101 uses for Mystery Powder


masala aloo

Before Srivalli completely gives up on me, here I am with my experiments with the mystery powder I received through our very own Arusuvai Friendship chain last month. For all my professed past-life claims, the podi Srivalli sent me had me at a complete loss. I have already admitted I am not good at de-constructing spice blends; I totally relied on Manisha’s intuition for kanda-lassun masala.

After staring at the yellow-orange-powder sitting in a packet on my kitchen counter for two days, I gingerly wrote to Srivalli about my predicament… The yellow powder was going to test my self-professed Southie-ness. I could taste turmeric… dhaniya… and… the rest was a mystery. Now, I have made a few South Indian podis: kootu podi, bisibele hulianna podi, milagai podi; this was definitely not one of those. Well, that left only one other podi I knew: sambar masala! So, I prayed and sent an apologetic note to Srivalli asking if that was Sambar podi I had in my possession. It amused her that I was so unsure… but of course, it was! Whew! I heaved a sigh of relief. My reputation (rather, claim) was intact; at least, for now.

So, my friends, I correctly identified the mystery powder as sambar powder. Now, all of you out there know how to make sambar. There is little point it talking about that (though, I make no promises that I never will). Surely there were other uses for this wonderful magical spice blend?

My own sambar powder is ground a bit coarse and I sometimes use it to make spicy eggplant stir fry. I used Srivalli’s in a mixed veggie stir fry which turned out very good. But I was too rushed to take pictures.

Then last week, I left planning lunch till it was too late. I decided to make quick rava dosa but was in no mood for the whole nine-yards of sambar (not even this one-pot sambar), chutney, and masala (spicy potatoes for stuffing the dosa with). Then, in a flash of brilliance (ahem), I decided to combine the three! And when you make my masala potatoes, you will agree.

Potatoes prepared for stuffing into dosa are usually not spicy at all. I modified my usual recipe just a tad, and had a completely different animal on my hands. How we loved it with the crispy rava dosas; no one missed the sambar or the chutney. These masala potatoes were the star of this lunch. They remind me quite a bit of Ashwini’s potato song, a perfect note to start off the New Year – with my favourite vegetable!

masala aloo
Masala Potatoes
(Spicy Potatoes)

5 medium potatoes
1 medium onion, chopped (about 3/4-1 C)
2 juicy desi (heirloom) tomatoes, chopped fine
2 curry leaves, leaflets separated from the stalk
1 green chilli, chopped
1 T oil
1 t mustard seeds
1/4 t hing
2-3 t sambar powder*
1 t byadgi (or medium hot) chilli powder*

Scrub potatoes. Pressure cook with 2 cups of water for 10 min. Leave in the cooker till the pressure subsides. Cool, peel, and smash potatoes.

Heat oil in a karahi or heavy bottomed pan. Add mustard seeds to the hot oil and cover till the spluttering stops. Add hing, followed by green chillies, curry leaves, and onions. Stir till onions turn transparent. Now add the sambar powder and chilli powder and stir for half a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes till they soften. Indian desi tomatoes are juicy, tart and full of flavour; they also soften quickly. Mix in the smashed potatoes and salt. Cover and let cook for 5 min. Give a good stir and serve with dosa, roti, or stuff between slices of bread and grill.

* Adjust amount of chilli powder depending on how hot you want the final dish to be, and depending on how much fire there is in the sambar powder to begin with. When I use Udupi sambar powder, I use 3 t sambar powder and no chilli powder.


Thank you, Srivalli for making me part of the Arusuvai Chain, which was started at the Yum Blog by Latha. And I am sending a mystery ingredient to two other very talented Delhi bloggers: Reeta of Delhi Foodies’ Zone, and Deepshikha, a foodie and an artist. Watch out for your ‘surprise’ ingredients in the mail!

49 thoughts on “101 uses for Mystery Powder

  1. now, that’s a great use for sambar podi. it tastes much better than when it’s in sambar. 😀

    OMG – you don’t like sambar?!

