I made a cake the other day and it was terrible. There may have been tears. I’d allocated half a pound of precious butter and 3 eggs to this unmitigated disaster all in the name of not wasting the buttermilk.
For the last several years, as a recipe developer, it was not unusual for an experimental dish — or dinner — to go awry. It might be so disappointing we would opt for cereal instead.
But what I once shrugged off as a learning experience or misstep is no longer palatable as I cope with egg and flour shortages and infrequent grocery shopping.
My kitchen brain, once free-wheeling and experimental in the Times Before The Virus, is now the provisioner, an eagle eye trained on the pantry.
Day after day, to sidestep possible failures, I am relying on dishes I’ve made for decades. The next time the baking urge hit, I fulfilled the hankering with my grandmother’s coffee cake , the one I learned to make when I was 12. There was my tried-and-true slab pie made with frozen fruit and shared with neighbors by placing foil-wrapped packets on their porches. It’s the new form of ding-dong ditch.
Using what’s on hand is important, but so is variety — for both the cook and the diner. I keep a running list of ideas for dinner, selecting one each morning after checking supplies and defrosting what’s necessary. This new regimen has called for flexibility, when there are no Brussels sprouts, I substitute that sprout’s botanical relative, cabbage. If the peas are gone, do chopped frozen green beans work? Yes, they do.
I’ve instituted a global flavor rotation in weekly menu planning, looking to dishes inspired by foods from France, Italy, China, Israel and India as well as beloved recipes from the American South and my New England mother’s roots. And I’m looking back at recipes I developed years ago and wondering why I abandoned them.
I had all but forgotten these Inside-Out Samosas, and now I can’t stop making them. They can be a main dish, a side dish, a brunch dish with an egg on top. It’s all the flavor of a samosa without the dough to roll out and shape.
I like to make them with gold potatoes for their creamy texture, but any potato will do. (Purple potatoes are a little weird.) Even leftover mashed potatoes stand in. The coriander and cumin seeds, butter crisped, add textural crunch, but if neither is in the pantry, use half as much of the ground version. Use frozen mixed vegetables or mix up your own frozen vegetables. Or opt for fresh vegetables chopped into pieces about the size of a pea. I recommend you par-cook fresh vegetables to ensure they are tender in the brief time the pancake takes to brown.
I use an ice cream scoop to portion the cakes and slightly damp hands to pat the mixture into flat disks. Dredge in flour (or panko bread crumbs) and then shallow fry for a crisped exterior and a creamy, spiced interior. If you make them the size of silver dollar pancakes, they will be especially crispy.
I struggle to get the hot crisp cakes to the table — so many are snatched right from the rack where, after cooking, I place them on paper towels. But try to wait because here’s a chance to open that chutney you’ve been hoarding since visiting the international grocer.
Spicy chutney makes these cakes sing. If there’s lime or mango pickle in your cupboard, that belongs on the plate, too. If there are cucumber and yogurt lurking in the refrigerator, make raita. That’s what I did when I paired these cakes with Chickpea Tikka Masala. It felt like a feast.
Stay well, friends.
2 to 4 servings (makes 8 patties)
With ingredients that are both common to the pantry and may be easily swapped out, these spiced, fluffy pancakes are everything that is delicious about a samosa, without the dough.
NOTE: While the recipe calls for frozen mixed vegetables, you may substitute 1 combined cup of any other frozen vegetable, such as shelled peas, carrots, corn, or chopped squash, green beans, broccoli or cauliflower. If using 1 cup of fresh vegetables, such as carrots, celery or squash, dice them into pea-size pieces, then cook in salted boiling water (the same water you cooked the potatoes in) until just tender, 1 to 2 minutes, and chill in an ice bath.
Make ahead: Reheat gently in a skillet, or wrapped in foil and heated in 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Storage: Leftover samosas can be stored, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for about 2 days. They do not freeze well.
4 (1 1/2 pounds) potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold, but any will do
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or ghee
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 cup (4 ounces) diced yellow onion
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup (8 ounces) frozen mixed vegetables (see NOTE)
3/4 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (may substitute 1/2 cup panko)
Vegetable oil, for frying
Your favorite chutney, for serving
Pierce the potatoes all over with a fork. Place in a medium saucepan, cover with water and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the potatoes to a boil and cook until a sharp knife passes to the center of the potato easily, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a plate and cool slightly.
Slip the peels from the potatoes. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the potatoes into a medium bowl. Alternately, you can use a potato masher and mash the potatoes until mostly smooth, but still a little chunky.
In a small saute pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter or ghee. Add the coriander and cumin seeds and toast in the butter for about 2 minutes. Add the onion, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion is just starting to brown on the edges, about 4 or 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and scrape the onion mixture into the bowl with the potatoes.
Add the frozen vegetables, garam masala, cayenne, black pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon salt to the potato mixture. Using clean hands or a stiff spoon, combine this mixture thoroughly.
Spread the flour out on a plate. Use a 1/4-cup measuring cup to portion and form 8 patties. Lightly dredge the patties in the flour. (If using panko, spread out the crumbs and whisk the egg and a smidge of salt in a small bowl and place it on the rimmed baking sheet. Dredge the cakes in egg and lightly roll them in the panko.)
In a large, wide, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat just a whisper of oil until shimmering. Working in batches as necessary, without overcrowding the pan, carefully slide the cakes into the pan and cook without moving until well browned, at least 3 minutes. Let the cakes get a good crust before carefully turning them to brown on the other side, another 3 minutes, adding tiny amounts of oil as needed.
Transfer the cooked patties to a plate. If working in batches, repeat with the remaining cakes.
Serve the cakes hot or warm, with the chutney on the side.
Nutrition | Calories: 285; Total Fat: 10 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 15 mg; Sodium: 593 mg; Carbohydrates: 43 g; Dietary Fiber: 7 g; Sugars: 3 g; Protein: 6 g.