Sarkarai Pongal (Sweetened Rice)


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We celebrated pongal (the harvest festival) a week back. Leisurely posting the recipe a week later, that is how “fast” I am. Well, next year I can republish this post right on time, so I am happy for next year ;). Sarkarai Pongal is a very traditional, very basic and a very simple dessert, often offered in temples or made in homes on auspicious days. But don’t let that restrict you, this makes a great dessert for any day or any party. Another popular variation of this dish is “Akkara Vadisal” where rice is cooked in milk instead of water.

Making this sweet pongal involves only four basic steps. Cook rice, make brown sugar syrup, mix rice and syrup, add some roasted nuts and raisins. Child’s play , right ? It is really that simple. Hopefully, the tips I give below are helpful in simplifying the already simple recipe.

To make the sweet pongal, you will need :

  1. Uncooked rice – 1 cup (any kind is good)
  2. Moong Dal or split green gram – 1/4 cup
  3. Jaggery/Vellam/Dark Brown sugar – 1 cup
  4. Water (to cook rice) – 4 cups
  5. Water (for syrup – 1/4 cup)
  6. Cardamom powder – 4 tsp
  7. Cashew nuts – 3 tbsp
  8. Raisins – 2 tbsp
  9. Ghee / Melted Butter – 4 tbsp
  • First, we have to get the rice ready. In a pan or a pressure cooker, heat 2 tbsp of ghee or butter and roast the moong dal (green gram).

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  • Rinse rice and add  rice to the pan and mix well that each grain is coated with ghee.

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  • Rice and dal mixture has to be well cooked to really soft consistency, so double up the quantity of water used. Add 4 cups of water and 2 tsp of cardamom powder and cook the rice and dal until soft. When rice is cooked , mash it gently with the back of a spatula. (If not using pressure cooker, you will have to add more water).

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  • Now to make the brown sugar syrup, mix 1 cup of brown sugar in 1/4 cup of water and heat until the sugar completely dissolves in water.

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  • If you are using jaggery/vellam it is important to make sure the syrup is free of any impurities, so filter the sugar solution using a clean cloth. I used a wet bounty paper towel, it gets the job done.

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  • Now, put the clean syrup back on heat and bring it to a boil. You are looking for 1-string consistency, but when your syrup comes to a good rolling boil, you can be sure its there.

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  • Add the syrup to the cooked rice and dal and mix thoroughly.

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  • Now , for the last step : In a separate pan , add a tbsp of ghee/butter , and fry the cashews and raisins to golden brown and add to the rice.

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Add the last spoon of ghee right before serving, and your sweet pongal is ready to be served to the king/queen in you 🙂

Some pointers :

  • Instead of making syrup, you can directly add the  brown sugar to rice. But I do not prefer that method, as the brown sugar tastes raw in the final pongal. Adding the syrup gives a well rounded taste.
  • I have only used cardamom powder, you can also add nutmeg, ground cinnamom or a pinch of ground ginger to elevate the flavors.
  • It is not very appealing when it is in a soupy consistency, often confusing the eater if its pongal or payasam (kheer). It should be in the”sticky rice” consistency.
  • Use milk to cook the rice instead of water and make a much creamier version of this pongal, which is also called as “Akkara Vadisal”.

Treat yourself to this yumminess effortless !!!!!!

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Banana Blossom curry (Vaazhaipoo curry)


The banana tree is a true giver, all parts of the plant : the tender bark, the leaves, the flowers , the fruits…. either are edible or they aid in cooking. Banana blossoms, rich in antioxidants , flavonoids and vitamin E are found to stabilize blood sugar levels and elevate mood among other health benefits. Prepping the flower for cooking can be cumbersome, but its unique taste is completely worthy of the time and efforts.

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If you are new to cooking with the blossom, this post can show you how to properly prep the flower. The blossom can be used in stir fries, salads, stews and curries. The most popular concoction is the “vazhaipoo vadai” (crispy patties made with chickpeas and the banana flowers). Though the flowers can be used in any curry, here I have given my mushroom curry recipe, replacing mushrooms with the banana flowers.

