Spicy Sweet-Potato bites!


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One of my earliest memories of sweet potatoes (Shakarkand, Mishti Aaloo or Aluaa) is from my occasional winter visits to my grandmother’s home in Bihar. Sweet potatoes were found in abundance in the winter months. Bonfires made with wood were common in almost every corner / street. Given the lack of heating equipments then, these bonfires were the perfect social setting for some tea, conversations and food along with the much needed warmth for those extremely chilly winter evenings.

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Sweet potatoes are common food at these casual, unpretentious gatherings. Someone will usually carve out some of the burning amber coloured wood and cover the sweet potatoes in them to let it slow roast. This can take up to an hour to cook. When cooked, the skin becomes very crisp. It is then peeled and dunked in milk with or without sugar and is absolutely delightful for sweet potato lovers. At other times, sweet potatoes are also cooked in the wood fired mud ovens (choolha) that is common in rural India. The other simpler way to cook them is by boiling them in water, peeling them and then seasoning it with some salt and Teesi as part of a regular meal.

If you haven’t grown up with this, you might find the idea strange. R, who spent a number of years in Delhi, finds his peace in roasting and spicing up these tuberous roots. It makes me realize how important it is to try different kinds of food in the early years of life. The food that we eat, especially as children creates memories, forms and shapes how we remember and associate life events and people as we grow up.

I must admit though that I never had a strong liking for sweet potatoes (primarily because of its sweetness) until I became a mother. I strongly believe children should be exposed to different kinds of food from an early age. It helps them to have an open mind about food as they grow up. In practice, I take it as an opportunity to nurture my own creativity in the kitchen and make some interesting meals for the family.

These bite sized cutlets make for a great appetiser to kick start any evening.

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For this recipe, I boiled the sweet potatoes until cooked yet firm. I wanted to create a flavour combination that would tone down the sweetness of the sweet potatoes while incorporating savoury, tangy and heat in the right intensity. The first time I created these was when I was trying to make something new for little V’s snack box. I also wanted to make something that was bite size, just the right size so that he can use his fingers without making it too messy.

To print this recipe, click here.

Yield: About 40 mini / bite size sweet potato cutlets

Ingredients:

Sweet Potatoes: around 500 gms
Onion: 1 cup, finely chopped
Teesi: 3 Tbsp (See recipe of Teesi here)
Lime juice: 2 Tbsp (start with 1.5 tbsp and adjust to suit your taste)
Coarse Rice powder: 3 Tbsp (you can replace this with fine semolina instead)
Finely chopped coriander leaves: ½ cup
Finely grated ginger: 1 ½ Tbsp
Roasted cumin powder: 1 ½ Tbsp
Chilli powder: 1 tsp
Black pepper powder: 1tsp
Finely chopped green chillies: 4-5 (I used Thai green chillies)
Rock salt: ¼ tsp
Salt: to taste
Ghee to pan fry the mini cutlets (replace with your regular cooking oil if you prefer): You will need to spread a tsp (or less) of ghee in the skillet. As you cook the mini cutlets, you can use an oil brush or the back of a spoon to touch the surface of the cutlets with ghee/oil. When pan frying the next batch, use a little less ghee, just enough to have some oil lining the skillet.

How I did it:

  1. Wash sweet potatoes thoroughly. Slice each sweet potato (skin on) into 2 or 3 big chunks. I used a pressure cooker to boil until steam forms (one whistle). Remove from heat and let it cool down until all the steam is released.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Shock the boiled sweet potatoes in ice cold water. Peel the skin. Grate these into a large enough bowl.
  4. Add all the remaining ingredients listed above.
  5. Using your fingers, mix all the ingredients together making sure the spices (masalas) are uniformly mixed. It doesn’t matter if the sweet potato loses the grated texture. Sweet potatoes have been cooked but are still firm and will retain their texture when we shape them into mini-cutlets. The important thing is to mix this well to ensure every cutlet has the flavours uniformly spread across. Taste and adjust the salt, spice and tangy taste according to your liking. The best way to do this is to pan fry one mini-cutlet first and taste it. I believe the taste alters with the cooking process therefore this step is highly recommended.
  6. Shape the mixture into bite size cutlets – about an inch to 1.5 inches in diameter.
  7. In a skillet, heat about a tsp of ghee (Just enough ghee to wet the skillet) Place the mini-cutlets in the skillet, and cook on low heat until crispy on the outside. As I do not use much ghee in the skillet initially, I like to brush the cutlets with a little ghee on the outside during the cooking process. This helps to give a nice golden color.
  8. Serve with coriander chutney or a coriander-mint chutney (click here for recipe) or chilli sauce.

