There are two ways to approach cooking – by the book, or by heart. I tend to lean towards the second option. Many of the dishes I create, like this spicy sweet potato pulao, are a mix of experimentation, inspiration, and food memories. This makes for a really great time in the kitchen, but a lot of stress when you are trying to write out a recipe!
Last month we had some friends over for a tandoori turkey dinner and I was having that last minute feeling that there wasn’t enough food to feed the crowd, so I decided to do a quick rice dish. On a grocery trip earlier that week I had found some purple Indian sweet potatoes – shakarkandi – and brought them home with no idea of what I would use them for. Savoury serendipity!
Since our photographer Aziz was already hanging out in the kitchen documenting the turkey process, he shot the spicy sweet potato pulao too. The reason it’s taken me so long to share the recipe? I didn’t document the ingredients! I’ve since made this dish twice and have nailed down the process and ingredients.
Sweet potatoes are not something that I use regularly in my cooking, in fact, I can’t remember if I’ve ever cooked with them before this! Surprisingly, this pulao falls in my top 5 favourite recipes I’ve ever created. This is one of those rare recipes where I believe you really need the heat. There is something about the mix of the sweet potatoes and the heat from the red chilies that makes this so good!
Spicy Sweet Potato Pulao
2 tablespoons of ghee or oil for frying
3 teaspoons cumin seeds
2-3 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
2 medium sized purple onions sliced thiny
4 garlic cloves chopped
2 inch piece of ginger chopped
2 teaspoons corriander powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
salt to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin powder
1/2 bunch of chopped cilantro – reserve 1-2 tablespoons for garnish
1/2 bunch of chopped mint
2 Thai red chillies finely chopped – reserve 1 teaspoon for garnish
3 cups sweet potatoes cubed
2 cups basmati rice that has been soaked in water for 30 minutes and then drained
3 3/4 cups of water
Step 1: Heat ghee in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium to high heat. Add cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves and cook while stirring for 30-60 seconds. Keep stirring so the aromatics don’t burn. Add the onion and cook for 3-5 minutes until soft and golden brown. Mix in chopped chilies.
Step 2: Lower heat and add garlic and ginger, cook while stirring for 60 seconds. Add dry masalas (cumin, corriander, and turmeric), mix well and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Mix cilantro and mint into the tempering mixture. Add in the sweet potatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes until tender, not soft.
Step 3: Add pre-soaked rice and mix well. Cover with 3 and 3/4 cups of water, raise heat to high and bring the water to a boil. Once the water has boiled reduce heat to medium-low and cover pan with a lid. Allow rice to cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the water has been fully absorbed by the rice. Turn off heat and let sit covered for 5 minutes.
Step 4: Plate and garnish with reserved cilantro, mint, and red chillies.
I’ve recently discovered this Pinto Gris by Villa Maria wines and it pairs beautifully with spicy Indian dishes. I’m usually a red drinker, but I love how the flavour profile of this wine works with complex spice blends and high-heat dishes. If you try it out, let me know what you think!
If wine is not your thing, you can also pair this pulao with a sweet and tangy cranberry raita.