Sunday, March 10, 2013

Shakargandhi-ki-Chaat - Easy Peasy Lemon Sqeezy

Through winter and spring in Delhi, Shakargandhi was a common sight at vegetable vendors. Stacked right next to the potato piles, the two were barely distinguishable. My mom had 2 ways of cooking up this tuber- the first, bury them deep underneath the koyla and wood. in the angeethi (wood-burning stove) and not worry about it for a couple hours at least; gave the best, smoky, juicy shakargandhi ever, The second, teeny-bit less on flavor, but definitely faster was to use a heavy iron tava (griddle) on a very low flame. She never cut up the shakargandhi, and she never used oil. And I could never resist either version....
Here in USA, I tried to make Shakargandhi on a hot tava like my mom. Never got it. They got too mushy, the flesh stuck to their skin, and I got very little out of them. When my mom came to visit, she tried to make them as well, without success. 
 "Are you sure these are Shakargandhi?", she often asked me.
And I always answered that Shakargandhi is called sweet potatoes, so these must be it. I tried to convince her that the orange flesh and skin of sweet potatoes here didn't mean that they weren't Shakargandhi....
But when she couldn't get them to cook right either,  I gave up for several years.
A couple of years ago, A spotted some Indian-Shakargandhi like tubers at our produce store. except they were labelled yams. At his insistence I brought home a couple and tried again. Much to my disappointment, they weren't it. Despite the right brownish skin color, and a flesh not as vivid orange as sweet potatoes, these yams were dry and tasteless-almost- to me.
But third time proved lucky. This time, at our store, we found 3 piles of tubers - one was yam, and 2 - sweet potatoes. And both sweet potatoes were different as different could be. I finally found a brown-skinned, yellow-fleshed sweet potato that was my elusive Shakargandhi!

After all this preamble, there is no recipe really! You just need to get the right Shakargandhi, cover it in foil and shove it in the fireplace.
Or, put them on very low flame in a heavy cast iron skillet with a tight fitting saucepam as the lid to capture the heat.
Third, and the fastest- peel, wash and cube the sweet potato. Toss it with a bit of oil in non-stick saucepan. Cover, and let cook on medium flame till a fork can pierce through eaily. Then remove the lid and cook uncovered for a few minutes more to get that brown glazed crust on the pieces.
That's it. A dash of your avorite Chaat Masala, a squeeze of lemon, and you'll be up in cloud nine!
My two cents: The word Chaat is said to be derived from a Hindi word, meaning to lick; and originally from Old Prakrit root - meaning to relish/ eat noisily. Shakargandhi-ki-Chaat is fingerlicking, smashingly delicious. This whole bowl you see up here, I chowed down on it in less time thanit took me to finish my tea...... The only trick is to get the right Sweet potato- the one that is neither too sweet, too mushy, too crumbly or too dry. Just find the right Shakargandhi, and you're on for Chaat-night!

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