Whenever I spend time with Suvir Saran, the incredibly talented Indian chef and proprietor of American Masala Farm in upstate New York and Dévi (pronounced like Davy Crockett) in Manhattan, I always walk away craving Indian flavors. Not necessarily Indian food—I mean, I love the dals, fritters, and pilaus of India, but it’s Suvir’s mastery of spices that rock my world the most. The way he scents homemade apple butter with black peppers, fennel seed, and cardamom. His technique for frying ground black peppercorns to bring out their smoky and spicy hidden agenda. Cook by Suvir’s side and your appetite for spice becomes ravenous.
Our worlds came together during the NYC blackout of 2003. Suvir and I were neighbors in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and soon after meeting, his partner Charlie, my husband Matt, and the two of us became fast friends. We’d have daylong cooking and eating adventures that would take us deep into Queens and Brooklyn, or as near as our own kitchens to leisurely cook course and course of homey, delicious food. And on one summer day, it included grilled corn with chaat masala.
Chaat masala is a spice blend made from more than a dozen spices including amchoor (dried green mango powder), sanchal (black salt), and asafetida (a garlicky flavored root with a super intense aroma and flavor). It’s often sprinkled over street snacks (called chaats) like bhel puri and papri chaat. I has an incredibly salty-tangy-sour-umaminess that is incomparable to anything else.
Suvir dipped a lime wedge into a small bowl of the spice blend and then simultaneously squeezed the lime while rubbing it over the corn. Oh my, it was like tasting food for the first time! My palate opened, my eyes grew big, and I devoured the corn in a nanosecond.
In American Masala, our first cookbook written together (our second, Masala Farm, comes out this December), we included a recipe for roasted and then fried sweet potatoes that get seasoned with chaat masala, lime juice, and cumin. They’re incredible. But at five-thirty in the evening, there’s no way I’m twice cooking sweet potatoes. So I came up with a recipe that fits into my “two starving kids and no time to spare” lifestyle. I usually make these using tamarind paste for the smoky glaze, but I ran out and couldn’t find it for the life of me (New York: a city where you can find anything you desire if you’re not actually looking for it). I came up with a quick substitute (ketchup, brown sugar, and smoked paprika) that hits many of the same notes.
Smoky Honey-Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Peanuts and Cilantro
A pinch or two of chaat masala, an Indian spice blend made with dried mango, is incredible sprinkled over the finished dish instead of plain salt. It’s available through the NYC-based spice purveyor Kalustyans and at small Indian food shops, too. Chopped scallions are a fantastic and less assertive substitute for the red onions (plus they don’t have to be salted or rinsed).
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus extra for serving
- 4 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 1/4 pounds)
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
- 1 lime, halved
- 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1. Adjust one oven rack to the middle position and another rack to the uppermost position. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Whisk the canola oil, honey, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt together in a large bowl. Halve the sweet potatoes into quarters lengthwise and then chop crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Place the potatoes in the bowl with the oil mixture, toss to coat, and turn out onto a rimmed baking sheet (save the bowl for later). Place in the oven on the middle rack and roast for 25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make the smoky glaze. Whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, smoked paprika, and cayenne in the large bowl you used for the sweet potatoes. Place the onions in a fine-mesh sieve and toss with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Set aside for 5 minutes and then rinse under cold water. Turn out onto a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
3. Take the potatoes out of the oven and turn the broiler on to high. Use a spatula to scrape the potatoes into the bowl with the smoky glaze. Gently toss the potatoes to coat and return them to the baking sheet. Place the potatoes on the upper rack and broil until sizzling, about 2 minutes (watch closely as broiler intensity varies). Remove from the oven and transfer half to a large plate. Sprinkle with half of the onions, the cilantro, the juice of 1/2 lime, and some peanuts. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, onions, cilantro, lime, and peanuts, sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt (or chaat masala, see note above), and serve.