Somehow, a vegetarian writing about food is looked upon as a celibate talking about sex. Okay, I don’t think food when I see a lamb or a crab, and I do have a vegetarian kitchen for the most part (except one shelf in my freezer for he-who-must-be-satiated-with-cold-cuts). But this is not an attempt to celebrate vegetarianism or to condemn meat—just that I can only write about what I know.
And I do know my veggies—just the sight of them makes me happy. Bright orange carrots, shiny happy purple brinjals, tender green succulent beans and lady fingers, flaming red tomatoes, convoluted red, green and yellow peppers and luscious pumpkins with their guts spilled out, can do a lot to alleviate my mood.
I can’t help noticing the hierarchy in the vegetarian world. Like in the world of showbiz, there are stars and there is the supporting cast. Some vegetables —like brinjals, drumsticks, cauliflower, capsicum, lady fingers, baby onions will always be stars, since they have the personality and intensity to carry off a movie on their own.
The others get relegated to supporting cast—carrots, radish, tomatoes, cabbage, gherkins, sweet potato, colocassia (arbi) raw banana, yam, spring onions, bottle gourd (doodhi), fenugreek(methi), spinach (palak), white pumpkin, snake gourd (padval), peas, and the lesser varieties of beans that populate the periphery of most vegetable carts.
These, though with quirks of their own, lack individuality and sometimes, aesthetic and therefore need to cling to something else. Like palak with aaloo or paneer, methi with aloo, white pumpkin with beans, snake gourd with yam or raw banana, carrots with cabbage or beetroot, tomatoes with anything.
The potato is an exception, because it can either be the star or the supporting cast depending on the situation.
But sometimes, supporting actors can walk away with the accolades. Like arbi. My childhood memories of these muddy, messy tubers include amongst other things, feeling grossed out by the mucilage that coated your palms as each one slipped out of its skin when peeled post boiling.
“Have to do the work before you enjoy the fruit,” was what my dad would say. It was he who actually made me fall in love with this tuber, with his numerous creations, most of which involved tamarind. He often threw it into a sambar, and we greedy ones would eagerly fish them out one by one. He also made a fine dry arbi with a tamarind reduction (only we didn’t know it was called reduction those days).
When I had my own kitchen, arbi would make an appearance ever so often, at least once every two weeks. Here are three of my favourite arbi recipes—one inherited from my father, and two from my mother-in-law.
Arbis in tamarind gravy
Juice from a lemon sized ball of tamarind, soaked in water
Arbis: ¼ kilo
Sambar masala: 2 tsps
Salt to taste
Boil and peel the arbis. Cut the bigger ones into twos or threes and transfer to a large bowl.
To these arbis, add salt, turmeric powder, two teaspoons sambar powder, and the first and second pressed juice of the tamarind. Mix well and set aside.
Heat oil in a kadhai and add a teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they splutter, add hing and curry leaves followed by the arbi mixture.
Cook on a slow flame for 10-15 minutes, tossing occasionally till the tamarind juice is completely reduced and the arbis are dry.
Serve hot with chapattis or rice.
¼ kilo arbis
Boil the arbis for at least three whistles in a pressure cooker. Cool and peel.
Flatten each peeled arbi on your palm, shaping the edges as you do so.
Heat oil in a shallow pan and shallow fry the arbis, turning them over as they turn golden brown.
Sprinkle chat masala on the arbi cutlets and serve hot.
Arbis: ¼ kilo
Salt, chilli powder, amchur to taste
Parboil the arbis and peel them. Cut into round slices and set aside.
Heat one tbsp oil in a pan and add the ajwain. When it splutters, add chilli powder and the arbi slices and stir.
Add amchur powder and salt to taste and cook on slow flame till the arbis are somewhat crisp.