Raghavan Iyer’s Passion for Potatoes

November 30, 2016 12:07 pm Last Updated: December 1, 2016 2:57 pm

For anyone who loves potatoes, Raghavan Iyer’s new cookbook offers plenty of ways to cook them. The James Beard Award winner’s latest cookbook is “Smashed, Mashed, Boiled, and Baked—and Fried Too! A Celebration of Potatoes in 75 Irresistible Recipes” (Workman Publishing, 2016, $16.95).

“I am not petrified to openly admit my addiction. It may be the first step toward recovering but, honestly, I have no intention of recovering,” he writes in the introduction. But he knows he is in good company. “There are billions like me who fall into this category.”

Raghavan Iyer, known for his books and video series on Indian curries, is turning his attention to the humble potato. (© TOP/Tate Carlson)
Raghavan Iyer, known for his books and video series on Indian curries, is turning his attention to the humble potato. (© TOP/Tate Carlson)

His enthusiasm is palpable and contagious, as he delves headlong into different culinary traditions that transform the beloved tuber. Some preparations are simple, like the hot-again Hasselback Potatoes, but Iyer honors their origin by incorporating cardamom, a spice found in Christmas fare in Sweden. Somehow, the delicate, crunchy layers make the most wonderful catching net for the fragrant, buttery cardamom-garlic-thyme-peppercorn topping.

Another recipe, Llapingachos, is an adaptation of an Ecuadorian dish. A mashed potato-based dough is shaped into disks and filled with cotija cheese, cilantro, scallions, and smoked paprika. They then get a lift from a peanut butter sauce and chunks of creamy avocado. The llapingachos are lively, hearty, and nutty, all at once.

There are also dishes whose titles alone are intriguing, like Burning Love, a Danish dish of potatoes and pork belly, and Mojito Potato-Pomegranate Salad. Dessert is not left out either; if potatoes don’t stop at the main entree for you, make a beeline for the Thick-Cut Potato Crisps With Dark Chocolate.

Hasselback Potatoes With Cardamom Butter

Hasselback Potatoes With Cardamom Butter. (Matthew Benson)
Hasselback Potatoes With Cardamom Butter. (Matthew Benson)

Introduction

Created in the 18th-century by a chef at the Swedish restaurant Hasselbacken, this accordion display of the common potato is perfumed with cardamom (a spice often incorporated in Christmas fare in Sweden) in my take on the classic. Crispy on the outside with a crackly pork-like skin, the creamy insides make for a delectable contrast in textures.  

Serves: 4

  • 4 large russet potatoes (each 3/4- to 1-pound)
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick)
  • Salted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 bay leaves (optional)
  • 4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 green or white cardamom pods, smashed 
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lemon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely cracked black peppercorns

Directions

Position a rack in the lower half of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking pan or pie plate with parchment paper if you don’t want to deal with any cleanup mess.

Scrub the potatoes well under cold running water. Wipe them dry with paper towels. Slice each potato crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, making sure you do not cut through the bottom. You want all the slices to stay attached. Grease the potatoes all over with a bit of the butter and place them in the baking pan. Slip a bay leaf between 2 of the slices in each of the potatoes, if desired.

Roast the potatoes until the slices open out a bit, exposing more of the potato flesh, about 20 minutes.

As the potatoes roast, melt the remaining butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Once the butter foams, add the garlic and cardamom. Allow them to flavor the butter with their pungent and sweet presence, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle in the thyme, salt, and peppercorns. Give it all a good stir.

Once the potatoes have opened up a bit after the initial roast, brush them liberally with the spiced butter. Continue to roast the potatoes, brushing and basting them periodically, until the potato slices fan out and the insides are tender when pierced with a knife, an additional 45 to 50 minutes. Make sure to use up all the butter.

Serve the potatoes while they are still hot.

 

Llapingachos (Ecuadorian Filled Potato Cakes With Peanut Sauce)

Llapingachos. (Matthew Benson)
Llapingachos. (Matthew Benson)

Introduction

This Ecuadorian classic is an adaptation of a family recipe that came to me via Jaime Sierra, a sous chef who trained under me at a restaurant I consulted at briefly years back. It showcases potatoes in their simple form. This recipe is nothing short of a showstopper. Even though the name is difficult to pronounce, these potato cakes are easy in their execution. They house salty cotija cheese and smoky paprika—definitely a lively filling. And a mellow peanut sauce, dairy-rich and pungent with onion, is perfect to cloak each bite of this well-balanced starter to any meal. 

Amount Makes

12 cakes

Ingredients

For the Shells:

  • 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons potato starch
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt

For the Filling:

  • 2 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions (green tops and white bulbs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

For the Sauce:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 small yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup chunky or smooth natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt
  • Canola oil, for pan-frying

For the Topping:

  • 1 large ripe Hass avocado, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

Directions

To make the shells, peel the potatoes and give them a good rinse under cold running water. Cut them into large chunks. Place them in a medium-size saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Partially cover the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer briskly until the chunks are tender when pierced with a fork or knife, 12 to 15 minutes.

Lay out a large sheet of wax paper or parchment paper on the counter. Drain the potatoes in a colander and return them to the pan. Set it over medium-low heat and stir the potatoes once or twice to dry them out, about 1 minute. Working in batches if necessary, transfer the chunks to a ricer and press them directly into a medium-size bowl. Sprinkle on the potato starch and salt, and stir them in while the potatoes are still warm, until the dough is satin smooth. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, divide it into 12 equal portions and set them on the wax paper.

To make the filling, lay out a smaller sheet of wax paper or parchment paper on the counter. Combine the cheese, cilantro, scallions, and paprika in a small bowl. Divide this into 12 equal portions as well and set them on the small sheet of wax paper.

One at a time, shape each portion of dough into a disk about 3 inches in diameter. Place a portion of the filling in the center and fold over the dough to cover it. Reshape each half-moon into a cake roughly 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick. Return each to the wax paper while you finish flattening, filling, and shaping the remaining cakes.

To make the sauce, bring the milk and onion to a boil, uncovered, in a small saucepan over medium heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer the milk, uncovered, stirring occasionally, to allow it to absorb some of the onion flavor, about 5 minutes. Fish out and discard the onion pieces (a slotted spoon works well). Whisk in the peanut butter and salt, and continue to simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Cover the pan, remove from the heat, and keep the sauce warm while you pan-fry the cakes. Set a wire rack over a cookie sheet and place it in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 200 F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium-size nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, place 6 of the cakes in the pan. Fry them until reddish brown and crispy on the underside, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip them over and fry on the other side, 3 to 5 minutes more. Transfer the cakes to the rack in the oven to keep warm as you finish pan-frying the remaining cakes. Add more oil to the pan as necessary.

Serve the cakes warm, drizzled with the peanut sauce and topped with avocado. Pass around any extra peanut sauce for those wanting a bit more of that nutty goodness.

Recipes from “Smashed, Mashed, Boiled, and Baked—And Fried Too!” by Raghavan Iyer (Workman Publishing, 2016, $16.95)

"Smashed, Mashed, Boiled, and Baked—And Fried Too!" by Raghavan Iyer. (Courtesy of Workman Publishing)
“Smashed, Mashed, Boiled, and Baked—And Fried Too!” by Raghavan Iyer. (Courtesy of Workman Publishing)