Friday, December 7, 2012

Technicolor bangers and mash

What started out as a very tame dinner of bangers and mash ended up being a surprisingly delicious experiment and, as you can see in the photo below, a carnival on a plate.  Send in the clowns.

It's got the Mardi Gras thing going' on...

Can you recognize any food elements in this photo?  Pork sausage (aka banger) is near the top on the left.  Those are organic beet greens from red and yellow beets on the right.  Sauteed red and white onions are draped over the top of the sausage and that pool of yellow stuff?  That is the sauce from the onion gravy, laced with a little coarse mustard.  Now, what the heck is Barney doing hiding under the sausage and onion gravy??? 

Photo from

That violent Mardi Gras purple is actually a color found in nature.  That is what purple sweet potatoes look like when they're peeled and boiled like regular potatoes, then whipped into a pudding-like consistency with lots of butter and heavy cream.  Tweaked with a little Ethiopian spice mixture, they were amazingly creamy, plenty sweet enough on their own and beautifully harmonious with the sharpness of the mustardy onion gravy and the spices in the bangers I had bought at Central Market.  The beet greens provided an unintended but striking visual counterpoint, and were delicious just simply prepared with a little EVOO, garlic, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

I'm pretty adventurous in the kitchen, but working with some new recipe ideas from the Food Network site and two foods I'd never tried before made me hesitate a teensy bit.  The pan-fried bangers and the onion gravy were exceedingly simple, and deciding to enhance the gravy with the coarse mustard rather than serving it alongside made sense.  But the mash was where I decided to change things up.  Having previously baked a small purple sweet potato--acquired from my local HEB--on Thanksgiving Day, I was pleasantly surprised at its sweetness and dense, cakey texture.  I didn't want to ramp up the sweetness for this dinner, I wanted to complement it.  Adding cream and butter made sense, but what might work to enhance the sweetness and still pull the rest of the dinner elements together?  A little exotic heat.

I went on a sniffing expedition in my spice rack.  No to cayenne.  No to Hungarian sharp paprika.  No to hot chile powder.  No to chipotle powder.  No to Slap Ya Mama.  The exoticism of fenugreek, cardamom and coriander in my hot curry powder might work, but I really didn't want a curry powder profile.  I was also concerned about that violent yellow that turmeric contributes.  I remembered from grade-school art class that yellow and purple were opposites on the color wheel and mixing them together would yield a muddy color.  Then my hand hovered over a container of Ethiopian spice mixture called mit' mit' a, a pungent combination of ground serrano chiles, cardamom, cloves and salt.  One sniff (and several sneezes later) and I was seasoning the boiled purple sweet potatoes after just a moment's hesitation about "what if this is a bad idea?"  I tasted, smiled and decided there was just enough heat and depth from the chilies, cloves and cardamom that the potatoes could have been a perfect solo.  But when everything came together on the plate, it was a symphony.

So, ladies and gentlemen, what you have before you tonight is technicolor bangers and mash.  Elements of familiarity along with the unexpected.  Even my suspicious husband put aside his phood phobias long enough to not only try the purple sweet potatoes, but to clean his plate.  There were no comments except, "Mmmm, good stuff, babe." 

Thank goodness for dim lighting in the dining room...

Bangers with Ethiopian-Spiced Purple Sweets and Onion-Mustard Gravy 

     You can, of course, make this recipe with regular sweet potatoes or even white utility potatoes--Yukon golds make a fine substitution and are in keeping with the classic intention of this dish--but omit the mit' mit' a seasoning if you use white or gold potatoes and spice them with about 2 Tbs. grainy mustard instead.

2 lbs. purple sweet potatoes (or substitute the sweetest sweet potatoes you can, or even white or gold potatoes)
4 large bangers (you can find these at Central Market)
1 Tbs. oil
1 small red onion or white onion, cut into 3/8" rings
2 Tbs. flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbs. grainy mustard
3 Tbs. butter
4 Tbs. cream, half and half or milk

1 tsp. mit' mit' a seasoning (can be purchased at Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant or find a recipe here; if you are using white or gold potatoes, omit the mit' mit' a and add 2 Tbs. grainy mustard instead)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1.)  Peel and dice the potatoes.
2.)  Place potatoes in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with cold water and a little salt.
3.)  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 or 20 minutes, or until tender.
4.)  While potatoes are cooking, prick bangers with a fork and heat the oil a large skillet over medium-high heat.
5.)  When the oil is shimmering, add the sausages and brown them well all over, reducing heat if necessary.
6.)  Remove the sausage to a plate and keep warm.
7.)  Add the onion to the pan and cook until softened.
8.)  Add the flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring until all the flour is incorporated with the oil and sauteed onions.
9.)  Add the chicken stock and the mustard to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring well to incorporate the mustard.
10.)  Return the sausages to the pan, cooking them thoroughly, for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Salt and pepper the gravy to taste.
11.)  Drain the potatoes and add butter and cream to the pot.  Mash until smooth or whip with an electric
12.)  Stir in mit' mit' a seasoning (omit for white or gold potatoes and substitute mustard instead if you wish), taste for salt and adjust if necessary.
13.)  To serve, mound the potatoes in the middle of the plate and arrange sausage on top; cover with gravy.  Makes 4 serves.

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