This Smashed Potato Salad with Turmeric and Curry Leaf Dressing is bright, lemony and vibrant, and it is infused with good health. It's the perfect side dish for a picnic or for a dinner at home. A vegan, soy-free, gluten-free and nut-free recipe.
As we left Chennai this time, my sister-in-law, Paddu, pressed into our hands a few bulky packets of vatrals, or vadams, a crunchy side that's served with every traditional south Indian meal. The vadams came from a store tucked into the building where Paddu lives, in Mambalam, a buzzing pocket of the megalopolis that's infused with small-town charm and where you can still find a person's home just by asking around.
The best way I can describe a vadam is as a cracker made with tapioca, rice, or potatoes. They come in all shapes -- some are round, some square, some are shaped like bird nests and some like squiggly sticks (although I think the bird nests and squiggly ones are called vatrals). Typically, vadams look like bits of rice paper speckled with cumin. When you fry them, they puff up to twice their size and turn into crackly, crispy clouds of deliciousness.
The vadams Paddu gave us were made by the storekeeper's wife in her small kitchen. Desi remembers his mother making vadams and drying them on the terrace of their home in Chromepet, in Chennai. And each summer, I remember the mother of my Tamil friend and neighbor, Radha, making vadams by the armful. A small, slight, no-nonsense woman, she would lug an outsized pot filled with a bubbling, viscous liquid up to the terrace of the two-story apartment building. Summers in Bombay, true to their notoriety, are unbearable, the intense heat infused with a dense humidity that seeps in from the ocean surrounding the island city. The tar lining the terrace floor, meant to keep the heavy summer rains from intruding into the apartments below, would intensify the heat, making it smack unbearably at our feet as Radha and I spread out several clean saris on the terrace and weighed them down at the corners with stones so they wouldn't fly away.
Radha's mom would then use a long-handled spoon to quickly ladle out the goop into small, thin crepes on top of the sari.
As the vadams dried, Radha, her sister and her brother would take turns to sit by them in the shade of the water tank, a long stick in hand, to drive away any crows looking for an easy feast. Sometimes, when it was Radha's turn, I'd sit with her for company. The vadams had to dry thoroughly before they could be safely packed and stashed away for the rest of the year.
None of my sisters-in-law make vadams anymore, and neither, I am sure, does Radha. I read an article in an Indian paper not long ago that called it a "lost art." And although you can buy vadams made by machines aplenty, including here in the United States, the homemade ones, like the ones sold by that storekeeper and his wife in Mambalam, are just so much better. So I didn't mind lugging them in our bags all the way back to D.C.
We Indian expats are notorious for hauling back food from visits back home as if we are about to be marooned on a desert island with no resources in sight. Every student leaving India to go to school here has stories of bulging packets of sambar or rasam or garam masala powder carried past the customs' officials watchful eyes. Some go too far: the last time we were at the airport returning from India, we found one family standing at the customs table with a haul that included a head of cauliflower, an eggplant and a cabbage (I don't make this stuff up).
In my early years in the United States, one plant that I would have loved to sneak in -- although I never did -- was a curry leaf plant.
Curry leaves can be bought at Indian grocery stores, but back in my student days, when I didn't have a car, the Indian grocery store about seven miles away might as well have been in Bombay. Even after I got a car and started cooking more, going to the Indian store was a once-every-two-months kinda thing. It became increasingly easy to find Indian groceries online and sometimes even in supermarkets. But the one thing that remained impossible to find outside the Indian store were curry leaves.
Four years ago, I was delighted to find a tiny curry leaf plant at the Indian store. I paid a small fortune for the puny little thing and today, it is a seven-foot tree that gives me more curry leaves than I can handle.
To say that I love my curry leaf plant would be to understate it. It is the only plant that has survived my lack of a green thumb, partly because it is a naturally hardy plant but also because I know just how precious it is. It cannot withstand the cold temperatures of our northeast winters, so come September Desi and I lug the heavy tub it sits in up the backyard stairs and into the den where it can soak up the sunlight from a large window. Last year, Billy, our intrepid little cat, kept up a persistent campaign of harassment against the poor curry leaf plant, digging up the dirt, exposing the roots, and doing heaven alone knows what else to it, before I could finally release it back outdoors for Spring.
Since we are in the final days of summer, I recently gave my curry leaf plant a haircut, to encourage it to put out more branches in the still warm and humid weather. Since wasting curry leaves is sacrilege so far as Desi is concerned (you'd have to be a Tamil to get that), I have been trying to use them up in interesting ways.