  2. What is with all this 101 business! Where are the remaining 100? Is this the first in that series? Well, we’re waiting. You could even feature octopus in one of them.

    I have used sambar powder in veggie sides, stir-fried dishes etc but not with potatoes. At least I don’t remember. So next time I make potatoes, I will – it’s tough when I am trying my best to stay away from them for a while, you know? MTR should be fine, ya?

    The 101 caught your attention, didn’t it? But really, we’ll get closer to that number as everyone here notes down their fave ways of using it. Now, that octopus sounds like a swell idea…

    Potatoes are good for you (especially for the emotion-wellbeing bit)- really; don’t deny yourself. MTR – absolutely.

  3. Most of South Indian quick sautés are prepared with sambar powder. Right amount of heat, spice and colour in one mighty tablespoon. How much easier can it get.

    I really loved the way it turned out; so full of colour!

  4. 3 tsp sambar powder + 1 tsp chili powder… wow, that is one hot dish… 🙂
    My M-I-L brought sambar powder by the ton when she visited. She uses this powder in everything- stir-fries, daal, even meat preprations. I thought that was odd… In Kerala, sambar powder goes only into sambar… at least in my house… 🙂

    So, I didn’t really sway from ‘tradition’ then… It’s the magic powder to the rescue for a lot of us!

  5. I am on No potato diet but this one is so tempting. I might end up making it soon.

    Yeah, just a small little portion. 😀

  6. I use sambar masala in tomato chutney and sambhr. I can imagine how tasty these potatoes must be. Am bookmarking this recipe.

    Tomato chutney too?! Alright!

  7. yum! that sure does look good…not sure about sambhar powder aloo with bread ;D..now why did i not thinking of combining stuff!!

    i think these will be great stuffed in a grilled sandwich!

  8. oh wow! such an innovative way of using up sambar powder. bookemarked! 🙂

    😉 Desperate times call for desperate measures!

  9. Spicy aloo is alway good! I don’t even need dosa, left-over bread will do 😀 As always, the green chilli waves at me 🙂

    These were really great. I wish there had been some leftovers to eat with bread… Will surely make them again soon.

  10. I am starting to get nervous now. A complete amature amongst you all expert foodies. I shall comfort myself with the thought that I dont have a reputation at stake so its ok even if I cant recognise the mystery powder 🙂

    Maybe I won’t be sending a *powder?!* He he…

  11. hello anita

    i had been to chennai on a vacation & now i am back.
    my mil makes very good sambar powder,roasting all the ingredients.the normal procedure is to sundry them.but my mil roasts them & i feel maybe that is the reason to the enhanced taste.if u want i can send u the recipe.

    i will certainly try ur baharat masala & let u know how it turned out.



    And thanks for sending the recipes, Vidya! I look forward to trying them out.

  12. Though my birdie got the mail to you soon, tommy was busy I guess!. Good to see this post finally! Phew!…nice way of using the sambar powder! A small request!..Can you pls somehow add Arusuvai Friendship Chain in the title, so that ppl know this…nice looking dish. And yes where are the rest 100??

    The guests at AMTP have to come up with the remaining 100! 😀

  13. Oh god, more potatoes! 🙂 Do you ever tire of them I ask? No..I don’t think you do… 😀 hehehehe Just teasing you, sort of. But these do look good! I am imagining how they would taste because I think sambar podi is delish. Very nice creation Anitalu.

    I actually had some nice tomatoes during the summer as I annually grow heirlooms- but you are right: Umrikan corporate-grocery-store-fresh-tomatoes have no flavour- they pick ’em green!, which is why I toggle between my home-canned hoard and decent canned ones from the aisles during the off-season. However, there are fair hothouse tomatoes available, but you wouldn’t want to know the price!