Without further ado, here is how to prep the blossom for cooking :

[Either use  food prep gloves or rub sesame oil on your fingers before working with the blossom to avoid staining.]

  • The petals are layered on top of one another and as you remove each petal you will find the cluster of tiny flowers inside.

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  • Actually in a fresh banana blossom , the flowers are slightly pinkish (as shown in the image below). However, the blossoms I get here are either refrigerated or frozen before they make it to the stores, so the black color. However, the color doesn’t affect the taste.

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[Image from : http://www.moorheadandrutter.com.au]

  • As you remove the layers you will notice the flowers getting smaller and tender.

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  • Finally you will end up with this beautiful tender bud, which can be either eaten  raw or sliced up and used in cooking.

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  • Once you have removed all the flowers, each flower must be individually prepped by removing some unwanted parts (similar to deveining a shrimp).

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  • Each mature flower has  a stamen and a sepal (a wax paper like layer). It is important to remove both , as the stamen and sepal will stay raw even after cooking, resulting in an unpleasant texture and taste.

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  • It is time consuming but if it is any consolation, only the outer 4 or 5 clusters will have stamen and sepal. The middle clusters won’t have a prominent sepal. The inner flowers are very tender and they can be used as such.

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  • Soak the cleaned flowers in diluted buttermilk until you need them.

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This concludes the prepping of the banana blossom. No matter what you choose to make with them, the above steps have to be done first.

Now for the curry recipe :

I normally make this curry with mushrooms. The cooked flowers have a similar texture to mushroom, so I figured this would be a good choice. You can add the florets in any curry of your choice.

To make the cooking sauce for this curry, you will need :

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  1. Pearl Onions – 5 or 6
  2. Ginger – 1 inch piece
  3. Garlic – 4 or 5 cloves
  4. Green chilli – 1 (optional)
  5. Dry red chiilies – 3 or 4 (use red pepper flakes instead)[use only 1 or 2 chillies for milder curry]
  6. cloves – 3
  7. cardamom – 1
  8. fennel – 1 tsp
  9. cumin – 1 tsp
  10. coriander seeds (dhaniya) – 1 tsp
  11. roasted gram dhal (pottukadalai) – 1 tbsp (replace with cashews or grated coconut)

I know thats a lot of ingredients, but they result in a very aromatic curry. No fancy ingredients anyways 🙂 . Grind all the above ingredients with little water to make the cooking sauce.

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  • You will also need :
  1. onions – 1 medium (chopped)
  2. tomatoes – 1 large or 2 medium (diced)
  3. curry leaves – few
  4. turmeric powder – 1 tsp

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  • In a pan , heat a 2 tsp of oil, and saute the onions and curry leaves. Then add the tomatoes and cook until tomatoes soften.

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  • Add the banana flowers (that were soaking in buttermilk) to the pan and saute.

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  • Add the cooking sauce , turmeric powder, salt and mix well.

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  • Add about half a cup of water and cook until the flowers are tender and oil starts to separate. It will take about 15 – 20 minutes in medium heat.

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I like this curry for its flavors and also that it goes well with rice, rotis, idli and dosa. You will definitely appreciate the unique taste of banana flowers in this curry. Hope you try it 🙂 !

The 5 minutes Sambar


Being a south Indian, sambar is our staple curry. I can make a pot of sambar , serve with rice for lunch and then serve with idlis or dosas for dinner, or serve with vadas for appetizers ,or as lentil soup, it is truly multi-purpose. Made with lentils and vegetables , it ranks high on nutritional value too. To make sambar in traditional way is not at all complicated, cook your lentils, cook your vegetables, add tamarind and sambar powder, add your favorite seasoning, temper with some ghee…..and that is all there is to it. But the lentils do take some time to cook, so it is not something you can make when you are trying to fix a meal in 10 minutes.

