Chunky Potatoes with Garlic and Peanuts


A few years ago for my birthday, Pete gave me 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer, a cookbook I’d had my eye on for a while. Full of mouth-watering recipes layering spices and ingredients, there’s a huge section of both vegetable and legume curries to satisfy any vegetarian, plus biryanis, spice blends and pastes, and it starts with a detailed primer on curries. There’s also a large chapter called “Curry Cohorts,” that in addition to rice recipes, contains delicious curry accompaniments like coconut noodles, lentil pancakes, and all sorts of heavenly Indian breads from naan to roti to parantha.

After making a few recipes, I found several more I really wanted to try, but they called for fresh curry leaves. What!?! I had heard of curry powder, but never curry leaves. After searching large grocery stores and the co-op, I finally found them after checking several Asian food stores that, unfortunately, weren’t conveniently located for me.  Eventually, the book was set aside, and has been gathering dust.

Recently a Whole Foods Market opened up near our house and I had to check it out. Impressed with the variety of produce that includes items not found in other stores near me, I was so surprised and excited to see fresh curry leaves. Time to dig out 660 Curries again.

Fresh curry leaves


With my stock of fresh curry leaves, I perused the book to decide what to make. For a weeknight when there wasn’t a lot of meal prep time, Chunky Potatoes with Garlic and Peanuts was deemed the ideal recipe. It had a manageable list of ingredients, some intriguing flavor combinations, and called for fresh curry leaves!

The combination of sesame seeds, peanuts, garlic, and chiles piqued my interest, and smelled wonderful after being combined in the food processor. Not used to potatoes and tomatoes together, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this dish, but we weren’t disappointed. The sesame-peanut blend will release the most amazing aroma into your kitchen while cooking, and once combined with the rest of the ingredients, will morph into a delicious scent that makes it hard to wait until supper is ready.

The cookbook suggests this as either a side dish or stuffed into fresh pita. Since this was to be our main course (actually, our only course), and I didn’t have pita or naan (which would go so perfectly), I cooked up some brown basmati rice and served the potato dish over it. Gradually growing on me from one bite to the next, this spicy, hearty meal won me over and will definitely be made again . And I had plenty left over to take for lunch the next day (which I thought about and, even dreamt about, all night!). Enjoy!

Chunky Potatoes with Garlic and Peanuts

From Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

2 tablespoons raw peanuts or roasted peanuts (if salted, reduce salt later in recipe)

4 medium-sized cloves garlic, peeled

3 dried red Thai chilies or cayenne chiles, stems removed (I used about ¾ teaspoon crushed red chili pepper)

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 pound russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 inch cubes, and submerged in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning (I didn’t peel my potatoes and skipped the bowl of water because I cut them up at the last minute, quickly, while the sesame-peanut mixture was roasting)

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes

2 teaspoons salt (use only one if both your tomatoes and peanuts already contain salt)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro (or parsley if you are cilantro-averse)

12 medium to large-sized fresh curry leaves (if you can’t find curry leaves, this dish will still be delicious)

Combine the sesame seeds, peanuts, garlic, and chiles in a food processor and pulse to form a gritty, sticky, mellow-smelling blend.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat. Scrape the sesame-peanut blend into the warmed oil and roast the mixture, stirring, until it starts to release it’s own oils and loosens, turning crumbly and nutty brown, 5-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the potatoes, if they were in water.

Stir the turmeric into the sesame-peanut blend and cook for a few seconds. Then add the potatoes, tomatoes, (with their juices), 1 cup water, and the salt. Stir once or twice, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are fork-tender and the sauce has thickened, about 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and curry leaves and serve. Great as a side dish, stuffed inside a pita, along-side warm naan, or over brown basmati rice. Makes 4-6 main dish servings.

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Homemade Peanut Butter

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Way back when I was a kid, the peanut butter in most households was Jif, Skippy or Peter Pan. That was pretty much it. Except if you were my family, then it was the natural kind that you had to stir to incorporate the oil. It wasn’t very common back then either, but once again, my parents were ahead of their time when it came to healthy eating. And I hated it!

I wanted nothing more than to have Jif or Peter Pan peanut butter like “normal” kids. Even Skippy, which wasn’t as good, was better than that natural stuff in my kid mind. I remember being over at a friend’s house and for a snack we had white bread (which we never had in my house either), toasted, with Jif peanut butter. I was in snack heaven!

My how our tastes changes as we grow up. I wouldn’t eat those name brand PBs filled with sugars, added oils (often hydrogenated) and preservatives now under any circumstances.

For years, I’ve purchased the “natural” peanut butters where the short list of ingredients was peanuts and salt. My adult taste buds loved the pure peanut taste that wasn’t masked by sweeteners and other oils. Trader Joe’s was my brand of choice. Just open the jar, pull out a butter knife and use your brute force to stir it up so the separated peanut butter and peanut oil were mixed together. Then keep it in the fridge. Only bad part was once you got down to about the last quarter of the jar, you had pretty hard peanut butter that was a pain to spread. I never thought much about it, but the stirring and bottom-of-the-jar hard PB kind of sucked. That’s just what you need to accept when you want “natural” peanut butter, right?

