Friday, 14 December 2012

Graceful ambivalence

Upasachi Batatyachi Bhaji (Potatoes with peanuts)
उपासाची बटाट्याची भाजी 

The potato is perhaps the most ambivalent vegetable ever. First of all, is a potato a vegetable or fruit? Or a starch? Is it good for health or harmful? Is it a connoisseur’s choice or a commoners’ craving?

Is it a food meant for spartan sustenance during religious fasts or designed for a saturnalian spread during feasts?

Economies have been shaken and wars waged over potatoes. Every country has its own signature potato dish and every cuisine stakes a claim over the spud. The potato is equally a domiciliary of Japan as it is of Europe. And in India, a potato is at once an absolute essential in an alu samosa, as it is in an undhiu, a batata wada, a masala dosa or an alu posto.   

As a child, I loved reading mythology and read anything from Amar Chitra Katha to the old and yellowed pothis and purans - religious books with stories and illustrations - that were a part of my grandmother’s collection. I remember wondering and asking Mother if Lord Krishna was a Maharashtrian. I was understandably disappointed to learn that he may have been from the north or north-western parts of the country. Why did he seem so familiar? After all, the stories we were told about him or the stories we read didn’t seem to be narrated or set in any other culture or language other than Marathi!

One night after dinner, discussing and appreciating a Kishangarh miniature painting depicting a Maharasa dance, Mother explained how each of Krishna’s Gopis loved him and wished that he would dance only with her. Krishna would assume as many forms as the number of gopis assembled, giving each one the satisfaction that he had danced exclusively with her.

No wonder I felt that Krishna spoke my language - Marathi! Such was his grace!

Why did I remember this now? Maybe to stretch the celestial analogy a bit over the down-to-earth tater in appreciation of its versatility?

Hmmm… this upvasachi batatyachi bhaji is so Marathi that we can’t imagine or care to remember that the potato was introduced in the country not very long ago!


2 cups boiled, peeled and cubed potato (I also make this without peeling the potatoes and sautéing them rather than boiling)
2 tbsp roasted peanuts, skinned and coarsely powdered
½ tsp cumin seeds
2 green chillies- chopped (or more)
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp oil/ghee
Salt to taste
A pinch of sugar (a typically Marathi thing to do- but you can give it a miss!)


Heat the oil/ghee in a pan and add the cumin seeds to crackle. Throw in the chillies and then immediately add the potato cubes. Add the salt, sugar (if using) and powdered peanuts and cook for a few minutes. Add the lemon juice and switch off the heat. Garnish with coriander.

Serve at any temperature, with any staple food like rice, roti or samo seeds, in a curry puff or toasted sandwich, with a dosa, or just by itself in a bowl.

Remember the potato’s graceful ambivalence?

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