I’m looking out my window as I write this blog post. It’s pretty ugly out there. We finally got some typical Chicago winter weather today with high winds, freezing rain and cold temperatures. Whenever the weather is cold and wet, I automatically crave warming spicy foods. My friend from New York is in town and coming over for dinner tonight. Brainstorming a meal for us to led me to whip up an Indian inspired sweet potato dish.This mixture of vegetables cooked in dry spices (without sauce) is called Shaak.
With Shounek’s family being from India, I’ve learned a few traditional cooking techniques for creating Indian dishes. There are a few steps I’ve learned from watching my mother-in-law cook. I’ve eaten many dishes similar to the one here. Her versions have included potatoes, peas, sweet potatoes and cauliflower. First, she taught me it’s important to properly toast your spices in oil. Toasting the spices helps them to “bloom” or open up in flavor. Second, it’ important to cook the garlic and onions well. They should be cooked to the point they begin to brown, but are not burned. These two simple steps will help to create a punch of flavor you find in Indian cuisine.
I love using sweet potatoes here instead of white potatoes. The natural sweetness from the potatoes pairs incredibly well with the heat from the chili and warming qualities of garlic and onion. Green peas and garbanzo beans (chickpeas) add a healthy dose of plant protein to make this a complete meal (if you want it to be!).
A quick note on the spices:
Found in most grocery stores now, especially those carrying ethnic foods. I love the turmeric powder found at Whole Foods Market in their bulk spices.
Turmeric has been used traditionally as a dye, so use care with this spice. It can dye your clothes, utensils, counters, and hands.
Turmeric has been used as an anti-inflammatory in both the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine. It’s been referred to as "Indian saffron" because of its bold yellow-orange color.
Black Mustard Seeds
Mustard seeds may be a bit trickier to locate, but I’ve found them frequently at Whole Foods Market too. Try an Indian grocery store too.
Mustard seeds are from the mustard plant, which is a vegetable related to broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage. Black mustard seeds are the most pungent in flavor.
Indian Chili Powder
Indian Chili Powder is not the same chili powder that people typically used to season chili (the southwestern stew), but a powder made from ground chili peppers. A good substitute is crushed red pepper or a few pinches of cayenne.
Found in Indian grocery stores.
Indian Sweet Potatoes & Chickpea Toss
Time: 30 Minutes
Serves: 4-5 as a side dish
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups peeled and diced sweet potato (small dice)
½ cup green peas, defrosted (from frozen)
1 cup cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 tsp ground turmeric powder
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp red chili powder* (crushed red pepper will work too)
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp water
1 tsp sea salt
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
Heat a large sauté pan to medium heat. Add olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add turmeric, chili, and mustard seeds. Cook the spices in the oil for 1 minute, stirring.
Add onion and garlic and cook for 6 minutes, until the mixture is well cooked and browned. Be careful not to burn.
Add sweet potato, salt and stir to coat in spice mixture.
Cook for 10 minutes, periodically adding the water one tablespoon at a time. This will help the sweet potato to cook a little more quickly and lift any of the brown bits off the bottom of the pan if it starts to stick.
Stir in peas and chickpeas and heat through.
Remove from heat, serve with chopped cilantro.