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Minty Potato Cakes
Lacto-Vegetarian (vegan if you use dairy-free bread)
An unsuspecting eater will take a look and say “oooh, crab cakes,” but looks are deceiving. These golden yellow patties dotted with fresh herbs are in fact made from potatoes and harbor assertive flavors that keep you begging for just one more bite. There is a reason they are perfect finger foods on the streets of India. These grab- and-go patties are pungent, minty, and crisp on the outside with a well-rounded finish that adroitly balances the heat from the chiles with the cool-down qualities of starchy potatoes and bread. They make an ideal accompaniment to the glasses of steaming, sweet chai sold in disposable clay cups on the streets of Mumbai and Delhi.
Makes 12 cakes; serves 6
- 1 pound russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
- 1?2 small red onion, coarsely chopped
- 1?4 cup firmly packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 2 tablespoons firmly packed fresh mint leaves
- 4 to 6 fresh green serrano chiles, stems discarded
- 5 to 7 slices (each about 1?2 inch thick) good-quality white bread
- 11?2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
- 1?2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, plus oil for panfrying
1. Peel the potatoes, cut them into large chunks, place them in a small saucepan, and add enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer, covered, until the potatoes are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. hile the potatoes are cooking, place the onion, cilantro, mint, and chiles in the bowl of a food processor. Using the pulsing action, mince the blend to create an earthy, pungent mix that has a strong minty aroma. Letting the processor run constantly instead of using quick pulses will break down the onion into a watery mess that will create excess liquid.
3. Once the potatoes are fall-apart ten- der, drain them in a colander and place them in a medium-size bowl. Mash them well. Wet the bread slices with warm tap water, then squeeze them tight to remove all excess water. Add the mass to the pota- toes. Scrape the minced onion–mint medley over this mélange and sprinkle the salt and turmeric on top. Using your hand, squeeze the mixture to break apart the damp bread into smaller pieces, making sure you incor- porate all of it into the potatoes to make a bumpy-feeling dough. It will be sun-yellow and speckled with green herbs.
4. Coat the dough with the 2 tablespoons of oil. Form the dough into a thick log. Cut it in half lengthwise and cut each half into 6 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball about the size of a golf ball and press it gently between your palms to flatten it into a patty that is about 3 inches in diameter and 1?2 inch thick.
5. Line a plate or baking sheet with paper towels. Pour oil to a depth of 1?8 to 1?4 inch into a large skillet (preferably nonstick or cast iron). Heat the oil over medium heat until it appears to shimmer. Place 6 of the patties in the skillet and panfry until the bottoms are golden brown and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. (You are cooking only 6 because you don’t want to overcrowd the skillet and get greasy results.) Turn the patties over and cook them until the second side is nicely browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the patties to the paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining 6 patties.
6. Serve the potato cakes warm.
- To rewarm any leftover potato cakes, preheat the oven to 300°F and heat them uncovered on an ungreased baking sheet until they are warm all the way through, about 10 minutes. Or you may microwave them on high power for 1 to 2 minutes and stuff them into sliced pita bread nestled among shreds of romaine lettuce or spinach with a drizzle of a favorite yogurt sauce (I love the Yogurt with Grapes, page 108).
- You can also turn any leftovers into vegetarian burgers by warming them in a nonstick skillet with a slice of your favorite cheese on top. Place a lid on the skillet to melt the cheese. Then put the burgers in toasted buns and top each with a slice of red onion and tomato. Don’t forget the fries. In my book, there is nothing wrong with potatoes, bread, and more potatoes for a carbohydrate overload. You will thank me for it.