I grew up eating “aloo bhate,” a version of mashed potato born in the Bengali home. Bengalis eat this on a regular basis as a side dish. The name, I am told, comes from “bhate,” which means “in the rice.” People in an earlier generation used to drop whole, unpeeled potatoes into a pot of rice cooking on the stovetop to make this dish.
There are a few differences between the Western mashed potato and aloo bhate: the fat used, the condiments added, and the shape (aloo bhate is cupped into a ball). The basic aloo bhate is made with potatoes mashed with mustard oil and seasoned with just salt. Some people add roasted or fried crushed red pepper or chopped green chilies, some even caramelized onion. The Western mashed potato, I learned in adulthood, is made with butter, and milk or cream, and seasoned with salt and pepper. The more creative cooks add garlic sautéed in the butter. The more health-conscious (or lovers of olive oil) avoid butter; they use extra virgin olive oil instead.
One thing is common to both mashed potato and aloo bhate: they are delicious and homey. Both are simple but satisfying. Both can be made sophisticated, however, by merely adding the richness of cream or the tang of condiment.
Dear reader, do you like mashed potato?