I recall the amazing char-grilled smell of shakar kandi or sweet potato, almost as fondly as I recall its flavour. As a child, I remember how vendors would approach our gate pushing their rustic old-world wooden carts outfitted with big griddles and fueled by burning coals, ready to provide my brother, sister and myself with this most delicious after school snack — Sweet Potato Chaat. The sweet potatoes were cooked until sugary and tender over hot coals and then cut into cubes, fried and tossed with spices like chaat masala, lime juice, cumin and salt. Sweet, sour, salty and savoury, growing up in India was truly a feast for my senses. Though traditionally a street food, these potatoes make a welcome, exotic addition to any holiday or autumn table. Or, for fun, served as a passed hors d’oeuvres in little paper cones.
2½ pounds (about 5 medium) – Sweet potatoes
4 cups – Neutral oil
1-2 tbsp – Sea salt
1-2 tbsp – Toasted cumin seed powder
1-2 tbsp – Chaat masala
¼-½ tsp – Kashmiri mirchi/cayenne pepper
2 limes, cut into wedges
* Heat your oven to 450°F (232.222°C). Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and then place them on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Bake until the skin is baggy and the flesh gives in to slight pressure, about an hour (less for small sweet potatoes and longer for large ones). Set the potatoes aside to completely cool down, and then peel and chop them into cubes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (176.667°C).
* Heat canola oil in a large pot or wok until it reads between 325°F and 350°F on a thermometer. Using a slotted spoon, add about ¼ of the potatoes (take care not to overcrowd the pot, otherwise the oil will cool) and fry, stirring, turning and breaking the potatoes apart if they stick together. Fry until they are blistered and browned, about 4-6 minutes. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate and set them aside or keep them warm on another baking sheet in the hot oven. Let the oil return to 325°F to 350°F before frying the remaining batches of potatoes.
* Once all of the potatoes are fried, transfer them to a bowl and toss with a few pinches of kosher salt, toasted cumin powder, chaat masala, a pinch of cayenne and some fresh lime juice. Taste and adjust with additional spices or lime juice as you like. Serve while hot or at room temperature.
(This recipe serves 6-8 people)