Potato Pancakes

Latkes. Boxty. Croquettes. Potato pancakes. These little treats should be super easy, right? Shredded potatoes, an egg, a bit of flour, little s&p, no problem? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Raw potatoes can take an eternity to cook, especially if you fry them. I’ve attempted to make potato pancakes on numerous occasions with varied success. I’ve tried them with shredded, uncooked potatoes. I’ve made them with soaked shredded potatoes. I’ve made with with leftover mashed potatoes. I’ve made them with cheese & cream. I’ve made them after a failed attempt at hashbrowns. I’ve made them with apples. I’ve served them with kielbasa and basil eggs. This is a stupidly easy dish that is stupidly difficult to get right.

This recipe is the one that I will go with from now on. It used a mixture of cooked and shredded potatoes and it’s the only one that really works all the time with a texture that isn’t too mushy like mashed potatoes and isn’t too much like a sort-of-circle of half-cooked hasbrowns.

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Potato Pancakes
yields 6 – 3 inch diameter pancakes

needs:
2 potatoes, peeled, one chopped & one shredded
1 T. butter
1/4 c. minced onions
1 small clove garlic, minced
salt & pepper, to taste
2 T. sour cream (optional)
1 egg
1/3 c. flour
oil for frying
scallions & sour cream for optional garnish

To begin, heat a small saucepan of water to boiling. Place ONLY the chopped potato in the water, cooking for about 8 minutes or until fork tender. Once ready, place the shredded potato in the pot and cook for no more than 2 minutes. Remove from heat & strain the liquid.

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While the potatoes are cooking, you may saute onions & garlic in butter in a saucepan over medium heat until slightly browned.

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Next, combine saute mixture, potatoes, egg, flour, and sour cream in a mixing bowl.

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Mash with a fork, masher, or pastry blender until smooth.

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In a cast iron skillet or heavy frying pan, heat 1/4 inch oil over medium heat. Take a spoonful of the rather sticky potato dough and quickly flip in flour on both sides (the dough shouldn’t be really stiff).

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Place in hot oil and fry and flatten with your hands if you are a daredevil (like me)  or if you are a sensible person who doesn’t like to get burned, a spatula is a handy tool. Fry on both sides until golden.

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Remove from oil and place on a paper toweled plate to cool slightly. Garnish with sour cream, applesauce, or scallions.

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Basic Tomato Pasta Sauce

When I first started to make tomato sauce, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know that additional vegetables were added to add complexity of flavor. I didn’t know how to season it properly and I certainly had no idea how long to let it simmer. Last summer, I started hanging out with my friend’s brother upon her suggestion. David was always boasting about his Italian heritage and we decided to have Monday night dinners. He taught me about tomato sauces and freshly baked bread and I taught him about pasta doughs and opened his eyes to the ease and deliciousness of rolling it yourself. It was truly a wonderful friendship that really challenged me to expand my baking & cooking repertoire.

This is not his recipe, but one I’ve developed over the years of trial and error. Though, I will say he provided a vital step in the process of developing it.  I like it because it uses a lot of veggies and only as much salt as you want, making it healthy and versatile. If you want more veggies (or texture) in your sauce, you can always saute eggplant, peppers, or mushrooms in a separate pan and add them in or just wilt some spinach in it as it keeps warm over med. low heat.
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Basic Tomato Sauce
yields approx 4 cups

needs:

drizzle of olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 zucchini, chopped (optional)
2- 14 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 t. parsely
1/2 t. cayenne pepper (optional)
small dash of nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
6-8 basil leaves
1/2 lemon, juiced (approx.1 T.)

In a sauce pan over medium heat, start with a drizzle of olive oil and the onion and garlic. Saute until slightly browned and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and zucchini. Continue to cook until soft and slightly browned.

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Add the tomatoes & their juice, making sure to crus the tomatoes a little with your hands. Add the spices and heat until simmering. Simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes. This allows the sauce to thicken and the seasonings to marinate.

