Almost all of my cooking is not only improvisatory in nature but also often a hodgepodge of ingredients and approaches from different parts of India. I do sometimes cook from cookbooks that features dishes/cuisines of regions of India other than my own and when I do I follow those recipes closely—at least the first time. But invariably aspects of those recipes—be they combinations of ingredients or broad flavour profiles—enter unpredictably into the improvised dishes I make far more often. Not every bit of hybridization works or has particularly striking results but when one does it feels very satisfying. This improvised sweet potato curry, which draws on ingredients and flavours in dishes from Marathi and various South Indian cuisines, is one of my recent hits. For all I know it ends up close to some community or the other’s traditional preparation of sweet potato. If so, please don’t give me a hard time for departing in some crucial way from a canonical preparation you’re familiar with; this is not trying to be whatever that might be. What I can tell you is that—sour and hot and sweet and thickened with ground peanuts—it makes for a hearty winter meal with rice. Give it a go and see what you think.
- 2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
- 3/4 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- The following ground together into a coarse masala: 1 tblspn cumin seeds, 1 small piece cinnamon, 5-7 dried red chillies, 1 tspn methi/fenugreek seeds, 1 tspn fennel seeds
- 3 tblspns peanuts, ground
- 1 tblspn wet block tamarind, soaked in 2 cups hot water and squeezed through a strainer
- 1 tblspn jaggery or dark brown sugar
- 1-2 cups of water, off the boil
- Heat 2-3 tblspns of oil in a deep pan over medium heat and add the sweet potato. Saute for 5-7 minutes till starting to pick up some colour.
- Add the haldi and the ground masalas and salt, mix in and saute for another 3 minutes or so, taking care to keep everything moving.
- Add the ground peanuts, mix in thoroughly and saute for another 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly to make sure the ground peanut does not stick at the bottom of the pan and scorch.
- Add the strained tamarind extract, the jaggery and the water, bring up to a high simmer then lower th heat and cook uncovered at a low simmer till the sweet potato is done.
- Taste and adjust for salt and serve with steamed rice.
- I make this pretty hot to match up with the sourness of the tamarind but you could reduce the number of hot chillies or mix in some milder ones if you like.
- If the gravy is thinner than you like when the sweet potato is almost done, raise the heat to a high simmer and cook more of it off.
- If you have curry leaves on hand you could sputter some in the hot oil before adding the sweet potato. Maybe add 3/4 tspn of black mustard seeds as well and let them pop. Alternatively you could add them as a tadka/tempering at the very end.
- You could mellow this out by adding a cup of coconut milk towards the end and letting the whole simmer for 5-7 minutes.
- Like many dishes involving tamarind this will taste better on the second day.