Order vindaloo, a spicy, vinegary curry, at many Indian restaurants in the U.S. and you'll be served a dish that includes a meat like lamb or chicken along with potatoes.
While potatoes are never a bad idea, Bhakti Sharma, a chef who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and shares cooking videos on her YouTube channel, Honest Cooks, felt that vindaloo is often misrepresented in most places outside India, so she set to work researching the rich history of the dish.
"There are no potatoes in the dish," Sharma told TODAY Food. "The name 'vindaloo' is more of a mispronunciation of 'vino de alhos,' a Portuguese dish that's name means 'meat with wine and garlic.'" In the 15th century, Portuguese explorers brought the dish to India.
Sharma says the Hindi term for potatoes, "aloo," most likely causes the confusion and has led to potatoes being added to the dish over time.
"Vindaloo, as a recipe, is common knowledge in the kitchens of India," said Sharma. "Although potatoes are a great addition, they are not traditionally used in this recipe in kitchens there."
Sharma and her partner, Adheesh Saxena, who helps produce the videos on her YouTube channel, wanted to create a more traditional version of the dish, so they opened a few cookbooks and went to work, researching in books like "Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors" and "Curry: A Global History."
Sharma posted the result, a simple but intensely flavorful dish made with marinated chicken thighs, was on her YouTube channel last week. Then, the Chicago-based cooking enthusiast, who calls she and her husband "prolific Redditors," also shared her recipe on Reddit, in the r/Old_Recipes subreddit, describing it as "an Indo-Portuguese recipe from the 16th century," where we spotted it.
As a long-time lover of Indian cuisine, I was eager to try out this version of vindaloo (once I recovered from the shock of my beloved potatoes being a no-go) so I gathered the ingredients, which include aromatic spices like whole cloves, dried red chiles and cumin seeds.
The first step of Sharma's recipe is to create a marinade for the meat: I dry-roasted the spices in a pan on the stove, then blitzed them in a food processor with a rich wine vinegar. After letting my cubed chicken thighs hang out in the marinade — which smelled so fantastic I could have eaten it by itself — for a few hours, it was time to cook.
The curry was simple to throw together as well, with beautiful ingredients like fresh green chiles, red onion and cinnamon cooked to perfection along with the marinated chicken.
Per Sharma's suggestion, we served the curry with white rice and a side of naan. It was nearly impossible to wait until the dish was plated due to the heavenly smell of spices, sugar and vinegar coming from the pan.
Potatoes or no potatoes, this vindaloo dish was among the most fragrant and flavorful dishes I've created in my kitchen. The rich sweetness of the brown sugar and tartness of the wine vinegar maximized the flavor of each spice.
The spiciness of the dish made my husband and I break a sweat but not to an uncomfortable degree (the rice, of course, helped to soothe our taste buds).
"This is my favorite Indian food I've ever had," said my husband.
"Like ever?" I asked.
"Yes," he answered.
"Like even from a restaurant?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
That's extremely high praise from my partner-in-Indian-food-eating, with whom I order Indian takeout weekly and visit the top-rated Indian restaurants within each city we travel to.
I also checked in with Colleen Sen, who has studied South Asian cuisine for years and written several books on the subject, including, "Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India," for her thoughts on the potato-less dish version of the popular dish.
Sen says in terms of Indian cuisine, there's no such thing as a straightforward "authentic" recipe.
"When it comes to vindaloo, I looked through five Indian and Goan cookbooks," said Sen in an email. "Three recipes have no potatoes and two include fried potatoes, and the recipe for the Portuguese precursor of vindaloo, carne de vinho e alhos, does not have potatoes."
"Indian food isn't standardized, like French," said Sen, who also lives in Chicago. "There are so many variations in ingredients and techniques."
Well, with or without potatoes, authentic or inauthentic, this dish will be making frequent returns to my kitchen for years to come.