    No comprehendo… tire…? of potatoes???!!! 😆

    Indian corporate farmers (yes, we do sorta have them now) are no different… the thicker (and less juicy) roma tomatoes travel better I guess. These desi ones are seasonal; I wish I had a bigger freezer…

  14. Versatile Sambar powder! I used it in most of my mixed rices as well. Infact my aunt makes a slightly different variant of sambar powder called pitlai podi, its fantastic for pavaikkai pitlai and also mixed rices.
    Lovely photo of the aloo sabzi.

    Now that’s a recipe Pel will love. As will I… and Manisha…

  15. Thatz wonderful,Anita!..I was looking forward to your post as Srivalli and myself are involved with the co-ordination of the chain as well..
    I make excatly the same!..
    Sambhar powder goes well the potatoes.We call it Urulaikkizhangu Kara Curry(hot and spicy potatoes)I use the same powder for veg-dhal currya nd dry fries too
    Lovely pictures…!!!

    I am so happy that this turned out to be authentic Southie! Must be that lingering memory from past life!

  16. Sambar podi goes well in most South Indian dishes. I use it in most of my sauteed veggies (that tamilians call curry), kootu, rasam and of course, Sambar, confusing, isn’t it? To add to it, we (at least in my parent’s household), we refer to it as “milagai podi” (chilli powder) and the actual chilli powder as “plain chilli powder” – now whatever that means. We know how to complicate life 🙂

    As long as it goes into sambar too!

  17. Hi Anita
    It was an interesting reading on mystery powder.The smell must have been confusing with aroma of so many spices filling up at once. Good luck next time with mysteries !
    Recently did a powerpuff girls cake..do have a look

    No confusion; only heavenly! 😉

  18. i find it really creative your Arusuvai Chain..it pushes your ingenuity and talent to its limit..i must admit i’m not very familiar with turmeric..but one day they featured in Art channel (in France) southern indian recipes..i saw a recipe of fish simmered with coconut milk, tomatoes, lemon and turmeric…i tell you it looks really really good..since then i now have a bottle of this yellow mysterious powder ready in my kitchen..i will try to do your tomato recipe one of these days..but maybe i need to lessen a bit the spicyness…to suit the french palate 🙂 have a nice day

    Use (only) a pinch of that turmeric, and all you’ll get is the colour. Hing is different, of course. 😆

  19. 😀 Waiting for mine… infact DYING to see what I get as my secret ingredient… yayy… and aloos look yums! Recipe is great and easy too! Will try!

    😳 [haven’t mailed yet…] sabr ka phal meetha…

  20. Your potatoes always look so tempting…:-)
    Well, i usually add the milagai podi to the mashed potatoes…should try with the sambar podi though…..!

    And I have used milagai podi with eggplant stir fry! Yum, that.

  21. I always add sambhar podi for my potato fry that accompanies rasam or sambhar. THis dish as a side for rava dosa is not a combo I have tried…kudos to you

    Thank you! My masala dosa will never be bland from now!

  22. I don’t have sambar powder but I have some chaat masala and I am going to make this with some sada roti today. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Why ever not?! A totally different flavour though…

  23. I did it 🙂 my tummy is now full (lol) Yeah, I imagine that the flavour would be different and I won’t know the difference since I’ve never had or tasted sambar or used the powder.

    I added a little turmeric to the chaat masala to give me the yellow colour. I had all the other ingredients. It came out really tasty. I am definitely going to be making this often. Tomorrow morning, I am going to have the left overs for breakfast 🙂 Thanks again my friend.

    😀 I make a chat masala version too 😉 You can never go wrong with potatoes!

  24. Oh, don’t get me wrong; when Roma tomatoes are picked ripe they’re fantastic- a paste tomato yes, indeed, but quite flavourful. I sometimes use sun-dried Romas- reconstituted, pureed, strained of skin-flecks. But no, nothing beats fresh from the local growers. You could always dehydrate some tomatoes (if the sun is strong-enough to do it quickly before mold sets in), or- they do this in Turkey and elsewhere in the Mediterranean- puree and strain the fresh tomatoes, then mix with some salt and do the natural ferment thing (like with TLO’s lime pickles). But just cover it loosely with a tied cloth (extra moisture evaporates, and use an opaque container like a crock or ceramic pot) and of course stir every day. They do that with mild red chiles too. Although I’ve never tried doing it myself, 😀 I buy and use both kinds now and then.
    Did you procure the recipe for this particular podi de sambar?

