Saturday, 12 October 2013

Potato Kisses

Potato Kees ( बटाट्याचा कीस) 

I have just surfaced – after a surreal, subhuman 12 days of 14-15 hours of mind-fraying and backbreaking work on a client’s audit prep. 

And suddenly cognizant that one of my worlds is celebrating the Navaratris. 

I miss those days of the festivities, the mild fragrance and vivid hues of seasonal flowers like orange and maroon झेंडू  (marigold), the florid velvety कुरुडू  (cockscomb), the pretty pink and purple asters, the yellow शेवंती (chrysanthemums), the magenta सुपारीची फुलं  (Gomphrena). 

These flowers lay in heaps, waiting to be strung into garlands for the gods and door decorations or the colourful bathkamma floral arrangements that the neighbouring Telugu women would carefully prepare for their ritual dances at night. 

We too would gather these flowers, but Aai- my mother would encourage me to think out of the box, and come up with floral arrangements that would preserve the flowers for longer without mauling them and stringing them up to dry in an untimely manner. I was amazed when one year, after buying long stalks of marigold from the flower market, she chose to arrange them in all the large porcelain pickle jars (बरणी) she could find in the house, instead of plucking the flower heads and garlanding them. They looked beautiful- almost like Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, lent our home such a festive air- and stayed fresh for such a long time.

 “That’s what will make the Gods happy, no?” She would say…

Aai’s Gods were always kind and gentle-hearted. And had a thing for aesthetics.

The deities were discerning foodies, too, and would enjoy a daily fare of sweets and savories.  There were the puran poli days and the phulora (sweet pooris) days, along with all other trappings. The complexity of the menu grew along with the wheatgrass grown in a ताम्हण  (plate) on a कलश , and varied with the ceremonial change of the flower mala offered – yes each of the nine days saw a different floral offering. 

But what remained constant as the non-stop-nandadeeps that she carefully tended to day and night for nine days, were Aai’s fasts. 

Legend has it that someone in the family had promised the Goddess to light an oil lamp and one with ghee for the nine days. For many years, as a dutiful daughter-in-law maintaining the family tradition, she rolled out scores of cotton wicks on the little board she used for making sandalwood paste. The cotton had to be the  whitest she could find and oil had to be from the best ghani, the ghee had to be the purest. 

With the house stocked up for the nine-day fuelling of the lamps, their receptacles, the tall brass समई  lamps balanced on a beautiful cobra head would come out of their long hibernation and get an extra shine with tamarind, salt and aritha. 

In a most filmy way, my very non-filmy Aai would also get up in the middle of the night to check the oil and wicks, so the lamps wouldn’t go out. The pathetic fallacy of the Hindi filmy mother like Nirupa Roy cupping the flickering flame in a storm, preventing it from dying out while her offspring fought for their life flashing in my little mind, I would feel happy and secure to see her care and commitment to her family. 

Wasn't that the very purpose of all these activities?

And I may say, as we (and she) grew older, she began to rethink of the purpose of some of these rituals – “I would rather help some needy family buy a liter of oil to cook their food, or a kilo of ghee to nourish their kids, than simply burn it.” 

And Aai's Gods and Goddesses surely approved of that, too. 

Sorry, I got lost in the lamps… so… I was telling you about Aai’s fasts. 

I always wonder how she was able to plan and cook all those exquisite naivedya meals, when she herself abstained. She would eat one meal a day, either the usual fare of sabudana khichadi, bhagar amti, (samo seed and peanut soup) rajgira thalipeeth, potato subji and one my most favourite- potato kees (kees means gratings in Marathi)

Years later, this changed too. Aai stopped fasting, believing she achieved oneness with the almighty by being prudent and restrained with her daily diet, without excesses of any sort that would need to be avoided by punitive fasting.

Her Gods have been all right with this as well.

As for us, we were such greedy kids that we ate all the festive goodies, plus eyed her plateful of “vrat” stuff. But we couldn’t help it - she WAS and IS such a great cook.  And as is all mums’ wont, she would never refuse us an indulgent spoonful. 

She would be rewarded with a little kiss in little game I devised - “Give-me-some kees-and-I-will-give-you-a-kiss” - which being a very undemonstrative parent like most in those days, she would brush off - but not without a smile and some kees, of course.

Potato Kees (Batatyacha Kees)

This is a traditional Marathi dish made for vrats and upavas and is nothing but stir-fried grated sweet potato, much like a rosti or hash browns.

‘Kees’ refers to the action of grating, like ‘kadu kas’ in Hindi.  The finished product is form of cooked gratings, but I have pressed it into a mould for presentation! 


2 cups grated raw potato (I don’t peel potatoes if they have clean skins, and place them in water as soon as they are grated to stop discolouration)
2-3 green chillies, chopped
3 tablespoons roasted crushed peanuts
2 -3 teaspoon/s oil ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon sugar/sweetener (not required if the potatoes are sweet in taste)
A squirt of lemon juice
Salt to taste
2 tbsp chopped coriander

Some people add a dash of grated ginger.


Heat the oil in a shallow pan and add the cumin seeds to splutter. Add the green chillies and then add the grated potato after squeezing out the water. Mix thoroughly and cook covered on low heat for a few minutes. Then add the peanuts, sugar/sweetener, lemon juice, salt and mix thoroughly, but with a light touch, so as not to mash the gratings. Cook further, stirring minimally, only to avoid burning from the bottom. The grates get cooked and look translucent very quickly, within a few minutes.

Remove from heat and serve garnished with coriander.


  1. As always, excellent story. I must confess, I visit your blog for the stories, your recipes are an awesome bonus :-)

    1. Thank you so much - I can see from your blog where our synergies lie! :)


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