Wednesday, June 25, 2014

As You Like It 'West Asian' Potatoes

Where I work, we have always been encouraged to refer to the Middle East as West Asia. The reason is explained here. My own exposure to West Asia is limited - I have friends who grew up there, I have been there for just half a day en route to Ireland, and I have several spices and condiments from there. I have had these for several years, the most recent ones are several months old.

I made these without any Internet consultation, just to use up the spices, but just now, before writing this post, when I searched for West Asian Potatoes, I did not find any direct hits, just a lot of scholarly discussions on potato farming. I did find several recipes for Middle Eastern ones, though, but mine look very different. I have many times roasted potatoes in the oven with zatar but this is the first time I am pan-frying them.

For me, this recipe is  a keeper. It has the spice mix zatar, sumac and pul biber, a chilli powder, spices from more than one West Asian region, and mellowed in intensity a few hours after cooking. It was quite tangy initially, even though I used only a pinch of sumac. It was not as salty as it might have been because when I added salt, I forgot that zatar has salt in it. Pul biber does too. I have called it As You Like It because I used as much spice as I deemed fit, did not use any calculations for it.

Peeled potatoes, cut into wedges - 3 large (or about 600 gm)
Zatar: 2 tbsp
Pul Biber: 1-2 tsp
Sumac: A pinch
Salt: A pinch
Extra virgin olive oil: 2 tbsp

Heat the oilve oil gently in a skillet and swirl it around.
Put the wedges in and saute for a couple of minutes.
Then add the zatar and toss them gently so that they are all coated.
Now add the pul biber, the sumac and the salt and mix well but gently.
Cover with a lid and let them cook through on simmer. Check to ensure they are not burning. When they yield to pressure, they are done. This takes about 10-15 minutes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Red Peppers and Me on Twitter

Earlier this week I promised my Twitter following, all of nine, that I would post this dish on the blog this week. I am giving my social skills on Twitter another go. (I had an account there years ago, I can’t find it now.) You can find me there as

I posted my most alluring picture of red and yellow capsicum (peppers) topped with besan (chickpea flour) and hoped for a reaction. I got one follower after that. 

I have been plagued with power cuts and lack of time since then so I’ll make this snappy.

Capsicum/Peppers (red, green, yellow or a combination): 4, medium, sliced
Besan or chickpea flour: 4 fistfuls
Sambaar kaaram: 2-2.5 tsp
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Salt, to taste
Urad dal/black gram: 1-2 tsp
Cumin: ½ tsp
Mustard: ½ tsp
Oil: A few tbsp

Heat about 3-4 tsp of oil in a large pan and temper it with the mustard, cumin and urad dal in that order.

When the urad dal begins to turn brown, add the capsicum and sauté on high. Keep sautéing, do not cover it as the colour tends to dull if you do that.

After about 4 minutes, season with the turmeric, salt and sambaar kaaram. Mix well – the seasoning tends to get stuck in the curves of the slices.

Saute some more, on medium heat.

After 3 minutes, sprinkle some chickpea flour all over the capsicum and mix well. Keep sprinkling the flour till you feel the vegetable is well covered with it. Add some more oil from around the edges of the pan and mix well. Keep stirring so that the flour gets crisped in the oil and does not stick to the pan or stay raw.

Test the capsicum. Take it off the fire when it’s still a little crunchy and the flour is cooked and has absorbed the taste of the spices.

The red and yellow capsicum are mild and sweet so this tastes a bit different when compared with green capsicum.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

How to Make An Authentic Pappucharu

Several years ago, I caught my aunt taking down a recipe from my grandmother. What recipe are you discussing, I asked my aunt. Pappucharu, she replied, with a slightly embarrassed giggle, and I burst out laughing. This thin stew-like concoction is a staple in Telugu homes. By then my aunt had been running her own household for almost 20 years and I found it funny that she had not picked up this basic dish.

Soon enough, I didn’t find it so funny. I found myself in the same position.

Worse, my attempts to make pappucharu were turning it into sambar or sambar-like affairs. Many of you know I am no fan of sambar though I acknowledge its convenience. I love pappucharu, though, all the more so because it remained elusive to me all these years. No amount of advice that it’s sambar without as much dal and sambar powder could help me get it right.

So when I went home to my parents recently for vacation, I pinned the cook down, notebook and camera in tow, and learnt how to make it.

 So here’s a classic recipe, to serve six

Toor dal: 1 teacup
Tomatoes: 2, quartered
Green chilli: 1
Garlic: 8 cloves, peeled, crushed
Onions: 4 (2 chopped and 2 peeled, halved or quartered. If small, use one more and leave it whole after peeling it)
Tamarind: 4-5 1-inch pieces, soaked and juice extracted
Salt – to taste (our cook used about 2 tsp of crystal salt)
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Sambaar Kaaram (this is not sambar podi – use red chilli powder if you don’t have this) – 2 tsp

Red chillies – 2-3
Mustard seed: ½ tsp
Cumin/Jeera: ½ tsp
Gingelly oil: 3-4 tsp
Curry leaves – a sprig


1. Pressure cook the toor dal with 1.5 teacups of water, the turmeric and cool and mash it well. Add the sambaar kaaram as you are mashing it. Add some water if you have to make it easier to mash.

 2. Heat the oil and pop the mustard and cumin. Add the red chillies and the curry leaves.

 3. Fry the onion and garlic.

 4. Now add the rest of the onions, tomato, green chilli, salt and 1.5-2 cups of water. It has to boil really well.

 5. Once it has boiled for 15-20 minutes, add the tamarind extract and boil for a little longer.

 6. Add the dal now and add some more water till it’s as thin as you want it to be. Boil for about 20 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary.


It needs a lot of boiling for all the flavors to meld.

Add other vegetables if you like at stage 4. I added some recently and I did not like the result though the Spouse did. I am going to stick to this barebones version for a while.

 I don’t dare make an all pressure-cooker version till I master this version.

For the differences between chaaru, pappucharu and sambar, see the comments section of this post. Also, our cook tells me that the composition of the sambaar kaaram and sambar powder is quite different, which makes pappucharu and sambar very different from each other. No chana dal and toor dal are used in the former.

Here is a pappucharu attempt I made earlier.

 I am sending this off to My Legume Love Affair, now managed by Lisa, and created and hosted this month by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook.