Sookhi Bhaji

Potatoes with Mustard Seeds

- Caitlin Sutton

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

1 medium-sized onion, peeled and finely chopped

2-4 fresh hot green chilies, split into halves lengthways

4 small-medium waxy potatoes boiled, peeled and cut into cubes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped, fresh green coriander (optional)


Heat the oil in a wide pan over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, a matter of a few seconds, put in the onion and chilies. Turn the heat the heat to medium. Stir and cook until the onion is quite soft but not brown. Put in the potatoes, ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper. Stir gently once or twice. Add 2/3 cups water and cook over medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring now and then, until all the spices have been absorbed by the potatoes. There should be just a hint of sauce at the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the fresh coriander over the top, stir it in and serve. Makes 4 servings.





























This is a dish my family and I have enjoyed for a number of years. My dad, the chef in our family, would procure a rating system for various dishes that he instructed us to abide by. Sookhi Bhaji has repeatedly received “10” as the highest rating. In addition to its phenomenal taste, this potato dish is an example of cuisine that my family has adopted as our own for a couple reasons; the ingredients are easily produced in the garden that we harvest yearly. Also, my dad enjoys supporting the “Indian Spice Store” on Fuller Road in Albany, and thirdly, the spices combine to make flavors that are rarely produced from our English/Irish heritage.

            For the greater part of his life, my father has viewed subsistence farming as a desirable, economic goal for the Sutton family to strive towards. Vandana Shiva argues that “food security is in the seed” because seeds offer not only a source for life, but also a storage place for culture and history (Shiva 8). Every year, my father consults his dried seed collection before beginning a new planting season. Harvests typically yield plentiful amounts of tomatoes, onions, brussel sprouts, green and waxed beans, lima beans, summer squash, zucchini, acorn squash, pumpkins, blue hubbard squash, watermelon, bell peppers, beet chard and several varieties of spicy peppers. In addition, the herb garden yields basil, chocolate mint, thyme, parsley, dill weed, oregano flowers like lavender and gladiolas. We have been fortunate that our geography has allowed us to have a garden that we can use to sustain ourselves, not to mention the fertile land and the proper climate which would be needed to grow these plants. There is a tremendous amount of pride attached to the feeling that one can utilize an internal system to produce healthy sustenance.

            The cumin, cayenne, mustard, turmeric and coriander are not products that our garden has produced but are native to regions like India, Egypt, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan. The author of this recipe, Madhur Jaffrey, attributes to her inspiration for this recipe to the Indian state of Goa in the Southwestern coast of India.  Undeniably, Britain’s influence on India as a country is insurmountable and even Jaffrey’s own cookbook is sponsored by the BBC.  Curry is an example of cuisines that Westerners would consider “Indian”, but in fact, the British incorporated curry into their own cuisine and ultimately tore the colonized nation’s identification with various spice mixtures (masalas) from their grasp.  The result was a unified concept of “curry” as one spice that can be easily reproduced and which has ingredients that are unknown to the consumer.  Jaffrey also accounts for this “missing culture” in her text by illustrating how “vindaloo” is incorrectly perceived by Westerners as the “hottest curry”, but in its native land it is actually a Portuguese dish “vindalho” that is comprised of mostly pork with vinegar and garlic.

In the late fifteenth century Goa was largely Hindu and although it was in prosperous Muslim hands, it was able to retain its spices and other riches for trade. Soon thereafter, the greed of European countries (especially Portugal) was successful in disrupting the economy and culture of the Goan area of India. Because Portuguese traders were mostly interested in controlling the coastlines of this area, the cultural effects on this area were somewhat less than they could have been. In fact, both Portuguese traders and Goan natives learned several techniques for preparing food from each other and Goan cuisine, like the recipe above, is a reflection of that integration. Cumin and coriander were spices that Indians added to foods like vinegar, pepper, mustard and potatoes that the Portuguese brought with them from the New World.

Within every recipe, there is an opportunity to bestow unique influence onto a dish. My life has allowed me to perceive harvesting as a means for achieving this synthesis. By examining colonial influences in contemporary Indian food, I have become more aware of the social and political forces that act upon every ingredient I work with. Although Soohki Bhaji is not directly linked to my heritage, the combination of seeds, spices and vegetables that produces it has become part of my tradition.





Jaffrey, Madhur. Flavours of India. London: BBC Books. 1995.


Narayan, Uma. Dislocating Cultures. New York: Routledge Publishing. 1997.


Shiva, Vandana. Stolen Harvest. South End Press. 2000.


The McCormick Website. McCormick & Company. 2004.