One of my favorite creations so far has been this Smashed Potato Salad with a Turmeric and Curry Leaf Dressing.
I make smashed potatoes a lot because Jay loves them -- who doesn't? -- and I love finding different ways to flavor them.
For this very simple dressing, inspired by a south Indian tadka, I used turmeric, curry leaves cut into ribbons, mustard seeds and lemon juice.
It's really a very simple dressing, but it makes this Smashed Potato Salad absolutely and incredibly delicious.
This is a great way to use up all those curry leaves you can sometimes have on hand after a trip to the Indian grocery store. Shredding the leaves and crisping them up in the oil makes them even more delicious and since curry leaves have a host of health benefits, from improving blood sugar levels to fighting cholesterol, you'll be doing yourself a favor in more ways than one.
Here's the recipe. If you try it, be sure to let me know, and if you have a favorite food you like to bring in from overseas, I'd love to hear!
Smashed Potato Salad with Turmeric and Curry Leaf Dressing
- 20 new potatoes or small potatoes
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil (coconut oil is great for this, but if you prefer not to use it, use any other vegetable oil, like peanut oil or avocado)
- 2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 20-30 curry leaves (stack four or five curry leaves at a time, roll them up and shred them into ribbons with a knife)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 medium jalapeno (deseeded if hot and thinly sliced)
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- Salt to taste
- Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water by an inch, bring to a boil, cover and let the potatoes cook 10 minutes or until a knife pierced in the center of a potato goes through cleanly. Remove the potatoes from the heat, drain, and reserve.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- On a baking sheet lined with parchment or coated with cooking spray, place the potatoes an inch apart. Using your fingers or the heel of your hand or a fork, smash each potato, using just enough force so the potato flattens but holds together in a single piece.
- Place the potatoes in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, turning the potatoes over once halfway. After the potatoes have cooked, remove them to a bowl.
- In a small skillet, heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and, when they sputter, add the jalapeno, curry leaves and turmeric. Stir-fry for a minute or two until the curry leaves become crispy.
- Turn off the heat, and pour the seasoned oil and all of the seasonings over the potatoes, then add the lemon juice. Use salad spoons or two ladles to toss the potatoes with the dressing.
- Serve immediately or at room temperature.
Looking for more potato recipes?
- Classic Vegan Potato Salad
- Indian Style Potato Salad
- Garlicky Roasted Asparagus and Potatoes
- Cauliflower Bezule
- Sheet Pan Curry Roasted Cauliflower and Potatoes
- Vegan Pizza with Fingerling Potatoes
- Kashmiri Dum Aloo
- Masala Smashed Potatoes
Can't believe I just spotted this recipe. It looks amazing and I'll have to try it! When I still ate eggs, I always loved bits of egg in my potato salads... now, I'm thinking of trying to make the difference with some silken tofu and mashed chickpeas with some kala namak. The main reason I'm commenting, though, is that I have a curry leaf tree that I got this winter and have been trying to nurse to life indoors, something which our cats, who never go after plants, haven't made easy. I wish I'd read this first so I'd have known that they apparently love curry leaf trees and taken precautions! I have a small bud on my tiny curry leaf sapling now that it's spring again, and I'm hoping that it will recover well enough to go outside once we're done with our frosts. Thanks so much for this!
Hi Jessie, curry leaf plants are very hardy, the only thing they can't and won't tolerate is cold weather. To keep Billy out of our plant we began covering the base with plastic, leaving just enough area of the soil exposed in the center to water. He pretty much gave up after that although he still tries to get in at times, but without any soil to dig up he's at a loss. 🙂 Here's hoping yours thrives despite your kitties --there are so many delicious ways to use curry leaves.
Excellent recipe. Served with meat simmered in a cream & fruit sauce. Would double it for a big dinner. With raita, a complete meal
So thrilled to hear!
This recipe was so amazing. The lemon really balanced out the whole dish! I didn't have mustard seed so I used whole coriander instead. I found this recipe looking for good curry leaf recipes because I got some from a local farmer and I love them This does not disappoint.
Jordan, so happy you enjoyed the salad!
Made this today, absolutely beautiful. I have a very healthy curry leaf tree in my backyard so I went heavy on the curry leaves. This dish will be on repeat. Thank you!
Sue, so happy to hear!
Hi, I had a fried gift me some curry leaves and recommended your potato recipe. Is it possible to omitt the oil in the cooking of the mustard seed and curry leaf dressing... mayby dry saute then add veg broth for moisture?