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Notes:

  • The green chillies are an absolute must in this, if serving for adults. Adjust to your tolerance. I skipped it when I made it for V.
  • I added Teesi which made it healthier obviously. If you do not want to make Teesi, you can replace it with a tsp of roasted coriander powder and 1/8 tsp of chilli powder instead. The flavour will be different but good, nevertheless.
  • I used Vietnamese sweet potatoes to make this, as it is readily available here. The Vietnamese sweet potatoes have less moisture than many other varieties. I found it easy to shape and pan fry.

2013-08-14

Teesi – Indian Spiced Flax seeds Powder

Summer. A season not many appreciate or look forward to. Especially if it is anything like the summer one experiences in many parts of India. I, on the other hand, have a different story to tell.

For as far back as I can remember, I always looked forward to summer. The heat didn’t dampen my spirits. The train journey to my grandparents home, the love of mangoes and lychees, the day and night fun with cousins, the self-declared little or no studying just made it my favorite season of the year!

Every summer vacation started with a long train journey to visit my grandparents. A journey where getting the window seat was of utmost importance, almost like my life in the next 24 hours depended on it. Well, it almost was. With a constant gaze outside the window at surroundings that kept changing every kilometer or less, I soaked in the countryside of India. A journey where I could peek into the daily lives of many, often left wondering what their story was… Where little children played fearlessly beside the train tracks.. Where hawkers that came every few minutes made the journey seem worthwhile.

Mom always prepared meals for the train, so we never got to eat the meals sold onboard. I wasn’t too happy about it then. It was not until recently that I ate the meals served on the train. The verdict: A deep appreciation of my Mom’s efforts in preparing food for the entire family!

Summer vacation was synonymous to abundance of mangoes followed by lychees, all from my grandparents’ orchard. We would get boxes (or petis as they are called in the local dialect) of mangoes and lychees as they came in season – sheer bliss!

Apart from the freshest seasonal produce, we were privileged to have some of the best home cooked meals. My grandmother (or Mai as we called her) was one of the best cooks I have ever known. Her cooking philosophy involved using different types of spices but in the right balance. Every spice in her spice box came with a purpose and it was through the magic in her fingers that she would use them in the right place and the right proportion to transform something extremely simple to exemplary.

One of my favorite things that Mai prepared was “Teesi”. Teesi is traditionally had in Bihar. It is prepared by dry-roasting brown flax seeds together with some spices and stored as a powder. It is usually prepared and stored in airtight bottles to prevent moisture from coming in. We always packed Teesi on the way back home and enjoyed it for the next 2-3 months.


Indian Spiced Flaxseed Powder or Teesi
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To Print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Flax seeds: 1 cup
Dried bay leaves: 3 small
Dry red chillies: 4 (Use more if you like)
Coriander seeds: 2 tablespoons
Salt: 1/3 tsp (adjust to taste)

How I Did it:

Heat a pan. On slow heat, Dry roast each of the ingredients above (except salt) separately. The ingredients should be roasted separately as the roasting time for each ingredient varies. In order to avoid any burning, make sure you stir continuously during the roasting process.

Flax seeds when done start to sputter. Be careful and make sure the heat is slow and the flax seeds don’t get burnt.

Once all the ingredients are roasted, allow them to cool.

When the ingredients have cooled off, combine all the ingredients together with the salt and dry grind it to a coarse powder using the dry grinder / miller attachment of your food processor.

Store in an air tight jar at room temperature. Teesi is usually had as a condiment with your regular meal or added to natural yoghurt (dahi) to make it more flavorful. You can simply add it to your regular Dal and Rice for adding flavor to an otherwise regular meal. The usual serving of Teesi is about 2 tablespoons. Having said that, food is a personal experience and has to be had in the way that one enjoys it. So, go on and enjoy this simple, healthy and flavorful condiment in the way you like it.