A New Way With Sweet Potatoes

I mentioned a few days ago that I could have called 2007 “The Year of Panch Phoron.” Well, the truth is, I didn’t really start cooking with it until March of 2007, so until March 2008, at my house, it is still “The Year of Panch Phoron.”

Which means I’ll still be experimenting with my belief that any vegetable cooked with this Bengali spice mixture is improved.

So far, I have not been wrong.

I cook broccoli in it, and folks who only eat broccoli out of a sense of duty to their health taste it and ask, “How did you get it to taste so good?”

Potatoes cooked with it become aromatically festive, lentils tempered with it become nutty and full-bodied, and green beans cooked with it sing.

While cooking a small Indian supper for New Year’s Eve, I had an inspiration. ‘

What if I roasted sweet potatoes in the oven, then skinned and mashed them, then made a tarka with onions, garlic and panch phoron browned in ghee, then stirred the tarka into the mashed tubers along with a good sprinkling of salt?

It didn’t sound bad at all.

In fact, it sounded quite good.

And even better–it was completely simple.

Sweet potatoes roast all by themselves in the oven and need absolutely no attention; and the tarka cooks in about ten minutes. Skinning and mashing the potatoes and stirring in the scented, spiced oil and aromatics takes only a minute or two.

It turned out to be a nearly effortless vegetable dish, redolent with the scents and flavors of panch phoron, creamy without being fattening, and delicious enough to convince even sweet potato haters to love it.

(For a vegan version–use canola or another vegetable oil in place of the ghee. Walnut oil would give a great flavor.)

Mashed Sweet Potatoes With Panch Phoron


2 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 1/2-3 tablespoons ghee
1 small onion, diced finely
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons panch phoron
salt to taste
pinch ground cayenne (optional)
lemon juice to taste (optional)


Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Pierce the potatoes in a few places each with a fork and rub with the two teaspoons oil.

Bake for about forty-five minutes to an hour, or until tender.

When done, skin the potatoes and mash the flesh. Keep flesh warm.

When the potatoes are nearly done roasting, melt ghee in a small skillet, and cook onions in it until they are dark golden. Add garlic and panch phoron and cook until the onions are reddish brown, the seeds are toasted and the garlic is golden.

Stir into the potato mash, adding salt (and if you are using it, cayenne and lemon juice) to taste.


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  1. This sounds so good to me right now. I love roasted sweet potatoes, especially when they are savory with a bit of spice. This would be good turned into curried sweet potato soup as well.

    I’m in the throws of a wicked cold, and all I want right now is a hot bowl of dal, hot naan, and copious amounts of hot, spicy chai.
    Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make any of this until the weekend. I’m also thinking of sauteeing kale with panche pharon to go with the dal…mmmmm!

    Comment by Roxanne — January 2, 2008 #

  2. Thanks for a new receipe with Sweet potatoes..Looks gr8…Happy New Year!!!

    Comment by Rina — January 2, 2008 #

  3. One of my goals for 2008 is to start grinding my own spices. I just need 1) whole spices 2) something to grind them.

    I love sweet potatoes with garam masala – I’m going to have to try this panch phoron.

    Comment by Karyn — January 2, 2008 #

  4. This sounds awfully good. I like sweet potatoes a lot even though they are a rare guest in grocery stores up here. But this got me very curious about panch phoron, I’m sure you’ve covered it in an earlier post, but it must have been before I found your blog and I can’t find it.. Is it something you make yourself or is it found in places that sell spices?

    By the way, you’re blog is a wonderful thing, I’m using it for inspiration a lot when I try learning what is to me somewhat exotic cooking. Thank you for writing it!

    Comment by lina — January 3, 2008 #

  5. Lina–I edited the post to include a link to my post about panch phoron. It is a mixture of equal amounts of five whole seed spices: nigella, cumin, mustard, fennel and fenugreek.

    I buy them separately, and mix them up in a jar as I need them. I use all of them separately, too, so I only mix a little at a time up for Panch phoron.

    I am glad you found my blog and are enjoying it. I hope that in the next year I can keep entertaining and inspiring you and all of my other readers.

    Comment by Barbara — January 3, 2008 #

  6. I made this Friday night for dinner (well sort of…I was doing it from memory, so forgot the garlic, and made it with a butternut squash needing to be used up), and it was GREAT! I don’t like mashed potatoes much, so was a bit leary, but it was just lovely.

    Comment by Diane — January 6, 2008 #

  7. Diane–I am glad you liked it. I suspect that mashed butternut squash would be similar in flavor, though a bit different in texture. Still wonderful cooked this way.

    I am glad you liked it! Try it next time with the garlic, too. Garlic makes nearly everything better.

    Comment by Barbara — January 7, 2008 #

  8. Wow, this sounds wonderful. Before reading (just now) your beautifully written post about Panch Phoran, I was unfamiliar with it. We have everything but the sweet potato and lemon to try your sweet potato dish. Tonight’s dinner is already spoken for (a western style birthday dinner) but there is always tomorrow!

    Many thanks for the idea.


    Comment by ejm — January 7, 2008 #

  9. Now why on earth had I never thought of adding a tarka to mash before? It sounds like a fantastic idea.

    Comment by Trig — January 10, 2008 #

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