    The hybrids we get are very dry – very little juice inside – and sweet. They serve well but these desi tomatoes are really sought after.
    You mean you haven’t read about my sun-dried tomatoes?! 😆
    That fermented tomato puree, you use it in place of tomatoes?
    I have received a ‘new’ sambar podi recipe (from Vidya) – for a podi made with sun-dried ingredients!

  25. I think I should come over to your place to eat Tam food… not vice versa… what say??

    I dreamt that I visited your place with a friend the same day of the wedding and that your house was full of guests.

    …so what are you waiting for? Make your dream come true! And, luckily, I don’t have a house full of guests at the moment!

  26. SUPER Yum. I love spicy food, and this looks like an innovative and delicious dish! I am forwarding it to my husband, the spice guy, so he’ll make it for me.

    Hmmm… a guy who cooks for you… ain’t that nice? Let me know if you found this was spicy enough.

  27. We made this for dinner tonight, i can’t tell you how much i loved it. My husband T,thinks that it will make a good breakfast dish on its own. Thank you Anita

    I see, big potato fans in your family too!

  28. I have just come back from Mom’s place with a huge packet of home made sambhar powder and know where its going to be used next! 🙂
    Love putting sambhar powder in my brinjal vegetable too.


    Me too (with brinjal)! And you’ll love it with aloo too!

  29. Fermented tomato or lal mirch paste? It works well for soups, pilafs, and some sauces, though not all, no…best in small amounts, when it’s only part of the flavouring- the extra tartness isn’t always desirable.
    You sun-dried your own tomatoes?! I must read that post. Lucky you: watery things are difficult to dehydrate here at the 45th parallel- even with electric-heat help!

    …in Srinagar they even sun-dry bottle gourd! I’d do it but this year there is too much dust around the house…

  30. Since theres talk about dehydrated vegetables, I must mention that just had al hachi and waangan hachi yeserday 🙂

    Oooh, you lucky girl! Where did you procure them from – INA?

  31. Guess what? I dehydrated karel in the correct(I think) yakhin cuts, plus snake-gourd rounds (haven’t used them yet); both of them dried quite well, and quickly! And recently I made haak from dried kai-lan- I actually liked the chewy texture…however, D? LOL- grumbled, but ate it anyway. 😀
    Sorry to hear about the excess dust- I am imagining the times I did some plastering, and the final sanding- it gets everywhere!

    Dried veggies have a taste ans texture that is quite unique… chewy – but I like it too. Dried eggplant (the brighter coloured slender long ones are used in Kashmir), that Deepshika mentioned above, makes excellent tchok waangan (eggplant with tamarind) – yum! If you dry those, I’ll share the recipe.. 😀

  32. This is really a creative idea! this potato curry is looking so tempting , I am all over hungry agian now :)).
    thansk for sharing, I love it when someone can use such tempting masala more than one way, coz it simply results in more yummy dishes….
    Thanks for sharing Anita.

    There are a few other masalas that I use inthe potatoes I stuff in samosas… 😀

  33. I didn’t know that sambhar powder has so many uses.In Kerala sambhar powder is strictly used only in sambhar
    I recently came to know that Chicken 65 is made using Sambar powder…am yet to try that out.
    So thats one more use of the “Mystery Powder” 😀

    I am certainly going to explore this Chicken 65 – it even sounds intriguing with that number to the name.

  34. I think you amde some real good use of the spice Anita:) and the title of your post is way too catchy:D

    😀 I thought a little ‘mystery’ might entice some…

  35. Pingback: Huli Pudi and Huli « Masala Magic

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