COLOCASIA (Hindi : ARBI or ARVI), a “powerhouse vegetable” is one of the oldest vegetables of the Indian Subcontinent. —————– Much before that nouveau upstart, the POTATO taking over the Subcontinent kitchens in such a comprehensive manner, COLOCASIA was the “preferred tuber.” In fact, Colocasia is not just indigenous to India, but large parts of Eastern Asia as well. In the Philippines, it goes under a name similar to our ARBI/ARVI ——– ABI, and is a popular veggie. Besides, of course, it is most popularly used as TARO everywhere.
COLOCASIA was always the go-to-veggie in homes. The aloo-meat curry, one of the most basic ways of combining goat meat and potatoes in a spicy thin gravy in Northern India may be deemed “home-style” today, but it was quite likely to have been preceded by ARBI-MEAT curry as the original starch-protein combination. Fried Colocasia fingers make for an interesting textural counterpoint in this style of gravy dish, popular in U.P., primarily in Muslim but also KAYASTHA homes.
The favoured way to cook the tuber is, of course, to FRY IT. Since Colocasia is also a “monsoon ingredient”, this makes sense given the fact that the Indian kitchen, whose functioning was based in AYURVEDA, preferred a switch to “heat-inducing” foods gradually as the monsoon cooled the Subcontinent and to fried foods to keep diseases at bay.
That is also perhaps why ARBI & AJWAIN make for such a perfect marriage. AJWAIN (carom) is known for its digestive properties, and a perfect recipe to use the “monsoon spice” (carom), warding off stomach infection, common this time of the year, to coat fried Colocasia.
Even the leaves are fashioned out into PATODE in UP, Bihar & Gujarat use a sprinkling of carom in the masala spiking gram flour (BESAN). PATODE is a recipe for the rainy day : The leaves of the Colocasia need to be cleaned and washed, spread out and then coated with a thin batter of spiced gram flour. They can be layered, folded and then rolled (like a Swiss Roll), before being steamed. Cut into rounds and deep fry for a tea-time snack. You may not find more exotic PAKORA anywhere.
Colocasia is an invaluable source of dietary fibre. The CORMS have more calories than potatoes, and these come primarily from “complex carbs”, which are slow-digestive”, will thus help fill you up more and also help elevate blood sugar levels gradually —–unlike simple, easy-to-break- down carbs.
The leaves, on the other hand, have antioxidants beta-carotenes and a significant amount of Vitamin A that is good for your eye-sight amongst other things. And the CORM has some essential minerals as well —- zinc, magnesium and potassium that help regulate heart rate and BP. So, Colocasia is actually a “powerhouse of nutrients” ——- a “super food” —– in its own right.
Colocasia is trending as an ingredient, especially at “modern” Indian establishments. ARBI TUK, for instance, has suddenly made an appearance on many menus, including at “The Bombay Canteen” in Mumbai, pegged on local gastronomy and a re-invention of forgotten regional recipes.
TUK is a Sindhi term, essentially for deep frying vegetables and then tossing them in dry masala. For ARBI TUK, all you need is boil the Colocasia, flatten it and the deep fry till it is crisp and golden. Then toss in a masala of dry coriander powder, red chilly powder and dry mango (AMCHOOR) powder. This recipe is essentially the same as followed in many parts of UP as well, where, one other spice is added to the crispy ARBI / ARVI, and that is AJWAIN (carom). It elevates the dish to another level.
In Punjabi-influenced cooking, ARBI may of course be cooked in a generic onion-tomato masala. But its charm can be better appreciated if you use the spices discerningly and selectively. Dried fenugreek (METHI) is another ingredient that goes well with Colocasia. Pan-roast the tuber and then coat it with a masala that includes a whiff of KASOORI METHI. You won’t forget the flavour.