Louisa Shafia’s book, The New Persian Kitchen, strikes a good balance between the familiar and the new—enough to make me comfortable but also enough to break me out of my grocery shopping routine. For instance, she drizzles a mint oil over stuffed artichokes and combines combines strawberries, radishes, and shavings of raw rhubarb with leafy greens for a sweet-sour salad. I'd like to try both this spring.
After flipping through the book flagging recipes to try out, I had a shopping list comprising potatoes, tamarind, tempeh, and dill, an herb that I like but never seem to cook with very often. By using tempeh, a fermented form of soybeans with the texture reminiscent of cheese curds, in the potato cakes, the protein game is upped substantially. In general, these were a fun alternate to veggie burgers or a potato side dish and would be even easier to make if you already have leftover mashed or roasted potatoes on hand. I'd also like to try mashed Japanese sweet potatoes in this recipe, too.
Before we get to the recipe, let's get some things straight about tamarind paste (also called pulp) versus tamarind concentrate. I'm a big fan of tamarind paste, and after developing Burmese recipes for the Burma Superstar cookbook, I also found that a block of it keeps for a while (several months) in the fridge. If you find tamarind paste among Asian ingredients/condiments in a well-stocked grocery store, soak a good-sized knob in water and then pass it through a fine-mesh strainer. In this recipe, however, I used a Thai tamarind concentrate, which was much darker in color, looking more like molasses. Yet it worked, too, making a necessarily tart counterpoint to the potatoes.
Potato Cakes with Tamarind Sauce
adapted from The New Persian Kitchen, by Louisa Shafia
Makes 15 cakes
1 (8-ounce) package tempeh, cut into cubes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 tablespoons ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups coarsely mashed potatoes (about 3 yukon gold potatoes, cooked)
2 large eggs, whisked
1 cup tightly packed cilantro, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
high-heat oil for frying, like refined coconut oil (not virgin), ghee, or grapeseed oil
1/4 cup Thai tamarind concentrate
3 tablespoons cane sugar
1 teaspoon minced ginger or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Pulse the tempeh in a food processor until it has the consistency of ground meat. Pulse in the garlic, onion, coriander, and turmeric, then transfer to a large bowl. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, mix in the potatoes, eggs, cilantro, salt, and pepper. To shape each potato cakes, pat 1/3 cup of dough into a 3/4-inch thick disk.
Heat a large skilled over medium-high heat. (I cheated and use nonstick.) Pour in enough oil for a depth of 1/4 inch. In batches to avoid crowding the pan, brown the cakes until golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes to ensure the centers are cooked through.
Whisk together the tamarind, sugar, ginger, and salt. Serve the cakes hot or at room temperature with a drizzle of tamarind sauce. Leftover cakes keep for 3 days in the refrigerator, although I chose to freeze mine.