This quick sambar recipe replaces dal (lentils) with powdered split chickpeas (pottukadalai / roasted gram). Pottukadalai (fried gram) is the split and roasted chickpeas. Roasting is not done with oil, but done by applying high pressure (similar to how puffed rice is made). It is the most easily digestible form of chickpeas, porridge made out of this form of chick peas is a popular baby food. I encourage my kids to eat this roasted gram as such, a good source of protein yet mild on their stomachs.

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Ok, now to make this quick sambar, you will need :

  1. Pearl Onions – 7 or 8 (quartered)
  2. Tomatoes – 1 large or 2 medium
  3. Green chilli – 1 (slit)
  4. Cilantro – a good bunch
  5. Curry leaves – few
  6. Pottukadalai (Roasted gram) – 1 tbsp
  7. Tamarind water – 2 tbsp (diluted)
  8. Turmeric – 1 tsp
  9. Sambar powder – 2 to 3 tsp
  10. Salt to taste
  11. Vellam / Jaggery / Brown sugar – 1 tsp
  12. Mustard seeds, urad dal and ghee – 1/2 tsp each (to temper)

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  • Powder the roasted gram, this will only take a few seconds and it becomes a fine powder very quickly.

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  • Now dilute this 1 tbsp of powder with about half a cup of water.

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  • In a pot, heat a spoon of oil and saute the onions, tomatoes, green chillies, curry leaves and cilantro.

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  • When the onions and tomatoes soften add the tamarind water, turmeric, sambar powder, brown sugar and salt. Tamarind is optional, you can just add more tomatoes instead. Also if you don’t have sambar powder , use chilli powder and coriander powder.

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  • Add about half a cup of water and bring the curry to boil, and then mix in the diluted gram powder solution.

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  • You will see the sambar thickening within seconds. Bring the sambar to a good boil. Check for seasoning, add salt if needed.

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  • In a separate pan, heat 1/2 tsp of ghee and fry the mustard seed and urad dal and add it to the sambar.

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  • Remove from heat and serve. The neat thing is you can make this sambar while your idlis are steaming .  You might have already tasted this sambar, because it is a popular restaurant trick 🙂 (why wouldn’t they ? it is both cost effective and time effective). I still make my sambar the traditional way with dal (lentils), but this quick sambar recipe is good to have in your arsenal for one of those crazy busy days !

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P.S. – While you can use besan (garbanzo flour) instead of the roasted gram powder, I prefer the latter.

Coconut Rice


Its quick, its fresh, its nutty, its light…so why not ? Coconut rice is one of the many quick and easy variety rice recipes. I love the flexibility it offers : got some leftover rice and trying to make a meal out of it without sweating much or make an exotic aromatic party food, coconut rice will be your best friend 🙂 .  Whether you go for simplicity or embellish it to the core, this flavor packed rice will take you to your happy place.

You will need :

  1. Rice – 1 cup
  2. Grated coconut – 3/4 cup
  3. Green chillies – 3
  4. Ginger – 1/2 inch piece
  5. Peanuts – 1/4 cup
  6. Cashew – 1/4 cup
  7. Mixed vegetables – 1 cup
  8. Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  9. Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
  10. Channa dal – 1 tsp
  11. Curry leaves – few

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  • Cook rice by your preferred method. You can also use leftover rice. Adding a tsp of oil to the water while boiling rice helps the grains to stay separate.
  • Grind green  chillies and ginger along with a few peanuts to a coarse mix. It doesn’t have to be a paste, just grind enough to blend everything. Else, you can just finely mince the chillies and ginger.

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  • In a wok, add a tbsp of oil (preferably coconut oil or sesame oil) and fry the mustard seeds, urad dal, channa dal and the curry leaves.

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  • When the mustard seeds splutter and the dals turn golden add the peanuts and cashewnuts.