Then one day my co-worker Jill asked if I make my own peanut butter. Make my own peanut butter? Whhhaaatttt?!? I had never thought of it. Why had I never thought of it? A quick google made me laugh at how easy it is. Dump a bag of roasted peanuts in a food processor and turn it on. That’s it—after a few minutes you have your “natural” peanut butter with just peanuts and salt, or if you buy the no-salt-added, just peanuts. Put it in a jar, pop it in the refrigerator and you have silky smooth, no-oil-separated peanut butter whenever you have a hankering. Thank you, Jill!

I usually buy the 50% salt Trader Joe’s peanuts which gives the perfect level saltiness for my taste. And it never separates or becomes hard, even near the bottom of the jar. Who knew? And it’s cheaper than buying a jar of the same amount of peanut butter. I haven’t bought a jar of peanut butter since.
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A few people at work, besides Jill, have been as surprised as I was about this making-your-own-peanut-butter thing, so I thought it would be worth sharing in a blog post. I should note, this works equally well with cashews or almonds. But don’t thank me; thank Jill. Enjoy!
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Homemade Peanut Butter

  • Servings: 1 16 oz. jar
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I’ve used this in baking too–in cookies and bars–with good results

1 pound roasted peanuts (unsalted, lightly salted, or salted)

Salt, to taste (if peanuts are unsalted and you want salted peanut butter)

Put the peanuts and salt (if using) in the bowl of a food processor. Process for about a minute and stop it and scrape down the sides (be warned, it’s really noisy at first!). Process for a couple minutes more, until it is to your preferred consistency. You may need to scrape down the sides a couple times. The amount of processing time will vary on the power of your food processor—the right time will be when it looks right to you.

Scrape the peanut butter into a jar and refrigerate. Unless you rarely eat peanut butter, it will keep longer than it takes for you to use up the jar. Makes a 16-oz. jar.

Heavenly Hash

Heavenly Hash
There’s a delightful shop in downtown St. Paul, MN called Candyland. It’s an old-fashioned candy store filled with chocolates, barks & brittles, candied nuts, gummy treats, popcorn and more! No matter what your age, you’re immediately transformed into the proverbial kid in a candy store when you walk through the doors.

Candyland’s Chicago Mix popcorn with cheese, caramel, and plain, is delicious and addicting. My co-worker, Brian, brings it to the office occasionally and we swarm like bees to honey over it and the stuff is gone in a flash.

Recently while we were devouring a bag of the Chicago mix, another co-worker was reminiscing about trips to downtown St. Paul and Candyland when she was a kid. Donna’s mom would buy a giant piece of Heavenly Hash and divvy it up among the children for a special treat. I love hearing great childhood memories, especially those related to food.

Donna’s story triggered a vague Heavenly Hash memory of my own of Mom making the candy in a round cake pan—I hadn’t thought about it in decades. I knew I had to make it, so I googled a few recipes and this one from The Kitchn came closest to Donna’s description (and my foggy memory) of  thick blocks of chocolaty, nutty, marshmallowy goodness. The only aspect of the recipe I changed was to substitute peanuts for almonds.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “But marshmallows aren’t vegetarian, Suzanne.” True, most marshmallows aren’t; they contain gelatin which typically comes from animal bones. While not always easy to find, there are vegetarian, vegan in fact, marshmallows that taste even better and are more flavorful that those typical grocery store brands containing things like tetrasodium pyrophosphate, artificial flavors, and the food dye Blue 1.

I’ve found vegan marshmallows in natural food stores and more recently my favorite brand, Dandies, online, but I think they can be found in some stores too, perhaps Whole Foods. Dandies come in regular and mini and are non-GMO verified. With the same memorable texture as traditional marshmallows, they work great for roasting/toasting over a campfire, in S’mores, or melting into treats like Rice Krispie Bars.

I wrapped up a few of these for Donna and put them on her desk. She actually thought Brian had brought her a treat from Candyland! Enjoy!
Heavenly Hash Bars

Heavenly Hash

1 cup organic sugar

1 cup evaporated milk

3 tablespoons light corn syrup (this is not high-fructose corn syrup)

16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups roasted, salted peanuts, kept whole

2 cups miniature vegan marshmallows

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper with enough excess hanging over the sides of the pan to use as “handles;” spray paper with cooking spray.

Combine the sugar, evaporated milk and corn syrup in a medium-sized heavy saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking often, and continue boiling the mixture until it reaches 218-220 degrees F. on an instant read thermometer, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool for 2 minutes. Fold in chopped chocolate and the vanilla and stir until melted. Let cool for an additional 15-20 minutes, then fold in the peanuts and mini marshmallows.

Transfer the chocolate mixture to the prepared pan and spread evenly with a silicone spatula. Refrigerate the candy until firm, at least 2 hours. Using the parchment paper “handles,” remove the candy from the baking dish and cut into 16 squares.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before serving. Makes 16 bars.