A friend of ours gave us some organic home grown sweet potatoes some time back. I had never cooked with sweet potatoes and was stumped for ideas. I did remember my mother making fried sweet potato and coconut balls soaked in syrup...something similar to gulab jamun for Sankranti. Sankranti is a harvest festival celebrated in many parts of India on the 14th or 15th of January. Being a harvest festival the emphasis is clearly on seasonal produce which in Bengal translates to rice, coconut, palm jaggery, sweet potatoes (ranga alu which literally translates to red potaoes)and milk. And we do what we do best - turn these ingredients into delectable sweets which are collectively known as "pithe".
My first batch of sweet potato pithe turned out awesome. Spurred by the success of my first attempt I tried making them again with store bought generic potatoes...it turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. The organic sweet poatoes are naturally very sticky and hold shape well, whereas the generic mass grown variety are not. So incase you are using the non organic variety, increase the amount of flour given in the recipe below to make a slightly stiffer dough. A good test for that is that it should be easy to mould with your hands.
Sweet Potato - 1 large
All Purpose Flour - 1 tbsp
Fresh Grated Coconut - 2 cups (This is found in the frozen section of most Indian grocery stores)
Sugar - 1 cup
Cardamom - 2 pods powdered
Oil - for frying
Chasni or Syrup - 1 recipe (see below)
1.Boil the sweet potato till it is soft and mushy. Peel the potato once its cool and then mash it up. Add the flour to the potato mash and set aside in the fridge for 15 mins.
2.In a wok, add frozen coconut and sugar and turn up the heat. Let the sugar and coconut cook on its own. Once the coconut and sugar are well combined take a teaspoon of the mixture and make a small ball to see if it holds shape. Be careful while doing this. If its holds shape, add the powdered cardamom to this mixture and set aside to cool slightly.
3.Get the potato mash out of the fridge. At this stage you could do one of the following:
a) Mix the coconut mixture with the mashed potatoes and shape them into round balls (about 1 inch in diamter) and deep fry them in vegetable oil till brown. I usually go for this method as it is simpler, the second method is more authentic though.
b) Use the coconut mixture as a filling for the potato mixture. For this divide the potato mash into 12-13 balls and shape the coconut mixture into an equal number elongated balls. Take a potato ball, make a depression in it and place the coconut ball in side it and cover with excess potato mash. Finally deep fry in vegetable oil till brown.
4. Soak deep fried sweet potato and coconut balls in chasni.
For the Chasni/Sugar Syrup:
The syrup should be made earlier and kept warm. To make the hot sugar syrup add 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of water. Add 4-5 cardamom pods, slightly crushed and a few strands of "Kesar". Mix with a spoon and then heat at medium heat for 5-10 minutes until sugar is all dissolved in water. Do not overheat, that will caramelize the sugar.