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Giving ‘arbi’ the air-fryer treatment

Make roasted arbi in a air-fryer, and cook it with whipped dahi for a delicious khatta gravy

(Left) Air-fryer Seppankizhangu roast; and Mama K’s khatti arbi.
(Left) Air-fryer Seppankizhangu roast; and Mama K’s khatti arbi. (Photos by Nandita Iyer)

You might be aware that Bengaluru is facing a severe water crisis and we are counting down the days till the first rain of the season, which should be anytime soon. In anticipation, I bought half a kilo of arbi (also called taro or colocassia in English). No, not to make pakodas or any such fried treat to welcome the rains, but to sow them in my garden.

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Taro roots, or corms as they are called, give out the most glorious elephant-ear like large leaves that make your garden or home look like a tropical paradise. It is the perfect thing to grow when the rains start, so you can enjoy the beauty of the leaves, or use them to make delicacies like patrode and dig out the corms in three-four months to get your own stock of arbi. To germinate the arbi, keep them in a bowl, sprinkle water on them once in a while and cover with a plastic bag with some holes for ventilation. This traps in the heat and allows the arbi to sprout or germinate indoors before you can sow it in the soil.

Do note that if your intent is to get a free plant with beautiful large tropical foliage, sow it in a pot and water it regularly. The root system develops better when sown directly in soil. So, if it is arbi you are after, then a pot may not give much yield.

My YouTube algorithm throws up some fascinating channels on growing food and permaculture because of my interest in these topics, and that’s how I stumbled upon the Hawai’i Institute of Pacific Agriculture’s video on taro (or kalo as they call it in Hawai’i). In Hawai’i kalo is not just a food source but is revered as an ancestor. It’s incredible to know that there’s a whole kalo-centric vocabulary in Hawaiian for each part of the plant, for each stage of processing or cooking it and the tools used to clean or mash it. Mashed taro called poi is often served with pork or fish as a staple in Hawaiian cuisine.

Back to our Indian kitchens, I am a bit concerned that the younger generation of cooks have somewhat distanced themselves from local veggies, either due to lack of glam factor, or because vegetables like banana stem, banana flower, yam, green jackfruit, arbi, etc., take a lot of time and effort in just getting prepped to cook. Some veggies like arbi and sooran (elephant foot yam) come with added woes . Touching and handling their muddy brown skins causes itching and rashes in some people due to the high concentration of calcium oxalate crystals in the vegetable. You can either wear gloves or apply any cooking oil on the hands as a protective layer, but this does risk the knife slipping and causing injury.

While I cook arbi in the usual style of my grandmom and mom in dry curries and as an additional veggie to avial (mixed vegetable curry in a coconut base) or kuzhambu (tamarind-based thin gravy), I was excited to try out seppankizhangu (arbi in Tamil) roast as my first air-fryer experiment to get a tasty dish without the addition of too much oil. I am also in love with the unique arbi recipes shared by my friend chef Kishi Arora and her mom on their Instagram (@mamaktreats) and I am forever bookmarking these to try. Their khatti arbi is one of my favourites, making a rather dense root vegetable into a light flavourful curry. I hope you’ll try both these recipes.

Safety instruction: Avoid eating any part of the taro plant—leaf, stem or tuber, in raw form as it is toxic.

Air-fryer Seppankizhangu Roast

Serves 2

Ingredients
6-8 small to medium sized arbi
2 tsp rice flour
1 tsp salt (or less)
Half tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
Quarter tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp oil

Method

Apply some oil on your hands before handling arbi to prevent an itchy sensation. Wash the arbi well to remove all traces of mud. Place in a vessel and keep the vessel in a pressure cooker with some water. Pressure cook for 2-3 whistles and turn off the heat. Once the cooker releases steam, remove the arbi and let it cool. Peel the skin off. Let the arbi come to room temperature. This makes it dryer and easier to handle.

Cut into a small dice and transfer to a bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients, including the oil, to the bowl and toss gently to coat evenly.

Preheat the air fryer at 190 degrees Celsius. Line the basket with parchment or a greased aluminium foil. Transfer the arbi to the lining sheet and air-fry for 6-7 minutes or until it is golden brown on the outside.

Remove and serve hot with rasam rice.

Mama K’s Khatti Arbi

Serves 2-3

Ingredients
8-9 small sized round arbi
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp mustard oil (or any cooking oil)
Pinch of compound asafoetida
Half tsp ajwain (carom seeds)
Half tsp turmeric powder
1-2 green chillies
Half -1 tsp red chilli powder
Half tsp salt
Pinch of coriander powder
1 cup hot water
Quarter cup thick dahi (whisked)
1-2 tbsp fresh coriander

Method

Apply some oil on your hands to prevent itchy sensation. Wash and peel the arbi. Cut into 1-cm-thick roundels and soak in salted cold water for 30 minutes to remove the sliminess. Wash and drain.

In a pressure cooker, heat the oil. To this, add hing, ajwain, turmeric, green chillies and then add the arbi slices. Stir well for 1-2 minutes. Add red chili powder, salt, and coriander powder. Stir until the edges of the arbi slices turn golden. Pour in a cup of hot water to the cooker and close the lid of the cooker. Pressure cook for two whistles and turn off the flame. Let the cooker cool before opening the lid.

Add dahi to the curry and stir continuously on a low flame. As soon as it starts to simmer, turn off the flame and garnish with fresh coriander. Enjoy with phulkas.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). She posts @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.

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