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Remove the bay leaf and transfer the sauce to a blender. Add the basil leaves and blend on high speed for 2 minutes.

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Transfer back to the pan, stirring in the lemon juice. Either keep warm over low-medium low heat until ready to use or allow your sauce to cool in a glass container for another day!

Eggplant Parmesan Stack with Spinach Saute

I used to be obsessed with the PBS program Art:21. I used to watch it, take notes, and make personal powerpoint slides out of the information. I was completely absorbed in how the artists talked about their work and loved being able to see a variety of styles and mediums. (I was so crazy about it that it led me to achieve a second major in art history). On one program, the artist William Kentridge shares his belief that the world is process, not fact. I wrote the quote down then and it stuck with me over the years.

So what does this have to do with anything? I’ve been making eggplant parmesan for years. It is a dish that seems to signify my growth & progress with cooking. It started with way too much garlic, mushrooms, a jar of prego, and barilla whole wheat linguine noodles in my early college days. It evolved to include my first attempts at homemade tomato sauce thickened with corn starch and even featured hand rolled egg noodles. This version is much more visually appealing with a much more complex tomato sauce. It doesn’t even feature noodles! I guess I should add, for fun, this recipe certainly doesn’t represent the fact of eggplant parmesan, but it represents one stage in the process of developing it. hehe.

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Eggplant Parmesan Stack
yields 2-3 servings

sauce:
2 c. tomato sauce, homemade or canned

eggplant + breading:
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4 in. slices
1 egg, scrambled
2-4 tablespoons milk to thin egg

3/4 c. plain bread crumbs
1/2 t. basil
1/2 t. parsely
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated
salt & pepper, to taste

spinach saute:
1 – 6 oz container spinach leaves
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

garnish:
1/2 c. parmesan
chopped basil for garnish

To begin, ready your eggplant. Heat a saute pan or cast iron skillet with about 1/4 inch canola or vegetable oil over medium heat. In a small saucepan, heat your tomato sauce over medium low heat so it’s ready when your spinach is finished.

In a shallow dish, combine egg & milk (make sure it’s big enough to dip your eggplant in). In another shallow dish or on a plate, combine the bread crumbs, seasoning, and parm cheese.

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Take your prepared eggplant slices and dip in the eggwash, one at a time is easiest. Dredge the pieces, both sides, in the breading and immediately place them in the hot oil. Fry on both sides, until golden brown. Repeat until all the pieces are fried.
**Be sure not to have the oil too hot, or the breading will crisp without cooking the eggplant inside.

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In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic, sautéing for just a minute. Add your container of spinach, stir until wilted & dark green in color – 3-4 minutes.

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Time for assembly!

Start with the spinach on the bottom of the plate. Make sure the spinach is patted down so it has a flat surface to build from. Add a piece of eggplant. Top it with a  few spoonfuls of sauce. Add a full pinch of parm and repeat!

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Don’t overstack! Try to use the larger pieces towards the bottom and the smaller pieces to the top. Garnish with a little chopped basil.

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Almond Cashew Tofu

I worked in an asian restaurant for a grand total of four years. I’ve been covered, seemingly head to foot, with a variety of dark, white, and sichuan sauces. I’ve eaten endless bowls of rice and stir-fried vegetables and I’ve recommended countless Mongolian Beefs, Ginger Chickens, and Ma Po Tofus.

However, it’s been a few months since rice has been a staple of my diet. I feel my sodium levels are no doubt back to normal and thus I am finally able to happily make stir fries and pad thais at home.

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Almond Cashew Tofu
yields 4 servings

needs:
sauce
2 c. veggie broth
1/4 c. soy sauce
1 T. sesame oil
1 T. minced ginger root
1 minced clove of garlic
1-2 T. sugar
a few dashes of red pepper flakes
1 T. corn starch dissolved in 2 T. water

stir-fry
1/2 sweet or white onion, cut 1×1 inch
1 green pepper, cut 1×1 inch
1 c. green beams, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/4 c. cashew halves, unsalted
1/4 c. whole almonds, roughly chopped
1 package organic extra firm tofu
flour for dusting tofu
canola or vegetable oil for frying

To make the sauce, start with a little oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic and ginger just sautéing a little until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the veggie broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and sugar. Heat until simmering. Add the corn starch, allowing the sauce to thicken. Remove from heat & set aside.

