Ancient Spice - Til Aloo

When Barbara announced 'ancient spice' as the theme for her event, The spice is right, I knew I'd be making something with sesame. I remembered reading in a book that it was the oldest recorded spice; 4000 years old to be precise - now that was sufficiently ancient!

Historians believe the original homeland of sesame is the Indian subcontinent, indicated by it's Latin name: Sesamum indicum, where indicum means 'from India'. Sesame was one of the primary crops of the Indus valley civilisation and the seeds were used for oil before they were used to flavor foods. Gernot Katzner's spice pages explain how this is evident in the etymology of the word 'tel' (oil), which is a derivative of the Sanskrit word 'tila' (sesame).
It is surprising how little we know of the spices that we use in our kitchen everyday.

Sesame is most commonly used to make 'til ladoos' during Makar Sankrant. The seeds are also used to flavor curries and pulaos by grinding them in a paste along with other spices. But the dish that truly gives the sesame it's due is Til Aloo- potato cubes fried with sesame seeds. The preparation is similar to the popular Jeera Aloo, which uses cumin. The blandness of potatoes complements the sesame's nutty flavor nicely.

I ate this dish in a restaurant in Bombay and thought I'd recreate it at home. This wasn't exactly challenging because it's a very simple dish. One bite and you figure out how it's made. Be warned though that you really have to love sesame to like this one!


TIL ALOO (Potatoes fried with sesame seeds)
(serves 2)
4-5 medium size potatoes
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp beige sesame seeds
1/2 tbsp black sesame seeds (entirely optional; I like to add them for color)
1/4 tsp ginger paste
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
lemon juice
1-2 tbsp oil
salt to taste

Wash and peel potatoes. Cut into wedges or large cubes and boil them in salted water until tender (they cook faster this way so keep an eye).

Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds. When they begin to splutter add cumin and sesame seeds. Add ginger paste, turmeric and red chilli powder and saute for a few minutes (on low heat or the seeds will turn bitter).

Add potatoes and season to taste. Stir until they are well coated with spices. Sprinkle lemon juice and serve hot. Til aloo is generally served with puris but rotis or rice and dal work well too.

* Don't omit the lemon juice, it balances all the other flavors in the dish.

Tags: alu batatachi bhaji


Blogger Priya said...

I remember seeing something similar in a cookbook when i was in school.i never used to cook then , i askd my mom to make this tillwale aloo,Oh Boy ! they were so tasty. Thanx so much for the recipe ashwini. And the photo looks gorgeous.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Ashwini said...

Thanks Priya, glad to be of help. I was trying to figure out what went into the dish. The net gave me some weird recipes with saunf etc. Finally I just put in exactly what I remembered eating :-)

8:18 PM  
Blogger Lakshmi said...

looks great, this is the first time seeing the combo of sesame seeds and potato.

9:57 PM  
Blogger lost in thoughts said...

Lovely & yummy !

11:44 PM  
Blogger sailu said...

That picture is lovely,Ashwini and a nice recipe too.

4:13 AM  
Blogger Tanuja said...

tillwale aloo yummy recipe nice picture ashwini,this dish tastes excellent with rotis and puree:)

Thanks for bringing the memory back I used to have it when I was in PIlANI long back.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Priya said...

Ashwini the recipe i recall seeing in the cookbook had the same ingredients except for white sesame and they had small baby potaoes, the author said he/she picked the smallest ones in the baby potatoes and used those for this recipe. In india we have a choice to pick potatoes, but here everything comes in a bag, and even the loose ones are too big , even the baby potatoes look like the regular indian potaoes. The cookbook had such lovely pictures,very high quality printing and paper used, should be a very famous author .

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gorgeous picture! such a simple recipe too! have to give this a try.


9:35 AM  
Blogger Ashwini said...

Thanks Lakshmi, Sailu, SH and Sonali.
Tanuja - With puris? That would have been one super meal!
Priya - I thought of using red potatoes available here but then didn't know how that would turn out. I think baby potatoes make sense coz then you dont even have to bother cutting them. Was it Sanjeev Kapoor or maybe Madhur Jaffrey?

10:03 AM  
Blogger Vineela said...

I love sesame .Thanks for ur recipe.Really looks great.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Priya Bhaskaran said...

wow, nice pictures ashwini:) It is a simple recipe and looks yummy:)

11:42 PM  
Blogger Tamela said...

Sesame seeds and potatoes is a great idea. I have enjoyed your food blog, if you have a chance visit my blog at

3:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks lovely...isn't it wonderful how sometimes the simplest dishes are the most tasty ones?

2:48 PM  
Blogger Ashwini said...

Vineela - you love sesame? Then you must definitely try this dish.
Thanks Priya & Tami. You have a good blog going out there Tami.
Vee - I know. When I first tasted it I didnt believe a combination so simple could taste so good!

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an informative and appropriate post for this event. Enjoyed reading your introduction to this recipe.

The curry looks fantastic. I've few baby reds, I'll certainly try this recipe. Thanks Ashwini.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Santhi said...

I am not fond of bagels at all, the only kind i eat is seseme and I eat it for seseme and not the bagel :):):) This is on my MUST do list ashwini. Thanks for great recipe.

7:20 PM  
Blogger KA said...

Looks yummy!!

8:36 PM  
Blogger GourmayMasala said...

This simple dish looks fabulous. I bet using white and black seasme adds to the look. Yin and Yang to the dish I guess!

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ashwini, This is my kind of recipe!can imagine the till flavoured's yummmmmm :)

11:22 AM  
Blogger Kitchenmate said...

Ashwini: Yummy!!! is what I felt when i first saw the picture and definitely going to try this:)

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi - this is my first time on your blog - but I'll be back!

Sesame is not something I had really considered a spice before - but in reading your post, I'm not sure why. In fact, I'm not sure how I regarded the seeds!

I tend to use quite a bit of sesame - I think it a good thing to add to stir-fried cabbage or pak choi, for example. I also like tahini paste when used in hummus. The funny thing is, I tend to associate it more with chinese or middle-eastern cookery rather than Indian. I'm going to have a go at these potatoes soon though!

5:39 AM  
Blogger Ashwini said...

Thanks Richard. I know what you mean about sesame. I see them only on bagels here! It is popular throughout Middle East (as tahini and China (sesame oil) because of the trade in the region in the past (spice islands as our subcontinent was known). A lot of Indian dishes actually use sesame but as far as I know this is the only one that uses them as the only flavor in the dish.

10:15 AM  
Blogger jasmine said...


What a great submission to the spice event! I love that photo.


9:30 PM  
Blogger A Cook @ Heart said...

Hi Ashwini! Thank U for letting me know about this is the source of my recipe in the post!!
Hv a gr8 weekend!!!

12:28 PM  
Blogger Ashwini said...

Mansi, no problem! I have this habit of collecting recipes too and I sometimes forget where it came from. No need for formalities between blogger pals :)

3:49 PM  
Blogger Shubha Ravikoti said...

hey ashwini u have nice blog here... have never seen it earlier.. will add u in my blog roll.. do check out my blog too and give me ur comments plz

12:56 PM  
Blogger Shubha Ravikoti said...

And yeah the picture looks amazing.... nice photography... u urself click it or someone does it for u??

12:57 PM  

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