Beetroot and sweet potato curry

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I hear what you’re saying – you’ve seen this dish somewhere before, probably in some regional vegetarian restaurant with the walls rag-painted a sunny yellow that prides itself on its ~kooky mismatched furniture and dark blue glassware. Meat-avoiders who don’t like sweet potato must be fucked, such is its prominence as the ‘vegetarian option’ on pub menus far and wide alongside its culinary cell-mates, goat’s cheese and undisclosed ‘roasted vegetables’ (always pepper and red onion, always).

But let us overlook the supposed naffness of a sweet potato curry and remind ourselves, with this very dish, that it’s an ingredient that shines brightest when you mix it with a load of spice, lends a sauce thickness without having to shit on any healthiness with cream and butter, and goes a very long way in small quantities. There’s just one medium sized sweet potato in the above dish (and not masses else, as you’ll see), and it fed six, easy.

I decided the sweetness of this particular potato would work nicely with earthy South Indian spices since they sit so well with easily-sickly coconut. Speaking of which, there’s a bit of that in there too, but diluted so as not to get a creamy sauce. Used sparingly, and with a can of tomatoes the partially cooked down sweet potato as the main sauce base, you get a nice hint of its flavour without any overwhelming richness.

One of the best curries I’ve ever eaten was a beetroot pachardi at Peckham’s South Indian gem, Ganapati, so since I was looking that way for spices, I threw a chopped beet in too. Holding its shape even after a long cook, it added a necessary amount of bite where some of the sweet potato had broken down, and look at the lovely colour it gives! Maybe this is where all those restaurant with a 90s hangover are going wrong. Beetroots save all!

There’s a reasonably long list of spices here, so you could use a paste if you don’t have them (I’d recommend something mellow like tikka and boost it with fresh chilli and ginger), but I can’t advocate having a load of spices enough. Stored well they last ages, and having a good stock at all times means you’ll never have to eat dull food, even if all you’ve got in is an egg and a potato.

With a couple of birdeye chillies in the mix, this is a fairly hot curry, but palatable thanks to the sweet vegetables and a final drizzle of cooling yoghurt, but adjust to however you like it by using either less birdeye chilli, or a basic red one.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed

1 medium beetroot, peeled and cubed

1 onion, finely chopped

1 thumb-size piece of ginger, finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 birdeye chillies, finely chopped (I leave the seeds in but take them out if you want it milder)

1 teaspoon of ground fenugreek

2 teaspoons of mustard seeds

2 teaspoons of ground coriander

1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

3 cardamom pods squashed with your knife

1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon of dried curry leaves

1 teaspoon of garam massala

2-3 cloves

1 can of coconut milk

1 can of chopped tomatoes

1 can of chick peas

A couple of handfuls of frozen peas

1 small bunch of coriander, chopped

A small pot of plain yoghurt

Olive oil



Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a deepish, large frying pan and throw in your onions with a pinch of salt. Lower the heat just just below half way and slowly and gently fry the onions until they’re very soft and lightly coloured. Give this a good fifteen mins, stirring regularly and not letting them crisp, as this will form a good base of flavour.

Add the ginger, chilli and garlic, turn up the heat slightly and fry carefully for another 3-5mins.

Add the spices to the onion mix, crumbling the curry leaves and combine well. Splash in a little water if it’s dry and sticking. Stir on a low heat to gently release the flavour from the spices.

Add the beetroot, sweet potato and drained chick peas and stir to combine with the spices.

Pour over the can of coconut milk and can of tomatoes, filling each empty can with water and throwing that in too. It’ll look like a lot of liquid but will reduce as the vegetables cook.

Simmer on a medium heat for 30 mins until liquid has reduced to a more serving sauce looking quantity and the vegetables are tender (poke ’em with a fork).

Take a potato masher and gently press around the pan to partially crush the potatoes (beetroot will be alright so long as you don’t press too hard). You still want chunks of sweet potato but want some of it to mash into the sauce. Think of those crushed new potatoes you see in fancy pubs. Like that.

Stir to incorporate the softened potato and add the peas and chopped coriander. Let it simmer a few more minutes and then give a final stir to mix in the peas and coriander. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle over the yoghurt in the pan and serve with rice. Brown is especially nice with this.



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