cook until tender but not falling apart, about 8 minutes.
- Remove the potatoes from the water and allow to cool.
- When cool enough to handle, peel off and discard the skins and dice into ¼” pieces.
- Heat the oil in a sauté pan, add the sliced onions, mustard and cumin seeds and sauté until the onions are soft, lightly golden and the seeds begin to pop, about 6-8 minutes.
- Add the ground cumin, turmeric, coriander, garam masala, cayenne, ginger and diced serrano. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the 2 Tablespoons butter and stir until melted.
- Add the tomatoes and sauté until they begin to collapse and release their liquid.
- Add the diced potatoes and peas; stir to combine and sauté for an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, stir in the chopped cilantro then turn the mixture out on a sheetpan or shallow bowl to cool completely. A hot filling and phyllo do not mix.
- If you haven’t melted the 6 Tablespoons of butter, do so now.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- To assemble: Carefully remove the phyllo from the protective wrapping and unroll onto a flat work surface. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap. You need to keep the phyllo covered and move quickly as it dries out faster than you think.
- Lay one sheet of phyllo on a clean work surface and brush lightly with the melted butter. Top with three more phyllo layers, lightly buttering each, for a stacked layer of 4 buttered sheets total.
- Place about 1/5 of the filling along the long edge of the phyllo about 1” border on each side.
- Roll the long side of the phyllo up and over the filling, then fold the two sides over, burrito style, and continue to roll into a tight cylinder.
- Place on a parchment or silpat lined sheet pan, seam side down and brush with butter and if desired, sprinkle with sesame or nigella seeds.
- Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
- Serve hot or room temperature with any variety of sauces of chutneys you wish.