Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pleasing Peruvian Purple Potatoes

Alanna is challenging us to try some new vegetables all this month with her Vegetable Contest, so here are my attempts to try some vegetables that are new to my kitchen.

When it comes to buying pantry staples like onions and potatoes, I blindly grab the first ones I can find and walk right on. So I have to give credit where credit is due: V made me buy these potatoes last time we were out grocery shopping- cute little purple potatoes. Once we got them home, I was rather excited to use them. You would think the odd color has been specially bred into the potato for novelty value. But no, this is no new potato on the block. V informed me that purple potatoes were the first potatoes ever cultivated, in Peru, and from there, they have grown and spread and become one of the world's most popular vegetables (certainly the most popular vegetable in the US). Well, after realizing that these little purple beauties are the forefathers of our white and yellow and red potatoes, I suddenly had a new-found respect for them!

On a more practical note, purple potatoes get their color from the plant pigments called anthocyanins. These pigment function as antioxidants (which perform protective functions in our cells), and that is why we are always being told to eat brightly colored vegetables. Unlike red potatoes, which are only red on the outside, purple potatoes are purple inside and out. The dull purple peel gives way to a beautiful, jewel-like purple interior. They can be used anywhere you would normally use potatoes, and end up giving the dish an interesting and unusual look. Read more about them here. I used them in two dishes, one was an experimental version of poha and the other was the popular street food sev-puri.

Experimental Poha


Poha is a pantry staple in many Indian kitchens. It is nothing but white rice that is par-boiled, then flattened into flakes. Because it is par-boiled, poha cooks up quickly and is most often used in two dishes. One is a dry, trail mix-like snack called chivda- see recipes here, here and here; and the other is a cooked breakfast dish often called simply poha- see recipes here, here and here.

This poha was experimental for two reasons:
1. I used purple potatoes instead of the usual ones.
2. I used a mixture of regular poha and flakes of multigrain cereal instead of the poha alone.

It started when I bought a box of County Choice Organic Hot Multigrain Cereal as an variation to my usual oatmeal. This cereal is nothing but flakes of whole wheat, rye, oat and barley mixed together. When I tasted the cereal, I thought it was delicious, and not as gummy or mushy as oatmeal often is. In short, it might work in a dish such as poha. Pictured: regular poha on the left, multi-grain cereal flakes on the right.

(serves 4-5)
1. Mix 1 cup multi-grain cereal and 1 and 1/2 cups poha in a large bowl. Add warm water slowly and mix into the poha mixture such that all the flakes get moistened well (don't immerse it in water, however). Cover the bowl and set aside for 10-15 minutes.
2. Do the other prep: dice one medium onion, dice one medium/ two small potatoes, finely chop 1-2 fresh chilies, mince a few stalks of cilantro.
3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan. Make the tempering: 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida.
4. Add onion, chilies and 8-10 curry leaves and saute until onion is translucent but not browned.
5. Stir in potatoes, 1/3 cup green peas (frozen works great) and 1/2 tsp turmeric. Add a few tablespoons of water and let the potatoes cook, covered, until just tender.
6. To the soaked poha mixture, add 2 tsp sugar and salt to taste. Mix well, then add the mixture to the pan and stir well. Add a few tablespoons of water to generate steam. Cover and cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes or until cereal/ poha is cooked.
7. Turn off the heat. Stir in 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot, sprinkled with some crunchy roasted peanuts, if desired.

Verdict: Poha is such a beloved dish of mine that I was loathe to experiment with it. But I'm glad I did! The whole grains added great flavor and texture to the dish, and made the poha more filling, so you can get away with a smaller portion size. The purple potatoes made the dish look more colorful and fun to eat, and tasted just like regular potatoes.
Two other healthier versions of poha here and here.

Now, scooting over from a healthy breakfast to a guilty-pleasure snack...

Sev Puri

Sev puri is a very popular street food (and made at home, evening snack) in India. The little tasty crunchy bites of sev puri consist of a deep-fried flour puri topped with minced onion, boiled potato, minced cilantro, sweet-and-sour tamarind chutney, spicy mint-and-cilantro chutney and garnished with sev (fried strands of chickpea flour).

I had not tasted sev puri for years, because fresh and good puris are not easy to find, and I'm too lazy to fry them myself. Last week, I came across a new product at Trader Joe's: Wonton chips. Basically, they are pieces of wonton wrappers, deep-fried, making them practically the same thing as the puris for sev puri. I used these chips to make sev puri, topped with everything I have written above, with some boiled, peeled, diced purple potatoes instead of regular ones. I can't tell you how authentic and delicious they tasted! The purple potatoes made the sev puris look quite cute, and the wonton chips are a perfect substitute for real, live puris. If there are no Trader Joe's stores where you live, you might want to try using these newly-launched chips. I'm betting they are also quite similar to the puris for sev puri.

After all this purple goodness, I'll see you in a couple of days with something green! Bye for now!


