Chembu/ Sepankizhangu/ Arbi Mezhukkuvaratti (Pan Roasted Spicy Colocasia)
Though this year has been quite good so far, quite a few things I had planned for just haven’t been happening quite in the way I expected. One of those things was getting back to blogging regularly. Unfortunately for me, two episodes of a very bad throat infection and all the stuff that comes with it have ensured that I haven’t even been able to clear out pending drafts on the blog!
So here I am, after an unintentional break from blogging, with a recipe that’s a traditional Palakkad Iyer favourite though it’s not one of mine. I’m a little different from some in my community in some of my food tastes in that I don’t like anything cooked with raw bananas, elephant yam and Colocasia, to mention a few community favourites.
I’d go as far as saying the only tuber vegetables I like are the potato, carrots and the Daikon radish (only in Indian flatbreads called parathas, or this pickle) all of which are not traditionally endemic to Kerala or what is generally known there as “naadan”. Oh yes, I also like tapioca/ cassava which is a favourite in Kerala but that’s about it.
I dislike Colocasia because it has an almost sticky sliminess (for want of a better description) when cooked (though this disappears once it's been fried), I tend to avoid going anywhere near it when I’m at my local market. It’s a purely unintentional and almost unconscious habit but one that’s a fair one because my husband loves this dirty unappealing looking vegetable! So about once every couple of months, I make an effort to remember to buy Colocasia just for him.
There are more than a couple of ways to cook it, but my husband’s favourite dish with it is a simple “Mezhukkuvaratti/ Mezhukkupuratti” which is how we in Kerala, describe a dish that involves stir-frying certain vegetables in coconut oil so that they’re cooked soft inside but crisp outside with minimal use of spices. Mezhukkuvaratti or Mezhukkupuratti means just that – stir-frying or coating with oil usually with only salt, turmeric powder, chilli powder and curry leaves as seasoning.
This recipe is pretty much the same as this recipe for Vazhakkai/ Raw Plantain Mezhukkuvaratti except in the way in which the vegetable here is prepared before it is stir-fried.
As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog before, the Palakkad Iyer style of cooking (and language) is essentially rooted in its Tamil origins with heavy influences from Kerala. So Colocasia which is “Sepankizhangu” in Tamil, is pronounced as “Chepankizhangu” by most of us Palakkad Iyers who have adopted the Malayalam version.
It is Arbi or Arvi for those who are more familiar with the Hindi name for it.
- The first thing to do is to clean the caked mud/ soil from the Colocasia tubers if they are dirty. Either way, wash them well in water. If they have caked dirt then soak them in water for about 10 to 15 minutes to loosen it before washing them.
- Then cook the Colocasia so that they’re done, but are still firm and not mushy. I pressure cook them for a couple of “whistles” (short duration) like we usually do in India. Drain the water and peel off the skin like for boiled potatoes. Let them cool completely and then cut or slice them into even shaped pieces, but not too small.
- Sprinkle the turmeric powder, the chilli powder and the salt over the Colocasia pieces and toss them lightly in a bowl so that they get coated with the spice.
- Heat the oil in a wok or non-stick/ thick bottomed frying pan. Add the safetida and the curry leaves and stir a couple of times without letting the asafoetida burn. Now add the spiced Colocasia pieces and lightly toss them in the oil.
- Let them cook over medium heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, uncovered, until they crisp up. Toss the Colocasia a couple of times to redistribute and turn them, without breaking the pieces, so they’re evenly crisped.
- When done, transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm on the side with rice and a curry with gravy like Sambhar, Pulissery or Rasam.