In a large saute pan or cast iron skillet, heat about 1/4 inch canola or veggie oil over med-high heat. While the oil warms up, open and drain liquid from the tofu package. Cut the tofu block into cubes, about 1×1 inch. Pour a little flour in a dish or pie plate. Gently roll the tofu in the flour and transfer to hot oil. Fry on all sides until slightly golden brown. Transfer to paper toweled plate and set aside. (or skip the frying if you prefer just plain silken tofu)

In a wok or large saute pan, start with a little oil. Add the cashew & almonds and toast gently for 1-2 minutes. Remove with the nuts with a slated spoon and set aside. Add the onions, allowing them to turn slightly translucent and fragrant, 3-4 minutes. Add the green beans & green pepper and the prepared sauce. Saute together for about 8-10 minutes. Before removing from heat, add in the fried tofu and nuts and toss together or another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat & serve immediately with rice or noodles.

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Spicy Tomato Basil Soup

It has recently come to my attention that I missed Groundhog’s Day. To most people, this is not a big holiday, but for me this tradition might be my favorite thing about America (clearly an exaggeration). But really, I love the absurd and the magical so this groundhog business is absolutely delightful to me. Unfortunately, it passed by without a wave or a nod AND we are scheduled for six more weeks of winter. Ughh. Fortunately, it is sunny & clear skied so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the mystical Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby misspoke this year.

Anyways, we’ve got to find ways to keep happy and warm for another six weeks. I suppose we could always fall back on an old childhood favorite – tomato soup & grilled cheese.
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Spicy Tomato Basil Soup
yields approximately 3 servings

needs:
1 – 28 oz can peeled, whole tomatoes, separate tomatoes from liquid
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 T. olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450.

Separate the canned tomatoes from their reserved juice. Place them on a small, foil lined jelly roll pan or cake pan. Drizzle oil over them with a dash of salt & pepper & the minced garlic. Bake for about 15 minutes.

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2 T. butter
1 shallot, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled & chopped
1/2 serrano, chopped with seeds in
1 c. veggie broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 c. cream
1/4 c. chopped basil

In a medium sized sauce pan or stock pot, melt the butter and add in the veggies, except the serrano. Cook the veggies down over medium heat for about two minutes. Add the serrano and continue to cook until the veggies are browned & translucent.

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Add the reserved juice from the can of tomatoes & the veggie broth. Drop in a bay leaf and the tomatoes which should be finished roasting. Simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, allowing the flavor to meld.

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When ready, transfer the soup to a blender and add the basil & cream. Blend on high for about 2 minutes or until the soup is smooth.

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Distribute into bowls & serve with crunchy croutons or a grilled cheese!

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Vegetarian Corn Chowder

When I think about corn, one of two thoughts emerge: the time in college where my best friend couldn’t be convinced to eat anything but bags of reheated frozen corn or that horrible sensation I get from shucking sweet corn, when the silky hairs creep all over my hands and wrists. I also conjure the pictures my mother loves of my siblings & I grinning with sticky smiles & ears of corns as big as our arms teetering precariously between pudgy fingers.

In the spirit of these grand corn memories, I’ve decided to make one of my most favorite soups. I absolutely love combinations of salty & sweet & spicy. I love how vibrant the fresh thyme leaves make an otherwise dull vegetable broth.