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  • When the nuts turn slightly golden add the mixed vegetables. This is optional,I prefer adding a lot of veggies to the rice, so that I can skip making a side 🙂 . Sprinkle some salt and cook for two minutes and then add the ground green chillies+ginger paste.

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  • Once the green chillies and ginger paste coats all the vegetables add the cooked rice to the wok, reduce heat and mix well.

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  • Check for seasoning, add salt if needed. Three green chillies should pack enough punch, but if you need more heat you can add red pepper flakes. Finally add the grated coconut and mix with rice thoroughly, remove from heat after a minute.

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  • You can also toast the coconut before adding to the rice. While it deepens the flavor, I feel that freshness is compromised.  You can try both ways and see which you would prefer.

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While the cold, windy weather and the 5 p.m. dark skies keep warning about the bitter winter, it feels like spring in my kitchen and thats what matters, right ?

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Chicken Stuffed Paratha


Stuffed Parathas are  great all-in-one meals, specially to pack for kids’ lunches. Easy for us to make, easy for the kids to eat, its a win-win situation. This recipe uses chicken filling. However, veggie fillings are equally (if not more) delightful. My favorite  is grated cauliflower stuffing. You can check out the cauliflower filling recipe in my Gobi Sliders post.

To make the parathas , you will need :

  • Whole wheat flour /Atta – 3 cups (makes about 12 stuffed parathas)
  • salt – 2 tsp
  • oil – 3 tsp

To make the filling, you will need :

  • Minced Chicken – 1 lb
  • Onions – 1 chopped
  • Green chillies – 1 chopped
  • Cilantro –  handful
  • Ginger Garlic Paste – 2 tsp
  • Fennel – 1 tsp
  • Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
  • Red chilli powder – 3 tsp
  • Garam Masala – 1 tsp

Here are the steps:

  • Mix the flour, salt and oil and then add water and knead it to a smooth dough. Cover with wet cloth or wet paper towel and set aside for 2 hours.

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  • To make the filling : In a pot, add 2 tsp of oil, fry the fennel. Then saute the chopped onions, green chillies and cilantro. Also add the ginger garlic paste and saute until the flavors come out.

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  • Add the ground chicken and sprinkle some salt.

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  • When the juices come out, add turmeric, chilli powder and garam masala.

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  • Cook until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. This won’t take long, may be 7 – 8 minutes. Set the filling aside.

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  • Make even sized balls out of the dough that has been rested.

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  • Roll out 2 balls to about 2 inches in diameter (like puris). Place the filling on one.

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  • Cover the filling with the other puri and twist and press the edges together for sealing.

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  • Now roll out this stuffed puri gently to about 4-5 inches in diameter. Make sure the filling is evenly spread, and not clunked up on one side.

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  • Heat a skillet and cook the parathas.

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  • Cook both sides until brown spots appear. You can rub with little oil or dab with a butter stick.

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The chicken parathas are ready, serve hot with your favorite curry. ( I served it with a simple egg white curry).

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Poondu Kuzhambu (Garlic Curry)


Aaaah…..Diwali is fast approaching. Next week, I would be whipping out traditional diwali sweets and savories , going through pounds of sugar and gallons of oil. I thought I would post one simple, healthy recipe before jumping into the Diwali binge. I know I will make this curry again a few days after diwali, when I am not high on sugar and my stomach craves for a detox 🙂

Poondu (Garlic) Kuzhambu (curry) is a very simple and a very basic recipe. No fancy ingredients, no fancy cooking techniques, takes less but delivers more. The garlic flavor is very subtle in the curry , so no need  worry about ogre breath after eating this :).

