Sunday, January 15, 2006


This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.

R is for Ratala Kees.

We are already at the final 1/3rd of the alphabet! The letter "R" is a sweet treat in many ways. It stands for rava or cream of wheat (coarsely ground wheat also known as "farina" or "semolina"), a pantry staple in most Indian households. Although rava has many uses in sweet and savory foods, the Marathi favorite is the rava ladoo, rava cooked with ghee, sugar and cardamom and molded into little balls. Rava can also be cooked into an easy stove-top pudding called "sheera", and we shall make this for "S" in a few days.
Ras in Marathi means "juice" and aamras, simply called ras is the thick pulp of the mango. In the summer months, mango reigns supreme, and the bright orange aromatic "ras" is served at most meals in a little bowl, to be scooped up with some hot rotis, or for festive occasions, with a hot puffy fried puri.
One "R" dessert that is loved across the length and breadth of India is rasmalai, where small cheese dumplings are soaked in a sweet flavored milky syrup. I love making and serving rasmalai, and will devote a whole post to this wonderful dessert soon.
Now on to the savory "R" foods. The most popular spicy "R" food is ragda-patties, and I have posted that recipe already. From "ras" or juice comes another word, rassa or juicy curry, and the egg rassa is an example of this popular Marathi curry.
In the produce section, we have the power-house of nutrition, the ratala or sweet potato. It is unfortunate that we don't eat this amazing vegetable more the US, the sweet potato is almost exclusively eaten at the thanksgiving holiday, and in Marathi homes, it is eaten mostly on days of religious fasts. By all accounts, it ought to be a much more routine part of our diet because of its excellent nutritional profile. Religious fast days allow for some restricted foods such as tapioca, potato, sweet potato and certain spices like cumin but forbid garlic, onion and many other foods. The sweet potato recipe I chose to make today is called ratala kees ("kees" means "grated") and this is a traditional "fasting day" dish. Personally, I think the natural sweetness and beautiful color of sweet potatoes makes this a wonderful side-dish for any meal, Indian or otherwise, any old day of the year. This recipe can be made in exactly the same way with regular potatoes. I adapted the recipe from this one that I found online.
This recipe is also my entry for ARF/5-a-day over at Sweetnicks, an event geared towards helping us all to make better nutritional choices.

Ratala Kees (Grated Sweet Potato)

serves 3-4
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp ghee or butter
1 tsp cumin seeds
4-5 fresh curry leaves
2 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
salt to taste
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp minced cilantro leaves
1. Wash, peel and grate the sweet potato coarsely into a bowl (this can be done manually or using the grating attachment of a food processor).
2. Heat the oil and ghee in a skillet. Add cumin seeds and curry leaves and saute for a minute.
3. Add grated sweet potatoes, salt and cayenne pepper. Saute for a minute, then cook partially covered on medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, till potatoes are just tender.
4. Add the crushed peanuts and saute for a minute more.
5. Turn off the heat, then stir in lemon juice. Garnish with cilantro.

This dish can be served warm or at room temperature. The natural sweetness of the sweet potato is a very pleasing contrast to the nutty peanut crunch and the slight spicy kick from the cumin and red chillies. Note that the sweet potato tends to stick to the bottom of the pan, so I had to use a non-stick skillet to avoid this. Another note: If you work reasonably quickly, the grated sweet potato does not discolor as it sits around. If the sweet potato is grated into a bowl of water, this is one way to avoid discoloration, but you will lose some water-soluble vitamins. I would suggest getting your ingredients organized, then grating the sweet potato (not into water) and sauteeing it right away.
We shall meet in a few days to look at "S" let me know if you have any suggestions for this letter!


  1. Hi Nupur, I agree with you when you say that sweet potatoes need to be used more often in our kitchens. I, too, think that it is a versatile ingredient.
    I appreciate the way you always neatly present the recipes. They are well researched and always very well written. Going by them, I think you too can make a good teacher.
    Now what is 'S' for? Shepoochi bhaaji?

  2. Hey Nupur, today I got around to reading a lot of writeups posted by you and I was so happy to discover all those Konkani recipes. I am a Maharashtrian (maaherchi Deshpande) married to a Konkani. And I love Konkani food. Maybe I too can do an 'A to Z of Konkani food' in future. I am not so confident as yet. Anyway, I am really happy that I came across your blog.

  3. another recipe, i can try . Yay. since I got all the ingredients at hand. Except peanuts. do u think i can substitue with walnuts .

  4. hi nupur,

    i enjoy reading your blog and i think your writeups are fun and informative. about this specific item, i thought ratala (or ratalu in gujarati) is purple yam. in gujarati we call sweet potato 'shakkariya'. so what is purple yam in marathi? just curious!

  5. oh good good good - I never know what to do with sweet potato, but I'm going to try this recipe now!

  6. hi nupur

    i've never commented here before but i must say i love your site and visit regularly :-)
    i grew up in bombay and had maharashtrian neighbours all my life so you can imagine how much i love the foods and their flavours. (otherwise i'm from south india, with gujarati and marwadi cousins, so i'm literally all over the place!)
    now, how about 'solkadi' and 'saar' for the 's' recipes....mmmmmm , my favourites :-)

  7. Hi Vaishali, thanks for saying that! I really do hope you write the A-Z of Konkani food...I have so much to learn in the konkani food dept.
    And would you believe that I have never eaten shepoochi bhaji in my whole life? Somehow it was never made in my parents home.