Spicy Vegetarian Corn Chowder
yields 3-4 servings

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Needs:
1 T. butter
1/2 yellow onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, just the leaves
1/2 t. salt
1/2 poblano pepper, diced
1/2 jalapeño pepper, minced (or more if you want more spice!)
3 T. flour
2 cans of vegetable broth (or one of those cartons if you prefer to buy the cartons)
1/2 t. cayenne powder
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 medium-large potato, cubed
1 c. cream or half & half
3 ears of corn or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn

To begin, melt the butter in a saucepan or stock pot. Add the onions, garlic, & salt. Cook on medium heat until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the thyme leaves, jalapeño, and poblano pepper. Cook until the peppers begin to soften and the onions brown, maybe another 3 minutes. This caramelization process is where much of the rich flavor will derive from for the soup.

Add the flour (this is important for the subsequent thickening of the broth) and toss it around a bit to coat the vegetables in the pot. Pour in the vegetable broth. Add the black pepper & cayenne pepper. Keep soup on medium heat, slowly bringing the broth to boiling. Add the potatoes and cream and allow to simmer for 7-10 minutes, until the potatoes start to break down and the cream begins to thicken the soup. If using fresh or frozen corn, you can add it in once the potatoes and cream begin to simmer. Once the potatoes are soft and broken down, you can remove the pot from the heat & gently use a pastry blender (if and only if your pot is leaves enough room to do this without putting your entire hand in scalding soup) to mash some of the potatoes to add additional thickness or you can leave them as larger chunks, depending on the consistency you desire.

Garnish the soup with fresh thyme sprigs and serve immediately with warm crusty bread.

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Potato, Onion, & Cheddar Pierogi

One of my greatest pleasures is listening to others recount their lifelong misadventures and memories. I love when someone answers the question, “how are you?” honestly. I love folklore, fairy tales, and nostalgia. Even if the teller’s tale is not truth per say, it still holds a similar significance, perhaps only as an imaginative autobiography. The first time I made pierogi, I asked my Ukrainian friend, Natalie, to teach me. Even though I have had pierogi many times before, cooking with Natalie is the way I now think about them – standing around a kitchen table and catching her nibbling at the filling as we worked.

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Natalie told me that pierogi was a very common food in a Ukrainian household, not a rarity to be consumed merely around Lent. She also explained that their popularity was due less to their deliciousness, but rather their affordability.

When we were cutting out the dough, I asked what size the rounds should be. She told me they needed to be small because she was told growing up that a housewife’s worth could be judged by how petite she could make these little dumplings.

Potato, Onion, & Cheddar Pierogi (yields approximately 14 2×3 in. pierogi)

Filling:
3 medium potatoes
1 T. butter
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic
1/3 c. cheddar
1/3 c. buttermilk
salt & pepper

To begin, boil a pot of water. While the water is heating, peel three potatoes and chop them into pieces about 1×1 inch. Once the water is at a rolling boil, place potatoes in the pot. Boil until soft (about 8-15 minutes depending on the ripeness. Mine were a bit soft to begin with) and drain water. Place potatoes in a medium bowl.

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Meanwhile, saute one minced onion in 1 T. butter. and one crushed & minced clove of garlic until browned & fragrant

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Transfer the onions to the medium bowl with the potatoes & add the 1/3 c. of cheddar cheese. Sprinkle salt & pepper on the mixture & mash to combine.

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Dough Recipe:
2 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 egg
1/2 c. warm water
1/4 c. buttermilk

Because Natalie shared with me the economical significance of pierogi, I thought I would stick with a very basic dough. There are other doughs that use melted butter & sour cream, but since I use those ingredients to pan fry and garnish, I thought I might as well leave them out.

To begin, combine flour & salt in a bowl. In a well in the center, add the egg, buttermilk, & water. Gradually mix into the dough. The dough should not be too sticky and feels very soft.

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On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/16 inch thickness.

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With a round cookie cutter, glass, or small bowl, cut out circles in the dough until the dough is used up.

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 Shaping the dough

In order to shape the dough, it is best to get a little dish of water to help the dough stick once folded. To begin, roll the potato mixture into a small ball and place on the dough. Then, wet one half of the circle with a dab of water. Fold the dough in half and gently pull up over over potato ball. With a finger and a thumb, start at the corner and squeeze the dough together, forming small indents all the way around until the circle is a closed semicircle

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Repeat until all the pierogi are folded.