  1. I've SO been meaning to pick up purple potatoes! (Do you know the children's book Harold & the Purple Crayon? He'd have loved these!) So I'm glad you've beat me to it, I mean, reminded me about them.

    And the wonton chips are perfect for quick appetizers: my favorite.

    Thanks for the entry: you and and ten-year old are vying for most new vegetables!!

  2. Wow..Two simple dishes with a new vegetable..That's too cool..I just came to ur blog to read the "M" post in detail..and here u are with a new post:)..V did a very good thing by making u buy those cute purple potatoes..I too will try them sometime..And u r so clever to use those Wonton chips in Sev Puri:)Good job, Nupur

  3. I didn't realize that these purple potatoes are the ancestors of the 'modern' potato, they add a healthy dose of color to the sev puri and poha.

  4. Purple potatoes... sounds really interesting. I have never actually seen these in the markets( or maybe I have not looked closely enough). Waiting to get my hands on them.
    I have been reading your blog and some more indian food blogs for a few days now and am fascinated by the many ways in which I can cook the same vegetable!!!!

  5. hi nupur, loved the sev puri/wonton with the purple alu, it reminds me of ratalu/kand. good to know the history of this veg. Wow mixing in cereal with poha, i cud never muster the courage to do that ;-)

  6. Nupur - this post is such a treasure of information. While I have heard about the purple potato, I am yet to actually see one. I too did not realise that all the other potatoes we have today originated from the purple potato of Peru.

    You know how different kinds of potatoes have different textures... what is the texture of this one like when cooked.

  7. Purple potatoes! I love them! and thanx a TON for the sev puri tip! i cannot get the regular puri, they sub pani puri for that, next stop TJ's!!!!!!

  8. fabulous, esp. the multigrain poha.
    i find that purple potatoes are less sweet and have more depth of flavour.

  9. Aha! Nupur, loved the who grain pohe! i am gonna try it for my weekend b'fast/brunch. and shake hands for using the Trader Joe's wonton chips for papdi :-D i often use it for bhalle papdi chaat or even bhel poori :).

    Have a fabulous day.

  10. sev puri is devine...simply outstanding...I love such food...I loved the presentation too...~smile~...thanks for sharing

  11. Alanna, what, some 10-yr old is going to beat me?? Kidding!

    Monisha, I was surprised to know that too! Thanks for stopping by :)

    Pavithra, I have seen them in lots of US stores, and I think they are getting more popular. I'm so glad you like the Indian blogs :)

    Richa, try it, you might just love it! :)

    Cynthia, thanks for reminding me...forgot to mention this in the post. This potato has a soft and creamy texture when cooked, it is not mealy and grainy, and not waxy and sticky. Just right!

    Manasi, I hope you like the wonton chips. They were an instant hit with us!

    Bee, you are so right, they do have a lovely flavor! Now I have to make multigrain veggie poha by combining our recipes :)

    Musical, let me know how you like it, if you try it! About the wonton chips, you know what they say...great minds think alike ;)

    Dilip, glad you like it!

  12. hi nupur,
    I have tried many of ur dishes and they were perfect.Just wanted recipe for besan burfi...tried from other blogs and all were a disaster.Special request from a ghost visitor to ur site.

  13. nice poha, have never tasted purple potatoes but i would surely try for the sev puri good tip

  14. Nupur, I love papdi and what a innovative way to use the tuber.

  15. purple potatoes .. i did not even know it existed .. BTW any sugestions for letter "N" .. I cant think of N vegetables..

  16. Anon, I'm so sorry, but I don't have a recipe for besan burfi. I'm not even sure what that is...I'm familar with besan laddus and mysore pak burfi (made with besan) but besan burfi? No clue. Hope you find the recipe elsewhere!

    Roopa, thanks :)

    Reena, glad you like it!

    Ayesha, you're right...N is a tough one. How about nariyal (coconut), napa cabbage, nadru (lotus root), nigella (kalonji spice), naan (stuffed with veggies) or noodles (with veggies, chinese-indian style)??

  17. Hey nupur ...I have never tried this before .Purple ones...very unique and inovative man ....

  18. hey Nupur, very informative writeup on Poha, Nice pics too.I loved the color of those sev puris. looks so yummy

  19. Nupur, this is awesome!!!! Really good to look at. Im sure they must be as tasty as they look!

  20. nupur, purple potatoes are definitely on my list now! have been meaning to try them for a while, but wasn't sure that they taste like regular potatoes (and didnt get around to googling them either!) a lot of people tell me that now they are hooked onto your blog :) one even asked if "home delivery of one hot stove" meant that you would ship out the food? honestly!
    love, shoots:)

  21. Never thought of N for Nariyall .. At times when i think too much simple things get out of the mind..

  22. Nupur - if you want to try this you will be glad you did. Cut regular flour tortillas 'shankarpali' shape and fry in oil - yours will be the best shev puri ever eaten - trust me :)


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