We grow and eat lots of potatoes, especially ones we’ve stored for winter: waxy reds and bright purples ideal for salads, starchier white varieties I use in gnocchi, and yellow potatoes that go into soups, curries, mashers—really, almost anything. Each variety tastes subtly different, but all readily absorb any flavor you add to them, making them perfect vehicles for all sorts of spices.
I often bring potatoes when teaching Twice as Tasty Indian Spices workshops, but we keep the workshop recipes simple so that the participants’ newly created spice blends can shine. At home, I sometimes reach for a homemade masala but just as often grab separate ground or whole spices. Because I’m generally rich in pickle brine, that often lands in my potato dishes for a sweet-and-sour effect. Keep reading after the recipe for more flavoring ideas.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 2 main ingredients plus a bunch of spices.
1. Cube and season the potatoes.
2. Pan-fry the potatoes.
3. Cook in the remaining ingredients until saucy and enjoy.
Indian-Inspired Sweet-and-Sour Potatoes
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 Smoked Chilies or other dried chilies, crumbled (or to taste)
2 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup pickle brine or water
3 1-ounce Basil Pesto Base cubes (about 6 tablespoons if defrosted)
8 ounces (about 1-1/2 cups) Frozen Cherry Tomatoes
2 tablespoons tamarind paste (optional)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces. Place the cubes in a bowl, submerge them in cold water, and let them sit for up to 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes, briefly dry the bowl, and return the potatoes to it. Sprinkle with the salt, mustard seeds, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and chili flakes; toss well.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned and starting to soften. Add the water and pickle brine, pesto, tomatoes, tamarind paste, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and the sauce has thickened. Serve immediately, garnishing with fresh cilantro and Fresh Yogurt if desired. Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a main.
Tips & Tricks
- The only potentially challenging thing about this recipe is keeping its homemade ingredients on hand. Don’t worry if you don’t have everything; by substituting in store-bought ingredients, you’ll appreciate your homegrown and homemade ones even more next time.
- Soaking the potatoes may seem like a little thing, but it removes some starch so that they stay separated and become crispy in the pan. It also helps keep their color—not important in this dish, but good to know for other recipes. For this recipe, it keeps the spices on the spuds.
- Pickle brine gives the sour factor and, depending on the brine you choose, its own flavor. Since this recipe lacks the often-standard onion, I like to use brines from Apple-Sweetened Yellow Onions, Spiced Fermented Pearl Onions, and many of the other pickled onion recipes in my cookbook.
- In tropical climates, tamarind often gives the sour flavor in sweet-and-sour dishes. To double-down on the tang, you can use both brine and tamarind here. Tamarind pulp or paste has plenty of other uses, including in Hot and Sour Soup, my go-to when I’ve picked up a bug.
Twice as Tasty
The ingredients in Indian-Inspired Sweet-and-Sour Potatoes have many variations, depending on what you keep on hand or where you want a shortcut. If you immediately look at the ingredient list and think it’s too long to consider making, or think you haven’t got the pantry power to pull it off, think again.
The recipe itself is basic and easy: Toss some potatoes with spices, fry them up, and add other ingredients to make a sauce. It uses one pan, can be ready in as little as 30 minutes, and works as a side or a main. The ingredients you use in it can vary every time. Here are some of the ways I make the same recipe with different forms of the ingredients or change up the flavors using the same ideas:
- Main vegetable. You can use any type of potato in this recipe. Waxy red ones will hold their shape better, but starchier russet or white potatoes will break down a bit into a creamier sauce. You can use the same flavors and technique with other vegetables, like sweet potatoes, cauliflower, or carrots, or even with tofu, meat, or seafood. Just be sure to adjust the cooking times to suit your main ingredient.
- Spices. The spices listed make up half of the Basic Indian Masala recipe I share in workshops (which I hope to start again later this year). If it feels like a shortcut, swap in your own curry powder blend or a store-bought favorite; you’ll want about a tablespoon. If you keep whole spices and fresh turmeric on hand, you can use those—their essence will disperse into the sauce, and you’ll get bonus pops of flavor in each bite. Start with twice as much whole spice as ground. Or change up the flavor with a different blend of spices: Moroccan, Thai, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Mexican—you get the idea.
- Liquid. If you don’t have pickle brine, be sure to add the tamarind for a sour flavor—if you want one. The spice blend may be all you want. You can mellow the dish by sticking to water or Vegetable Stock, or you can add a little zing with a splash of vinegar or squeeze of lemon just before serving.
- Extra flavor. Pesto base and frozen tomatoes are my wintertime shortcuts for this recipe. I add them straight from the freezer to the pan and let them work their way into the sauce. In summer, chop up some fresh tomatoes and basil, adding the latter just before serving. In Twice as Tasty pesto workshops, we often make an Indian-inspired pesto with purple basil that’s a natural fit for this dish. It’s also fun with cilantro pesto or one based on Thai, cinnamon, or lime basil. Dried basil and store-bought canned or off-season tomatoes will be less flavorful but useable.
- Fuller meal. As I mentioned at the end of the recipe, a little fresh cilantro from your window box or homemade or quality plain yogurt can garnish and brighten this dish. With these garnishes, and perhaps some homegrown sprouts, it makes a one-bowl meal for two. If you’re feeding a family, go Indian style and serve it in a spread, including cheese, bean puree, flatbread—and of course, chutney and pickles. I’ll be sharing more potential add-ons later this month.
Need more ideas for pickles and brine? Get a signed copy of The Complete Guide to Pickling to fill your shelves and fridge with vinegar and fermented pickles, chutneys, hot sauces, salsa, and more. At the same time, pick up the The Pickled Picnic to learn how to use pickles and leftover brine in a range of recipes. Click here to order.