In order to finish these treats, we must boil them. In a large pot, bring water to a rolling boil. Plop the pierogi in and allow them to cook until they begin floating to the surface. At this point, remove them with a slitted spoon.

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In order to make them delicious though, pan-frying is the way to go (but only pan-fry the ones you want to eat right away!)

To pan-fry
In a saute pan, saute sliced onions (approx half a medium onion, or a whole small onion) with 1 T. butter. Once cooked down for a minute, add a few pierogi & pan fry together.

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Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream, caramelized onions, or applesauce.

So maybe you are thinking “hey wait! This portion isn’t very small!” Well, well, well. I freeze the majority of them. In order to reheat, boil them again & pan-fry. 🙂 This recipe makes a perfect meal for today and a perfect lazy meal for next week!

Oven Roasted Asparagus

Do you have veggies in the fridge that you don’t know what to do with? Oven roast them.

I am sad to say that I didn’t always know about the joys of oven roasting, but it is a truly miraculous little technique that transforms bland veggies into magical treats. I bought some asparagus last week with high hopes of doing something with them but alas, it didn’t quite work out. They waited patiently and hopefully bundled in two purple rubber-bands, simply begging for a purpose. Today they got their wish.

Oven Roasted Asparagus

1 bunch of asparagus
2-3 T. olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely minces or crushed
salt & pepper
parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash your precious asparagus and place them on a foil lined baking sheet, evenly spread. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the stalks and shake/grind salt & pepper.

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With a cheese grater, lightly grate parmesan cheese over the asparagus (a small dusting, if you will).
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Place them in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until the ends become crisp and the stalks become soft. They lose much of their rigidity when this happens, so if you pull one out and it is still standing proud and tall, then he probably needs more time in the oven. They will also lose their bright green color and fade to toasted green-brown.

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Let cool briefly and transfer with tongs to a plate. For extra flavor, you could squeeze a little lemon on top, but I prefer the mild parmesan garlic taste.

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Quinoa Almond ‘Cereal’

When I traveled to Denver, Colorado at the beginning of the summer, my friend Danielle prepared me this wonderful breakfast. It’s a breakfast that is light and delicious but filling and hearty for the start of a long day. I was surprised when I went to Denver how different the food culture was in comparison to Columbus. Many of the restaurants toted gluten-free and vegetarian options that are not-as-common in the Midwest.

Quinoa was a menu item that kept reappearing in my adventures in Denver in hearty dishes, pilaf-style sides, and as a substitute for toast. Obviously this is a versatile grain that seems to be a popular new trend. Yesterday, my friend in Vancouver said she made a quinoa salad with green & red peppers, cucumber, red & green onion, red cabbage, apples, cherries, cheese, & balsamic vinegar. I find that recipe to be a little overwhelming, but she was glowing with joy when she reported all her ingredients.

Anyways, this breakfast will make you feel like Jonathon Borofsky’s The Dancers under the beautiful blue of Denver’s summer sky (even in the winter time).

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Quinoa Almond Cereal

1/4 c. prepared quinoa
1/2 c. vanilla almond milk
2 dashes cinnamon
1/4 c. toasted raw almonds

To begin, prepare quinoa according to instructions printed on packaging. I made the recommended 1/2 c. dry quinoa to 1 cup of water so I could save time during my busier mornings this week.ImageWhile the quinoa is boiling & steaming, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grab a handful of almonds and place on a baking sheet. Put them in the oven for 6-8 minutes or until slightly browned & fragrant.

ImageWhen the quinoa is prepared, add two dashes of cinnamon and an optional drizzle of honey.

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Finally, pour a 1/2 c. of vanilla almond milk over the top & sprinkle on your toasted almonds! Yum! Enjoy your gluten-free alternative to traditional grain cereal!

