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Playing the one-ingredient mystery box game

  • Sweet potatoes can be cooked according to different textures
  • From sweet to savoury, they work across cuisines and dishes

Sweet potato latkes. Photographs by Nandita Iyer
Sweet potato latkes. Photographs by Nandita Iyer

Sweet potato creepers are going berserk in one corner of my kitchen garden. I don’t mind too much. It is, after all, a perfect vegetable to fall back on when the fridge is empty.

Earlier this week, I had to come up with a dish at short notice, at a time when, you guessed it, my fridge was empty. Shopping wasn’t an option. I took it up as a one-ingredient mystery box challenge and decided to use the sweet potatoes that had been dug out the previous day.

Most times, a dish is named after it is created. This time, I decided to start with the name first. Textures of Sweet Potato was a nice name to work with. The aim was to showcase the versatility of this root vegetable. The dish comprised the following:

Texture 1: Air-fried sweet potato chips seasoned with salt and smoked paprika

Texture 2: Sweet potato purée with a hint of garlic and bay leaf

Texture 3: Pan-sautéed discs seasoned with salt and pepper

Texture 4: Roasted sweet potato cubes flavoured with dried rosemary

To assemble the dish, I smeared the purée in the centre of the plate and scattered all the other textures of sweet potato around it.

Some nasturtium leaves and flowers added a pop of colour that the monochromatic sweet potatoes could do with. A sprinkle of toasted seeds was used as garnish and for texture—along with nasturtiums, this is my favourite way of beautifying a plate.

Like their more popular cousin, the potato, sweet potatoes are versatile. From sweet to savoury, across cuisines, cooking techniques and courses, they work in everything. Mashed sweet potato is my go-to hack for moist cakes and muffins when I want to cut down on oil or butter. Combine sweet potato purée with oat flour, eggs, milk and warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and you have a foolproof recipe for gluten-free waffles and pancakes.

Although I love the look of orange-fleshed sweet potato in dishes, the more commonly available red skin-white flesh variety does taste nearly as good. The orange-fleshed sweet potato is richer in carotenoids that are known to improve immunity and are important for good eyesight. While these are not easily found in India, Namdhari’s in Bengaluru regularly stocks up the orange variety in winter.

It is not uncommon to have sweet potatoes sitting in the veggie basket in the kitchen, waiting their turn to be cooked. Tired of playing the waiting game, sweet potatoes often start sprouting shoots. If you ever see this, don’t miss the chance to make a pretty house plant out of it. Poke three-four toothpicks around the circumference of the sweet potato, and balance this on the rim of a glass filled with water so that the bottom end of the spud touches the water. The sweet potato will soon start growing leaves. You could also bury this leaf-sprouting sweet potato in a pot of soil to get a lush house plant or bury it in your garden. Meanwhile, keep using the leaves in stir-fries.

Given that it is fairly easy to grow sweet potatoes from sprouting spuds, I bought a few extra of the orange ones last winter just to let them sprout in the basket and grow my own crop of these beauties. The orange variety gave out green heart-shaped leaves rather than the palmate-shaped purple leaves of the regular variety. I am still playing the waiting game with these spuds, hoping to harvest a crop of my favourite orange variety soon.

Sweet potato Latkes

Makes 4


1 medium sweet potato

1 medium onion

2 eggs*

1/4 cup oat flour

1/2 tsp salt

2-3 tbsp celery stalk (optional), finely chopped

1 tbsp crushed dried herbs of choice (oregano/basil)

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

2-3 tbsp oil


Peel and grate the sweet potato and onion coarsely. Squeeze out the excess liquid (you can use it in dal or soup) and place in a bowl. Add to it whisked eggs, flour, salt, celery, herbs and pepper. Combine well. Heat oil in a flat pan.

Use 3 tbsp of the mix per latke. Spoon two-three latkes and cook each side for 5 minutes. Flip over and cook the other side until golden brown. Serve with sour cream or a salad.

*For the no-egg version, whisk 2 tbsp ground flaxseed in 5 tbsp hot water. Rest for 10 minutes and incorporate.

Sweet Potato Paneer Tikki

Makes 4 or 2 large


1 medium sweet potato, boiled and mashed

1/2 cup grated paneer

3 tbsp besan (gram flour), roasted until golden brown

1/2 tsp red chilli powder

2 green chillies, finely minced

2-3 tbsp coriander, finely chopped

O tsp salt

2 tbsp oil

To serve

Coriander chutney


Mix all the ingredients except oil in a bowl. Divide into four portions. Shape into round tikkis. Chill this for 30 minutes. Heat oil in a pan and cook each side for 7-8 minutes on medium-low heat until golden brown and crisp. Serve with coriander chutney or with a salad as a light lunch.

Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.


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