Turn Up the Heat

We’ve been thinking a lot about driving lately. Isabelle takes her driving test today. Russell is studying for his permit test. Which means everyone is learning about stuff they didn’t know. Like how to parallel park (trickier than you might think), how tinted the windows of your car can be (35% who knew?), and what to do if your car starts to skid out of control (don’t break and steer into the skid). The last one got me to thinking that if you should turn your car into a skid does that mean when the weather gets nasty-hot outside should you turn up the heat in your food?

Last week the weather was brutal. One friend wrote on her Facebook wall –

“Even in this putrid, humid heat, I’m reading all kinds of status updates of people running 5 miles, biking, etc…and I’m just sitting here thinking how proud I was when I went and got the mail without fainting.”

That pretty much sums it up, surviving this most recent heat wave feels like an accomplishment. The question is how do you cook dinner when walking into the kitchen causes you to break a sweat? Do you serve popsicles and plates of uncooked food? In part that has been my default strategy – when the temperatures are close to 100° I stop actually cooking (which is ironic since many restaurant kitchens I’ve worked in were 101° + in the summers). But if you apply the skid rule to food then when the temperatures soar you should turn up the heat in your food rather than trying to make it colder. In counties where it is really hot the cuisines often have a spicy component to them. Think of Indian curries and tandoori or the hot jabanaro peppers used in Mexican cuisine. It’s not that everything from these cuisines will burn your tongue off, but taking a bite of something that makes you sweat seems to counteract the heat outside.

hot peppers

So I’ve been adding more zip and spice to our food. Extra raw garlic in the pesto, and hotter peppers in our Samosas. Samosas are savory Indian pasties meant to be served as an appetizer or snack. My gang likes them so much we make a meal of them. Our favorites are the Aloo Samosas which are filled with potatoes, peas, onions, and plenty of spices. In the winter I use jalapeno peppers and bake the samosas in the oven. The more traditional method is to fry them, which I do in the summer. I also use cayenne or Thai peppers (easy to grow or find them at most farmer’s markets) to bring up the spice level in the warmer months. Despite the main ingredient being potatoes these little pockets of yummy are full of flavor – coriander, garam masala, fresh ginger, and of course hot peppers. This recipe is a tweaked version of Julie Sahni‘s from her book Classic Indian Cooking.

Baked potato samosas

Potato Samosas


3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

1/2 – 3/4 cups cold water

Put the flour, salt and shortening in a medium bowl. You then want to rub the fat into the flour so you take some flour in your hand and a little shortening and smear them together. You keep doing this until all the fat has been smooshed between clumps of flour and all the flour has bits of shortening in it.  Then add around 1/3 cup of cold water and mix. Keep adding more water until the dough comes together. The amount of water depends on the weather/humidity so start slow and work up. You don’t want the dough oozing, nor do you want it crumbling. When you think you’ve got it right knead the dough for about 10 minutes. If it feels a bit dry dribble in more water. It should be as soft as a baby’s bottom when you’re done kneading. Wrap it in plastic wrap and let rest for 30-60 minutes.

stuffing samosas


1  1/2 pounds potatoes, cut into chunks (7-8 medium)

1 medium to large onion, chopped into small pieces

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

2 teaspoons ground coriander (or you can use the seeds)

2  1/2 – 3 teaspoons garam masala

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3 fresh chilies (jalapeño or Thai), seeded and finely chopped

1-2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2  1/2 – 3 1/2  teaspoons salt

1 generous cup peas, or more if you like peas

Boil the potatoes until you can easily slide a fork or knife in them. Peeling (or not) is up to you. While the potatoes are cooking sauté the onion, ginger, coriander, and garam masala in vegetable oil. Your nose will go into hyperdrive at this point. When the onions are soft, add the chilies. Depending on which chilies you use your eyes may start to water. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and throw them into the sauté pan with the cooked onions, you may need to crumble them with your fingers to make them smaller – you don’t want mashed potatoes, nor do you want large chunks which can break through the dough. Add the salt and lemon juice to taste. When you’ve had two or three tastes stir in the peas and taste once more.

baking samosas instead of frying

If you’re baking the samosas turn the oven on to 400°F and line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. If you’re frying them get out a cast iron fry pan and fill it with 1″ vegetable oil. To make the samosas you’ll need some flour for rolling out the dough and a bit of water to seal the pastries. Cut off large walnut size lumps of dough and roll into a 5″ circle. Cut in half and scoop a generous Tablespoon of filling into the half circle. Dab a little water along the cut edge and pinch the seam together. Then with a little more water dabbed on the curved edge fold it over and seal. You’ll have a lumpy little triangle-esque form.

frying samosas

Depending on your cooking method either place samosas on the jelly roll pan or into the hot vegetable oil. If you’re baking them drizzle with olive or vegetable oil and bake 30-40 minutes, flipping once and adding more oil if necessary. The look and texture of the dough is different from baking (they’re not fried after all), however they are still very yummy.  If you’re frying them have the oil at medium high and cook until all sides of the samosa are a golden brown. Drain on paper towels. We like to serve them with chutney.

potato samosas

This weather has been intense. Our Sumac Deforestation project is on hold because I’m worried we’d all suffer from heat stroke. I’ve been fantasizing about moving somewhere near the arctic circle. That sounds nice and cool. Also rereading this post and this one from last summer. What are you doing to stay cool?

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