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Spicy Potato Samosas

When I was in Greenwich last summer, there was a little open air market tucked into the courtyard of a normal city block. The booths rotated on a schedule. Sometimes there were  booths of handmade jewelry, stringy scarves, or spell-a-word photography. Other times there were tables filled with old knickknacks or puzzles no doubt missing pieces. Always, there were vendors selling a variety of foods from churos and arancini to cupcakes and lo mein. To me, the true gem amongst that marketplace was a small indian booth that sold samosas 2 for a quid or 5 for 2£. They were served in little brown waxy pastry bags, the kind where you can almost watch the hot oil slowly seep through the fibers, leaving dark brown stains.

Thus, my love affair with this little snack began. I went nearly everyday the market was open to buy my beautiful golden triangles.  This is the best replica I have created thus far:

Samosa Dough (as stolen from Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries)

2 c. all purpose flour
1 t. sea salt or coarse kosher
8 T. butter (one stick), chilled & cut into thin slices
about 1/2 c. cold water

Place your dry ingredients in a bowl.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until flour appears crumbly. Slowly add water and continue working into a dough. Once a ball begins to form, remove from bowl & knead for 1-2 minutes. Roll into a log and cut into 12 sections. Flatten to make small circular patties. Cover tightly and place in the fridge until ready to roll out & fill. Now! On to the most delicious part of our potatoy treat!

Spicy Samosa Mixture:

2 med. potatoes, pealed and chopped into large cubes
2 med. carrots, pealed and chopped into little disks
1/2 yellow onion, minced
1 small green chile (we used a serrano), minced (keep the seeds for extra spice!)
1 clove of garlic (or two if they are little)
1 T. butter, or olive oil to make vegan 🙂
1 t. ginger paste
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. coriander
1/2 t. spicy curry powder
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
3/4 t. salt
2 dashes cinnamon
1-2 T. lemon juice
1/2 c. green peas, frozen are fine

Remove your peas from the freezer to allow them to thaw. Begin boiling your potatoes and carrots until tender. While boiling, use a saute pan to melt the butter with the onion, chile, garlic, and the seasoning. Lightly saute until the onions soften.

Strain the potatoes and carrots. Place them in a large bowl (preferably metal, the color in the spices can stain some plasticware) and add the prepared onion and spices. Pour in the lemon juice and begin mashing. Once mashed, add the peas. (it’s best to wait until the end to add these so they don’t get mashed too!)

Alright, so by now you realize this is kind of a tedious process. In order to make a loving samosa, it is best to embark upon the mission with happy thoughts and positive energy.

Keeping the dough covered, grab a piece of the dough and roll it into a ball in your hands (about 1 -1.5 in). You won’t need any additional flour for this process, the oil keeps the dough moist enough without sticking. With a rolling pin, roll the ball into a thin 6 inch circle. Cut the circle in half, so you have two semicircles. With a little water on your fingertip, wet the edges of the dough. Form the semicircle into a cone by pressing together the straight edge, overlapping the edges slightly. Hold the cone in your hand and spoon in two little scoops of potato mixture.


Fold one side in and use the rest of the dough to overlap the folded edge, sealing the samosa  (like an envelope). A little more water helps the dough bind. Place on a jelly roll pan while you roll out out the rest.

So there are a few ways you can cook your samosas. You can bake them. You can deep fry them. Or you can fry them in the oven. I am a big fan of crisp, crunchy textures. So frying is generally my first instinct. Though, I decided to settle on the bake/fry method in the oven instead.

Preheat the oven to 400. Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the jelly roll pan where the samosas are patiently resting. Place them in the oven for ten minutes. Remove from the oven and flip over. Bake for another ten minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plates and allow them to cool. Its tempting to bite into them. I promise you will burn the hell out of your mouth. No one wants that.

Serve with tamarind sauce, spicy salsa, or this really yummy vinegar sauce from the Moosewood Cookbook

1/4 c. cider vinegar
1/4 c. water
1 1/2 T. b. sugar
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat until boiling and let simmer for 7-10 minutes, letting some of the water reduce. Serve warm!