I do not have any real knife skills. I don’t have the patience for cutting things finely and evenly and I only own a series of paring knives (this will be rectified soon, but I still remain slightly wary of chef’s knives and thus only plan to break out the chef’s knife when I am confronted with a butternut or watermelon). Making batata poha is all about knife skills, patience and preparation.
For this dish to work you have to cut everything very finely. This includes the onions and cilantro. But most importantly you have to chop the potatoes very small so that they cook quickly with little to no water. When we were younger, my brother was a master at cutting the potatoes very small and precisely. He would sit at the table for what seemed like forever slowly making sure all the potato pieces were even and as finely chopped as possible. My mom would always ooh and ah over his finely cut potatoes. Maybe because of this particular skill, he became a master at making the dish. Such a master in fact that it was one of the first things he cooked while trying to woo the woman who became my sister-in-law.
I, on the other hand, never really got the hang of making this dish.
Batata poha should not be mushy. You want all the pieces of the dishes to be distinct and perfectly cooked. You can’t have overcooked potatoes or overcooked poha because that dissolves the dish into mushiness. My previous attempts at this dish have always devolved into mushiness.
Poha is flattened rice and it soaks up water (or any other liquid) relatively quickly. You want to make sure you don’t over-saturate them. I soaked mine for 20 minutes in 1 cup of water but the soaking time will depend on how thick or thin your poha are. You want them to be soft on the outside but still a little crunchy on the inside.
If you do not want to cut the potatoes finely then you can put the chopped potatoes in the microwave to cook them before adding them to the dish. We don’t have a microwave so that is not really an option.
My mom doesn’t use onions (or garlic for that matter) in any cooking (it is a religious thing) but I added onions to this version because they round out the flavors and I had an onion that needed to be used.
You have to prepare your ingredients ahead of time. I chopped everything before I started cooking. You also have to continuously stir so that nothing sticks or gets overcooked. In the past, to avoid the constant stirring I added a little bit of water to the pan, but I think that is what makes the dish mushy so I would avoid it if you can.
The end product turned out right. It wasn’t overcooked. The potatoes were a bit crunchy, which I prefer but others may not. I also could clearly taste the lemon juice, so if you don’t like the sour taste of lemon juice you may want to cut down on that.
1 c flattened rice (poha)
1 small potato, finely chopped (about 1 c)
½ small onion, finally chopped (about ½ c)
1 T oil
1 t mustard seeds
Pinch of asafetida (hing)
2 finely chopped chilies (about 1 t)
½ t turmeric
1 t shredded ginger
1 t salt
1 t sugar
Juice of one lemon (about 3 T)
½ c finely chopped cilantro
1 c water for soaking the poha
Soak poha in water until just soft. Drain. In non-stick pan over high heat, add oil and mustard seeds. Once mustard seeds start popping, add asafetida and chilies. Stir a few times and then add onions. Cook onions until they are translucent. Add potatoes. Keep stirring the potatoes until they are cooked through. Once cooked through add poha, turmeric, ginger, salt, sugar, and lemon juice. Keep stirring until all the flavors are married. Add cilantro and serve.