  • You will need :
  1. Garlic – 15 -20 cloves
  2. Curry leaves – few
  3. turmeric – 1 tsp
  4. vellam / jaggery/ brown sugar – 1 tbsp
  5. tamarind water – soak 1 tbsp of tamarind in water and extract the juice
  6. salt to taste
  7. Sesame oil – 1 tbsp

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  • To make the masala paste , you will need :
  1. Pearl onions – 10 (use shallots otherwise, but no large onions)
  2. Tomatoes – 1 large or 2 medium
  3. Curry leaves – few
  4. Black pepper – 1.5 tsp
  5. Dry red chillies – 2
  6. cumin – 1.5 tsp

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Grind the above ingredients to a paste. To get a smooth paste, first pulse the dry spices and add the onions and grind for 30 seconds and then add the tomatoes.

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  • In a wok, heat 1 tbsp of sesame oil and fry mustard seeds and then saute the curry leaves and the garlic.

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  • When the garlic cloves turn slightly golden, add the ground masala paste. (If you used large onions , the raw pungent smell of onions would be unpleasant, so only use pearl onions or shallots.)

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  • Dilute with half cup of water and to the curry add turmeric, brown sugar and salt.

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  • Taste the curry and see how much acid you will need and according to that add the tamarind water. Often while making tamarind based curries, we tend to go overboard with tamarind and then to compensate it we add more heat and more salt and unintentionally end up with an intense curry. It is wise to add the tamarind after adding all your seasonings, so that you will be better able to judge how much tamarind is needed.

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  • Allow the curry to boil and reduce. Cook until the garlic cloves are tender. Traditionally, 3 or 4 tbsp. of oil is used and the curry is cooked until all the oil separates and floats on top. But I always make this curry light and simple, and less oil does not lessen the taste in any ways.

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The approximate cooking time will be 15 – 20 mins.  You can put rice to boil, start making this curry and while it is cooking, make a simple vegetable stir fry on the side. So a complete meal in thirty minutes…. most days , that is all the time we get to prepare a meal, right ? 🙂

The garlic cloves that are cooked and soaked in the curry will melt in your mouth….

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Spicy Potatoes (Potato Poriyal)


This is pure indulgence. I just posted an oil free rasam recipe few days back and here I am posting this potato side recipe that takes a little more oil than normal vegetable sides. I  L.O.V.E. this traditional, simple potato poriyal so much so, while growing up.. we had it two or three times a week. Now I always pair this poriyal with rasam or yogurt rice , so that the fat content of the entire meal is at bay. This may not be how you want to make the poriyal always, but once in a while it is okay to dive into the indulgence :).

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  • Boil and peel the potatoes and cut them into big pieces. Sometimes when I am in a hurry I microwave the potatoes (Heat a medium size potato for 3-4 mins without water in the microwave) also.

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  • You will need :
  1. One small red onion or half of a medium onion
  2. curry leaves – few
  3. Garlic – 2 cloves crushed with peel (optional)
  4. Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
  5. Sambar powder – 3 -4 tsp
  6. Salt to taste.

Also you will need mustard seeds or cumin for initial seasoning which is also optional.

[Sambar Powder is readily available in all Indian grocery stores. Most of the available brands are good. If you do not have sambar powder you can replace it with cayenne or red chilli powder.]

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  • Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok, and fry mustard seeds or any of your preferred seasoning like cumin or fennel or cloves and cinnamon… I used mustard seeds and urad dal . Then saute the onions and curry leaves.

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  • Once the onions turn slightly brown, add the turmeric, sambar powder and salt directly to the oil. This will cook the masalas in a flash. Reduce the heat and make sure not to burn the sambar powder.

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  • After 30 seconds, add the potatoes to the wok and mix well. This method of adding the masalas to the oil directly, ensures that the potatoes get evenly coated with the spices.

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  • Cook for a minute and then add the crushed garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

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  • The dish as of now is ready. But you can leave the potatoes in the wok for another few minutes to crisp.

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Once you have the boiled potatoes ready, this will be done in five minutes. As I mentioned earlier, this is usually served as a side for rice, but it can also be used as filling for wraps or sandwiches. These potatoes are crispy, spicy , garlicky……and you will like everything about them 🙂

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