Sweet Potatoes w/ Pancetta, Rosemary and Mandarins.. Let’s get the party started!

Sweet Potatoes with Pancetta and Rosemary

A few weeks ago, I had a couple of these sweet beauties (sweet potatoes) lazing around. It was a Friday and the kids were in school, which meant, I could give my full attention to creating something with all of my senses fully present. There was no yelling, no interruptions and I had time to myself. If you have little kids at home, you know exactly what I am talking about! And if you don’t, then just take my word for it!

Going back to my story about the beautiful sweet potatoes… I opened my fridge for inspiration. I often do that before I start cooking. I stare at the produce and most days that is how I get inspired!

It’s like a party with a special guest list .. you know, the ones which say ‘By invitation only’ ! I opened the chiller and stared some more. Pancetta! There was a light bulb moment! And.. the idea of inviting Pancetta to this party got me super excited!

Now I also needed something earthy to match the meatiness of the pancetta while serving as a bridge between the sweet potatoes and the meat. I began a quiet search for this next guest. And there it was. The fresh rosemary stalks beautifully intertwined together with the confidence one has when they are the party starter!

I started prepping the ingredients, super excited but I got a certain uneasiness that I was missing out an important guest on the list. I needed something a little refreshing and zesty to lift it all up and make it fun! Just then, the mandarins said ‘hello, is it me you are looking for?’! (Sorry, I just couldn’t help it!)

The preparation was done and now we needed some music because what’s a good party without great music and dancing?!

This is an excellent party starter .. perfect for an appetizer or just by itself as a snack when you are in the mood for something delicious! Also, you can always make it vegetarian by removing the Pancetta, using ghee (or Oil for a vegan version) and topping it with some fried cashew nuts!

So, without further ado, let’s get the PARTY started!

Sweet Potato with Pancetta & Rosemary with hints of mandarin!

Total time: 30 mins
Preparation time: 10 mins
Cook time: 20 mins

Ingredients:

Pancetta : 1 store bought packet or 4 oz or 113 gms (I used 1 4 oz packet of Boar’s Head brand diced uncured Pancetta)
Garlic: 2 cloves of garlic – sliced or if you prefer, you can chop it finely
Onion: ½ cup of finely chopped onions (I used yellow onions)
Ghee or any oil of your choice: 1 tsp
Salt
Pepper: to taste
Rosemary: 2 stalks, washed, stems removed, leaves finely chopped
Dry Chilli flakes or freshly chopped Thai red chilli peppers – 1. Just a hint of spice is needed
Sweet Potatoes: 2 cups of medium diced sweet potatoes (As a ballpark, I used around 2)
Mandarin: Juice of ½ a mandarin + Zest of 1 mandarin
Fresh parsley: a small handful, Finely chopped, as garnish

Preparation:

  1. Finely slice the garlic, if you are lazy like me and you love garlic. Otherwise, mince it finely.
  2. Finely chop the onions to yield ½ cup of onions. I used yellow onions. You could try with red onions, shallots. They would all go well.
  3. Wash the rosemary stalks. Pat them dry. Now remove the leaves from the stem and finely chop them.
  4. Peel the sweet potatoes. And cut them into medium dice.
  5. Take the zest of a mandarin. Cut it into half and juice ½ the mandarin. I challenge you to not juice the other half directly in your mouth and get some of that zesty orange juice stuff all over your face.

Method:

  1. Heat a flat, heavy-bottom pan. I would recommend using something which has a broad surface area that can be used for cooking.
  2. Add the pancetta and mix it around until it renders fat and turns nice, brown and crispy.
  3. Now remove it from the pan. If the oil left behind is enough, you don’t need to add any more oil. If not, you could add a tsp of oil or ghee. I used ghee because I love ghee.
  4. Add the garlic and stir it around until it releases aroma. Do not brown it.
  5. Next add the onions/shallots or whatever you are using. If you are using fresh Thai chilli peppers, finely chop them and add them together with the onions. Season with salt & pepper and sweat it. Go for a translucent colour without browning.
  6. Next, add the rosemary leaves and the diced Sweet potatoes. Season again with salt and pepper. Cook this covered for the next few mins on medium-low heat to get them cooked through but remember stirring them every few.
  7. Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, add the zest and keep heat to medium and just let the edges turn a little brown. Now deglaze the pan by adding the juice of ½ a mandarin. It will sizzle and who doesn’t love a good sizzling sound! Combine the flavours and remove them into your serving dish. Now top it with the Pancetta and a little bit of fresh parsley and you are good to go!

Notes:

  • If you choose to make a vegan version of this, do not include the pancetta. Use coconut oil or any oil of your choice and instead you could add some dry roasted, crushed peanuts as a topping to replace the Pancetta.

A timeless ritual: Ghugni

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During my childhood years, there were many practices that were religiously followed at home. As we grew up, moved places, these rituals kept evolving and eventually there were a few such rituals which stood the test of time. One such ritual was that of an evening snack called Ghugni. It is a ritual which is still in place and practiced at least once a week in my parents home.

You may find it strange that I call this Ghugni and the picture shows dried black chickpeas. This is Ghugni as it is known in Bihar. It is different from the Ghugni I have posted previously. The previous one is made using dried peas with tamarind as the souring agent. This one is  made using dried Black Chickpeas or Sookha Kaala Chana, simply known as kaala chana. Besides using different key ingredients, the two ghugnis are meant for the same purpose: snack / street food. However, they differ in their taste, texture as well as method of preparation.

