By Jyoti Lajmi July 2006 Humble, democratic, at ease in company and in solitude, the potato’s balanced attitude makes it deeply spiritual. A tribute to everyone’s favorite veggie. I know this may sound a bit absurd, but the potato for me is a very ‘spiritual’ vegetable. Not only because it is my favorite, but also because of its balanced ‘attitude’! The potato, I feel, combines well with any other vegetable or meat and also has the courage to stand completely on its own. No doubt it looks a little unprepossessing, but slice it, heat some oil, sputter some mustard seeds, throw in some crushed garlic, brown the slices of potato nice and crisp, and it’s as pretty a sight as anyone would want to see, not to mention a feast for the palate. Boil, peel and mash potatoes with a dash of butter, pepper and salt and it makes an amazing side dish. Add some curd and it goes with sambar-rice. If chopped onions, tomatoes, green chillies and coriander leaves are added, it makes a superb dip. Or add some mayonnaise, to turn it into a salad. Try as you might, you can never really go wrong with the potato. It is probably the only vegetable that can appear at breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner all in one day. While it makes a great side dish as sabzi with dosa, paratha, or puri for breakfast, it can make a remarkable lunch when served as a stew, a baked potato or cutlet. Teatime can be a yummy experience with batata poha, potato bhajias or batata vadas. And who would not applaud its appearance at the dinner table in accompaniment with brinjal, cauliflower, beans or cabbage? Can any other vegetable boast such versatility? If the potato inhabits your home, sudden guests will never make you sweat. All you have to do is chop a few and add them into an already prepared curry to save face. Be it chicken, meat or egg curry, the potato easily swings into gear. Extra salt in the curry? No problem. The potato comes to the rescue. What I like most about it is that it makes no distinction of class, caste, color or creed. Rich or poor, the potato finds its way in and behaves in much the same manner in every home. Despite being dumped unceremoniously in a corner of the kitchen while the rest of the veggies take a place of honor in the cool recesses of the refrigerator, the potato uncomplainingly does its best whenever called upon. The only time I have seen it protest at all is when it has been neglected for really long periods in favor of its supposedly tastier counterparts. And then too, it quietly springs out ugly little greyish sprouts – which I peel off and carry on as if nothing has happened. Over the years, most of my friends have got wind of my penchant for the potato. While tolerating my menu, which always offers one major dish featuring the potato, my friends add one to their own menus whenever I happen to be on the guest list. ‘For Jyoti,’ they say somewhat apologetically, as they place the dish discreetly in one corner of the table. For some strange reason, the potato is not considered much of a party vegetable. So, my friends try to disguise the potato as much as possible and serve it to me in many delectable forms. Stuffed into big long green chillies dipped in gram batter and deep fried, coaxed into bitter gourds tied securely with string so you wouldn’t know it’s potato till you’ve bitten off a generous chunk, cabbage leaves made into pockets filled with baked potato sprinkled with grated cheese, and eggplant and Parmesan with potato rings hiding inconspicuously under red and brown layers, and so on and so forth. If it’s true that ‘we are what we eat’, I am sure some of the positive aspects of the potato must have rubbed off on me. If Jonathan Livingston Seagull has taught me the importance of flying apart and higher from the flock to reach my goal, the potato has taught me to be open-minded enough to blend well in any society, rise to any occasion with a helping hand and yet stand apart with pride on my own in the world when need be.
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