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Monday, March 04, 2013

Sweet Potato Poha Recipe

Not long ago Chef Suvir Saran tipped off Facebook followers, letting us know his poha recipe that was on Tasting Table and urging us to try it. I know how good it feels to have people cook your recipes and so does cookbook author and food writer Marlena Spieler so we both took him up on it. Neither of us had ever cooked with poha before. Poha are rice flakes used in a variety of Indian recipes, especially for breakfast. They cook up light and fluffy and are very mild. Like hash brown potatoes, they make a great blank canvas for spices, aromatics and vegetables. 

Marlene Spieler shopping at Vik's
Planning to cook an Indian dish makes a fine excuse for lunch at Vik's Chaat House in Berkeley. Marlena and I met up for bountiful chaat, pani puri and a luscious special with creamy eggplant and okra then we headed over to the adjoining shop for further culinary adventures. I stocked up on fragrant curry leaves, coconut flakes, thick poha flakes, chiles and black sesame seeds while Marlena ogled the pickled mango and lime and picked out some beans. It's easy to get inspired in an Indian market! 

I found Suvir's recipe fairly easy to follow, though I adapted the instructions a bit and bumped up the crunch factor by adding more coconut and peanuts.  The preparation takes a little effort but the actual cooking goes very quickly. 

To prepare poha you simply rinse the rice flakes in cool water then gently heat them up in a pan with whatever ingredients you like. This recipe uses sweet potatoes, peanuts, coconut and plenty of red onion but I've seen much more basic recipes too. I served this poha dish as a side dish, instead of rice with veal chops.

In addition to being versatile, poha is very economical too, an enormous 2 pound bag cost only $1.49. I enjoyed the poha leftovers with a fried egg on top and it was heavenly. Now go see Marlena's post and recipe.

Sweet Potato Poha adapted from a recipe by Suvir Saran & Tasting Table
Serves 4 


1 Tablespoon rice bran oil or vegetable oil
12 curry leaves, roughly torn
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 dried red chile
1/8 teaspoon asafetida
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 medium sweet potato, chopped into roughly ½-inch dice
1/2 cup roasted and salted peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened large-flake dried coconut
1 serrano pepper, finely chopped
2 cups thick poha rice flakes, rinsed under cold water and drained
Juice of 1 lime, plus 1 lime cut into wedges
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro


Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-low heat, add the coconut and cook until crispy and golden. Remove coconut from the pan and set aside. Return the pan to the stove and add the oil, curry leaves, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, red chile and asafetida and cook, stirring often, until the cumin seeds are golden brown, about 2 minutes (be careful--the mustard seeds will pop).

Add the onion and ½ teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, 3 to 4 minutes (if the onions begin to brown, reduce the heat). Stir in the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are cooked around the edges, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the serrano pepper, cooking until the sweet potatoes are tender about 5 minutes, add a couple tablespoons of water to keep the sweet potatoes from sticking to the pan if necessary.

Add the poha and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Gently stir the poha into the sweet potato-onion mixture to incorporate it without breaking the delicate rice flakes. Drizzle the water around the sides of the skillet, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook the poha until it is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Remove the cover and add the reserved coconut, chopped peanuts, and the lime juice use a fork to fluff the mixture and combine. Taste and adjust the salt if needed. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve with the lime wedges on the side.