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Ma prepares for this Ghugni the night before. She soaks a generous amount of the Kaala Chana in water. The next morning she pressure cooks these soaked dried chickpeas with some salt. These cooked chickpeas are then ready to be cooked in some spices to make it into what is known in Bihar as “Ghugni”. This version of ghugni is usually had with some “chooda ka bhuja” or roasted/fried and spiced flattened rice (poha / chooda / chidva).

The good news is that Kala Chana has a number of health benefits. They are high in dietary fibre. They serve as a good source of proteins for vegetarians. Therefore, this is one of those snacks where you can eat as much, almost guilt free.

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I find the Ghugni self sufficient as a snack. It definitely tastes much better the following day as the spices get sufficient time to infuse their flavours with the cooked chickpeas. It becomes a little dry with time so before serving, you will need to add some warm water and adjust the seasoning in order to suit your taste.

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Bihari Ghugni Recipe: To print the recipe, click here.

Serves: 3-4
Preparation time: 8 hours soaking + 15 mins preparation [Mis en Place]
Cooking time: Up to 1.5 hours including boiling the chickpeas.
A healthy vegetarian snack though it does require a little bit of advance planning.

Ingredients:

Black dried Chickpeas [Sookha Kaala Chana]: 1 cup
Ginger: 1 medium slice for boiling and 1 tbsp finely chopped for the masala
Garlic: 1 tbsp, finely chopped
Onion: 1 cup finely chopped
Oil: 1 ½ tbsp. [I used Mustard oil as that is used traditionally and I like it’s pungent smell and taste. You can use your regular cooking oil if you prefer]
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon stick: 1 inch,
Bay leaf (dried): 1, medium sized
Dried red chilli: 1-2 (as per your tolerance).
Red onion: 1 cup, finely chopped
Dry Mango powder (Aamchoor): 2 ½ tsp

Ingredients for the spice paste:

Turmeric powder: 1/8 tsp or a generous pinch
Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tbsp
Cumin powder: 1 ½ tsp
Water: 2 tbsp

Ingredients for garnishing:

Onions: 1, finely chopped
Green chillies: 4-5, finely chopped
Lime: 1-2, cut anyway to squeeze the juice on the cooked ghugni.

How I did it:

  1. Wash and soak the Sookha Kaala Chana overnight or for about 8 hours in water.
  2. Wash it again. In a pressure cooker, add the Kaala chana, sufficient water making to cover the chickpeas as well as extra to make sure there is enough room for the chickpeas to expand in volume, a pinch of salt & a slice of ginger. Start the pressure cooker on high heat. After the steam builds up [first whistle], lower the heat to cook for another 15 mins. If using an open pot, make sure the chickpeas are cooked through – You should be able to crush them if you press them between two fingers. They should retain their shape and not be mushy at all. Allow the steam to release on it’s own. Discard the slice of ginger. Strain the mix, reserving the liquid for cooking.
  3. In a deep bottomed pot or a wok / Kadhai, heat 1 tbsp mustard oil. Bring it to a smoking point, and then let it cool down. If using regular oil, simply heat the oil and move on to the next additions. Add cumin seeds, dry red chilli, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Let the aroma release in the oil. Reduce heat if necessary, making sure the spices do not burn.
  4. Next, add the finely chopped ginger and garlic. Fry for about 2 mins on low heat.
  5. Add the finely chopped onions and a pinch of salt to season the masala. Fry on low-medium heat stirring continuously for about 7-8 mins until almost done. This is also called bhuno, a term used in Indian cooking which means to cook the spices slowly to ensure the maximum flavours are released and the raw smell from the spices and ingredients no longer exists. Doing this step right is essential to maximise the flavour of any dish.
  6. While the onions are frying, mix together all the ingredients listed under ‘Spice Mix’ and add next.
  7. Continue to cook the masala for another 2-3 mins until there is no raw smell of any masala.
  8. Next add dry mango powder (aamchoor) & the drained and boiled Kaala Chana
  9. Increase heat to high and continue to stir making sure the masala sticks to the kaala chana.
  10. Keep adding 2-3 ladles of the reserved boiling liquid and continue cooking on low-medium heat until the liquid is absorbed by the Chana. The liquid additions should be enough to make sure the Chana has some extra liquid. The idea is to slowly infuse all the flavour from the liquid into the Chana while cooking the spices.
  11. Repeat this process until all or most of the liquid is used up. Remember that the cooking liquid already contains salt. Taste often to adjust the salt if needed.
  12. If serving later, heat up the chana, adding a little water to make it moist. We don’t want this to be too dry. If adding water, adjust the level of salt.
  13. Serve in bowls or a plate, garnished with chopped onions, green chillies and lime. Traditionally, this is served with chooda ka bhooja or lightly spiced and roasted beaten rice. I find this tastes great on it’s own too.

Black Chana Ghugni

Notes:

  • Chop the ingredients for garnishing just before serving. The freshness of the onions, green chilli and lime will elevate your snack to another level.
  • I spend a lot of time cooking this ghugni slowly. It helps to infuse flavours to these chickpeas and I find it totally worth the time and effort.

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