Hi Gracie, yes, you can dry saute if you absolutely don't want to use the oil. It should still taste good although you won't get the great aroma of the curry leaves and the mustard after they bloom in the oil.
I made this recipe tonight and my husband said it was the best potatoes I've ever made. Better than Heston's duck fat ones. Absolutely delicious! Thank you!
So awesome to hear, Kathy!
Hi Vaishali, this is an awesome recipe. I prepared this for dinner with summer spring roll and pomelo salad. My family finished potato salad first. 🙂 Fragrant & crunchy curry leaves with turmeric touch and sour lemon go very well. I used whole grain mustard instead of mustard seeds. Still it turned out perfectly. Thank you so much!
So awesome to hear!
I am vegetarian and have been cooking your recipes almost every day for dinner. After years of cooking vegetarian I think your recipes and in general Indian cuisine is the most delicious and satisfying way of meatless eating.
I have a question about curry leaves in your recipes. Do you use fresh leaves? I am not sure if I should buy dried curry leaves on Amazon? Or dried curry leave powder? Not sure what is it that would work best in your recipes? There are no frozen curry leaves available in my area. Maybe you have a curry plant in your kitchen like most people have basil or parsley plant?
Hi Isabella, what a lovely message, you made my day. 🙂 I do use fresh curry leaves, because dry curry leaves do not have the great flavor that fresh leaves do. You can buy curry leaves at all Indian grocery stores, and at some Asian markets. I have a curry plant, which is actually a little tree now) and I lug it in and out of the house every year for winter. You can buy curry plants from Amazon, and if you live in a warmer climate where temps don't drop below freezing, you might be able to plant it in the ground. You'll find the fresh leaves make all the difference!
In Houston, I had one curry leaf transplant plant in a pot that I left near some shrubs in one of the flower beds when I first moved into a new house. I forgot about it until later that year I noticed it growing out from between the shrubs, I tried to move it but it had strongly rooted down through the bottom of the pot. We had a hard freeze that winter and even some snow. I mourned my poorly treated curry plant but lo and behold later that summer I noticed several small curry leaf plants growing near the site of the original plant. I think curry leaf trees maybe root stable, we have had several harsh (for Houston) winters since, one winter we even had nearly a full week of hard frost when the temperature didn’t rise above freezing even during the day. My curry leaf plants have always come back even though the entire plant above the ground has died due to frost. They are clearly happy here and keep propagating, usually in cracks in the nearby path. Every year I carefully uproot these seedlings and pot them on to donate to my Asian neighbors and other British friends who I know love cooking and eating Indian food. Maybe the winters where you live are just too cold but if you get any seedlings from your plant it might be worth trying to plant one in a sheltered area of your yard to see if it can grow back from the roots each year.
Thank you for your comment!! I am going to try growing my own tree 🙂
Forgot to give a five star rating....it was that good! Had to make again. Quick, Easy and delicious. I finish these off in my air fryer after they are flattened so they are done quicker.
Great idea to finish off in the air fryer-- I need to get one of those. Thanks for coming back to add the rating-- appreciate it! 🙂
Made this tonight and it was delicious. Great use of my curry leaf plant outside. Thank you.
Can I use curry powder?
Yes! Curry leaf powder would be great here and add more depth of flavor.
Curry powder and curry leaf powder or two different things. I don't think curry powder would work very well!
Hi Kathryn--the curry powder would work as a sub for the turmeric, and would be good in the recipe, but not as a substitute for the curry leaves. Linda, if you''re looking to sub the curry leaves, use another herb, like coriander.
Hey 😀 I totally loved reading this post, esp the part about the curry leaf plant! My dad, also from TN, brings back precious little saplings of curry leaf plants from down south to Punjab where we live. Now our plant is also quite well-grown and provides us with an unceasing supply of the fragrant leaves for tadka 🙂 I totally get you!!
The potatoes look lovely, will definitely try! I love potatoes in all forms, esp with tadka of mustard and jeera seeds.
Hi Namrata, there really is nothing like that fragrance of curry leaves in hot oil to get the appetite going!
Absolutely the best....?
Love your recipes, BTW.
I thought I would let you know that curry plants are available from Logee's here in the US. They specialize in tropicals and unusual food plants. I have a little one, a few month old, 8 inches or so, and just harvested my first leaves for your recent 20 min. curry recipe.
Hi Mary, that's great to know, and I see that even Amazon carries curry leaf plants now. They are a little easier to find these days-- the Indian store I go to gets batches of them from time to time now. It used to be quite different about a decade ago! I'm grateful to have my beauty. 🙂
Hope you love the recipe as much as we did!