    Hi Courtney, yeah, and this recipe is a little bit like mashed potatoes.

    Bilbo, let me know if it works. Walnuts would taste great in this recipe!

    Hi Anonymous, so glad you left a comment! Purple yam is called "suran" in marathi (same as in hindi) and I had no idea that yam was ratalu in gujarati. very interesting!

    Hi Shammi, let me know if it works :)

    Hi Radhika, thanks for leaving a comment! You are right on with your "S" suggestions...I AM making one of them as the "S" food!

  8. Hey Nupur,

    Thanks for another 'Everyday food' dish. I recently tried your recipe for Moongambat... easy to put together and delicious. I will let you know when I try this one. Sounds delicious and nutritious.

  9. dear nupur, s for sankrantiche tilache ladu. we just celebrated the festival 2 days back so its timely too.s also for shikran, v typical maharashtrian.s stands for sugaran [thats what you are, who can churn anything into a delicacy ]and we all go by yr salla [which is the chefs advice]for the non marathis.sanja, shankarpale, sutarfeni, supari[mukhvas],sanjorya[sweet polis filled with sheera],sakharbhat, shevgyachya shengachi amti,shrikhand,shevaya[chi kheer, too],suralichya vadya,samosa, shev,sabudana vada and khichdi,shengdanyachi chikki,shingadyacha ladu,also s for sarbat, santracha or safarchandacha muramba,.........oh, the list seems endless. all the best. love, yoma.

  10. Yum! I love sweet potatoes and eat them often, but usually I just bake them. This sounds delicious and quite different from what I'm used to. I'll definitely give it a try!

    PS - I assume peanut powder is just ground peanuts?

  11. Dear Nupur,
    As always - this dish looks delicous. I love sweet potatoes cooked in unconventional ways and look forward to trying out this recipe. (i'll also have to pass on my family's mashed sweetpotato + goat cheese/truffle oil recipe for other variations on this theme!)
    Anyways, maybe we can talk in lab tomorrow, but i'd love to go with you soon to Queens to finally pick up some fresh curry leaves. perhaps this weekend? Also - what happened to your new 'recipe watch'? i loved that idea because you have such a fantastic network of food bloggers - but i just can't keep up. :D

    Talk to you soon, dear,

  12. Nupur, I am tagging you for a meme. I hate leaving long links in the comments, but you can read about it at my site. Hope you can do it. I thought it was fun.

  13. Hi Garam Masala, Thanks for trying moogambat, and I'm so glad it worked out! Sprouts are really so delicious.

    Hi Yoma..whoa, you are a veritable fountainhead of ideas :) thanks for all the superb suggestions!

    Hi Cathy, yes, peanut powder is just peanuts ground up coarse or fine, whatever one likes. It just adds some texture to this simple dish.
    I love baked sweet potatoes with just salt and pepper and a dab of butter...lately I have been doing this in the microwave (after pricking the sweet potatoes all over with a fork to let the steam escape).

    Laureen girl, Recipe watch should come around once a month :) thats how long it is taking me to try 5 new blogger recipes!

    Hi Kalyn, thanks so much...I will do the meme on the weekend!

  14. I made this last night for dinner (with yellow sweet potatos, not the orange yams), and it was outstanding! yest another wonderful find. Thanks for the tour through Marathi cuisine.

  15. Hey Nupur...

    Have tagged you for the 7 Meme...

    For further details..visit..

  16. I eat swet potatoes alot, they are very popular in Australia and I call them kumera as my mum is a kiwi and that is the maori name for them.

  17. hi nupur,

    sorry didnt mean to sound rude, i didnt realize that i was typing 'anonymously'! anyway, well, regular yam is suran in gujarati and purple yam is ratalu. anyway, am looking forward to the remaining alphabets that you're going to uncover.

  18. Hi Nupur! Thanks so much for visiting Weekly Dish! I adore sweet potatoes, and I'm glad to see them being treated with respect in another vicinity besides the American South. As a matter of fact, I had a whole week in November devoted to cooking with them, just to showcase their talents. But, in truth, I like them best as you have prepared them: simply, with a few accents and contrasts to their own flavor. I will have to give your recipe a try.

  19. Hi Diane, I'm so glad it worked!!

    Tina, thanks...I'm just not sure coz I'm a little shy about writing personal stuff on this blog :)

    Clare, how interesting! So what is the favorite maori way to cook 'em?

    Hi Anahita, thanks for visiting!

    Jennifer, thanks for letting me know about ur sweet potato week...i'm very excited about trying them out in new recipes!

  20. here is soemthing I found about yam-ratale-sweet potato-suran.
    Sweet Potato (Ratale) is refered to as Yam in the US. howevere the real Yam is the Suran (Elephant Foot).Read more here

  21. Hi Nupur - I LOVE these alpha posts. I feel like I'm learning a new language the best possible way...bit by bit with food words! I myself am a big fan of sweet potatoes and tend to have them in the house more than regular potatoes. I like sweet potato fries sprinkled with garam masala and just made this spicy chipotle casserole. Also, wanted to give you a heads up on the NYC Food Bloggers mailing list, newly created after a few of us got together for a potluck last weekend. Would love to try one of your dishes sometime!


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