My oven is like a piano that’s played every day, and I use it partly for the heat it emanates, but also for the ease – pop something in and forget all about it until the timer rings. Right now, I’m craving the comforting texture of potatoes and the warm perfume of spices, and both of today’s recipes, which carry strong influences from southern India, sing to the tune of the oven. In the first, the spicy fragrance of sambar masala – the spice blend used to make sambar, a lentil and vegetable stew – enlivens a mixture of roast potatoes, fennel, and beans, while the second is a simple yet delightful warm potato and onion tart paired with curry leaves, the crunchy, nutty texture of mustard seeds, creamy, salty feta and a soothing herb chutney.
Potato and onion tart with mint chutney (pictured above)
Prep 30 min
Cook 45 min
For the tart
1 x 640g sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted
2 medium baking potatoes (about 180g each), peeled
1 large red onion (about 300g), peeled
10 curry leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled and grated
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp black or brown mustard seeds
½ tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
30g feta, crumbled (optional)
For the chutney
1 x 20g bunch fresh coriander, leaves and stems
1 x 12g bunch fresh mint, leaves and stems
1 green chilli pepper (such as serrano)
10 black peppercorns
2 tbsp lime juice
1 pinch sugar
Fine sea salt
Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/375F/gas 5. Line a 23cm x 30cm rimmed baking tray with tin foil. Unroll the pastry and place it on the tray. Fold each side of the pastry to form a 1cm border, then, using the prongs of a fork, press the border down to form an impression. Prick the centre of the pastry all over, to help it rise evenly during baking.
Cut the potatoes into thin circles and place them in a bowl. Cut the onion in half lengthways, then cut each half into thin sections. Add the onions, curry leaves and garlic to the potatoes, drizzle with the oil, then scatter over the red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, salt and black pepper. Toss gently, to avoid breaking the potato slices, until everything is well coated, then spread the mixture over the surface of the pastry, avoiding the border.
Bake for about 45 minutes, rotating once halfway through to ensure even cooking, until puffed up and golden brown all over. Remove and sprinkle over the feta, if using.
While the tart is baking, make the chutney. Put the coriander, mint, green chilli, peppercorns, lime juice, sugar and two tablespoons of cold water in a blender and blitz smooth; if it’s still a little thick for your liking, add up to a tablespoon more water to loosen. Season to taste with salt, then serve on the side of the warm tart.
Sambar masala-spiced roast potatoes with fennel and white beans
Prep 30 min
Cook 50 min
4 medium baking potatoes (about 180g each; I used russets), peeled
1 x 400g can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 large white or yellow onion (300g), peeled
2 fennel bulbs (about 230g each), trimmed
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1½ tbsp sambar masala, store-bought or homemade (see recipe below)
12 curry leaves (optional)
1 tsp red chilli flakes
Fine sea salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus the zest of 1 lemon
2 spring onions, both white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
For the sambar masala (makes about 200g)
15g large fresh curry leaves (about 40 in total)
40g whole dried red chillies (or about 12 – I use equal parts whole kashmiri and byadgi chillies, but if you want it hotter, use cayenne)
50g dried yellow split peas (AKA chana dal)
3 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp black or brown mustard seeds
1 ½ tbsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
5cm piece cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp sesame oil, or a neutral oil such as grapeseed
If you’re making your own sambar masala, heat a dry skillet or cast-iron pan over a medium-low heat, add all the dry ingredients, drizzle in the oil and cook the spices carefully, stirring constantly, for three to four minutes – they will turn fragrant and begin to toast, and the masala is ready when the split peas start to turn brown, the curry leaves go crisp and the spices sizzle and pop. Take off the heat, tip the spice mixture on to a plate to cool completely to room temperature, then transfer to a spice grinder or coffee mill and blitz to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container and keep in a cool, dry and dark spot for up to four months.
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Dice the potatoes into 2½cm chunks, place in a large roasting pan and add the drained beans. Cut the onion into quarters, separate these into individual petals and add to the roasting pan. Thinly slice the fennel lengthways and add to the roasting pan. Drizzle the olive oil all over the vegetables, sprinkle with sambar masala, curry leaves, and red chilli flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan tightly with tin foil, crimp the edges to seal, then roast for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil, and cook the vegetables uncovered for another 20 minutes, or until they start to brown and most of the liquid has evaporated. The potatoes should be tender enough for a knife to pass through them with ease.
Remove from the oven, drizzle over the lemon juice and garnish with the spring onions, coriander leaves and lemon zest. Serve warm by itself or with plain rice.