banana-tree-right banana-tree-left
A colourful vegetable seller’s market with women selling sweet potatoes, green chillies and lemons.J P Singhal, Print from the portfolio Abundance from Rural India
Published by M L Binani and Dinesh Singhal, c. 1970, Print on paper,
POP.01069-3

Batata’s origins

Sweet potato or Ipomoea batatas L. was grown in the Caribbean as batata or camata as early as the 15th century. They were introduced to the subcontinent as early as the 17th century and the North-east of India was particularly known for its cultivation. In 2018, Proceedings of the National Academies of Science of the USA frequently published about the origins of the Convolvulaceae (morning glory) family that the sweet potato belongs to and found evidence of sweet potato’s origins from the East Gondwana region, which is the region surrounding India, Australia and Antarctica. Today a rather ordinary vegetable, sold in most markets like shown in J P Singhal’s print, they give us enormous comfort, cooked as a snack across India like in the recipe below.

Shakarkandi Chaat by Shilpa Vijayakrishnan

“My favourite thing about living in Delhi was the winter. I loved everything about it – the cold, the fog and winter vegetables. Although sweet potatoes weren’t particularly a winter vegetable, there was something special about eating them, freshly cooked over coal, in the winter. Even today, years after I’ve left the city, sweet potatoes carry a strong sense of time, place and feeling for me, like all great art and food does. They remind me of stopping for this delectable chaat in the markets of Lajpat or Sarojini Nagar with a friend, sharing a laugh and warmth in the cold. This version of sweet potato chaat doesn’t replicate the taste found in the carts of Delhi, but it’s still delicious and carries for me the joy that its memory brings.”

List of ingredients

For 3-4 people (small portions)
Time: 25 minutes

250-500 gm sweet potatoes
A pinch of Salt
A pinch of Cumin powder
A pinch of Chaat masala
Few Green chillies (finely chopped)
1-2 Lemons
1-2 sprigs of Coriander (optional)

Method

Boil sweet potatoes in a pressure cooker: submerge them in water and cook for 2 whistles over a medium flame.

Peel the skin of the cooked potatoes and discard. Chop the flesh into small cubes. (Don’t worry if your sweet potato has overcooked, this tastes equally good in crumbly, mash consistency!)

Add finely chopped green chillies, salt, cumin powder, chaat masala, along with lemon juice. Use proportions as per taste. More lemon juice if you like it zingy, more green chillies if you can take the heat.

Add coriander if using and serve! (Remember not to add a lot of coriander, or the balance of flavours will be overthrown.)

If you have an oven, you could also roast the sweet potatoes.

Another take would be to parboil and fry the sweet potatoes.
Different flavours, but yummy, in all three instances.