Arbi or Taro is a starchy, tuberous vegetable that is in fact a crom of the plant species Colocasia Esculenta. Almost entirely edible – its leaves, stem and corms are all used in a variety of dishes. Growing up, it was always a delight and surprise to find arbi on the table. A soft, starchy sabzi that triggered thoughts of potato fry but was always satisfyingly luscious and delicious in its own right. The most common way to cook arbi is to fry it. It can also be steamed and then tempered or made in to a curry. Since I grew up eating the stir fried version, that’s what I recreated using the instant pot. My version of arbi ki sabzi can be done two ways, each is easy and doesn’t need too much time.
Arbi is found most of the year, but the new crop in spring and early summer is probably the best. The corms aren’t fibrous and cook easily. I’ve rediscovered arbi in Arizona. A lot of common vegetables from South Asia are hard to find in the US. Indian grocery stores, a term often used on this blog, are the only sources for things like bhindi, lauki, kundru and arbi amongst others. For many years I hadn’t found fresh arbi in such abundance as here and naturally hadn’t cooked with it. One thing I did recall from watching it being prepared at home was its nasty itchiness; more on that below.
How to make Arbi ki Sabzi:
Arbi can be cooked in a couple of ways – a simple straightforward shallow fry or a two step process where it is boiled first and then tempered. Using the instant pot, I cooked it both ways. Before I get to the actual method of cooking I am sharing below how to clean it without getting your hands itchy.
Total Time: 35- 40 minutes
Prep time: 15 minutes; Cooking Time: 20 minutes
- Arbi / Taro / Colocasia – about 1 pound per recipe
- Oil – 2 to 4 tbsp
For the stir fry:
- Rai / mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
- Ajwain/ Caraway seeds – 1/2 tsp
- Haldi / Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
- Coriander powder – 1 tsp
- Red chilli powder – 1/2 tsp
- Salt as per taste
For Boiled and Tempered Sabzi:
- Zeera / Cumin – 1 tsp
- Heeng / Asafoetida – 1/2 tsp
- Red chilli powder – 1/2 tsp
- Haldi/ Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
- Salt as per taste
Prickly taro – how to avoid the itch
Taro, arbi or colocasia esculenta has a compound called calcium oxalate in its skin that causes itching on contact externally or if one ingests uncooked or partially cooked corms. While researching the cause of itching, I came across this 1991 newsletter from the University of Hawaii. They, like other sources, suggest using baking soda or salt to reduce itching.
Tips from the homemaker
The tip I learnt is to prevent itching in the first place. My memory about whom I saw doing this first is a little sketchy. But both, my mom and grandmother, would oil their palms with a cooking oil – mustard, sunflower, canola – before working with washed arbi. When rubbed generously on dry hands oil forms a film that clings fast. It’s not entirely uniform, so it’s best to keep refreshing it.
I washed all the arbi I had in running water and scrubbed the corms well to loosen any dirt. Then patted them dry and kept half of them aside to boil – which is one way to cook arbi.
Next, I oiled my hands generously using mustard oil, above, and peeled the portion I planned to shallow fry. You can either use a knife to scrape the skin or simply peel with a vegetable peeler. I prefer the peeler for its cleaner result.
Arbi ki Sabzi in the Instant Pot – Two Ways
Stir Fried Arbi Wedges
For the stir fried version I chose to slice cleaned arbi into wedges. Then turned on the instant pot to the saute setting at high for 10 minutes.
Once hot, I added 1 tbsp of oil to the pot followed by rai and ajwain. Just as these started sputtering, added the masalas – turmeric, red chilli powder, coriander powder and salt. Quickly stirred the masalas so as to avoid burning them. Then put in all the wedges, turning them in between to brown the sides until the end of the saute setting.
Since the wedges are just raw colocasia they need a little more time to cook through completely. I closed the lid with the knob in its sealing position and set the instant pot to pressure cook on high at 4 minutes. After letting the pressure release naturally, turned the knob to the venting position.
Be careful while doing this. It helps to throw a kitchen towel over the vent and letting it soak in the steam.
If there is still some moisture in the pot, turn it on to saute on normal for a few minutes – 5 should be enough. Keep an eye on it and turn the wedges as needed to avoid any burning. That’s it. Arbi wedges are ready to serve. They go well with fresh paranthas as well as accompaniments with dal and rice.
Boiled and Tempered Arbi ki Sabzi
The second method for making arbi in the instant pot requires boiling or steaming the corms. That first step takes care of most of the cooking. Once steamed, the corms barely need any further cooking except for the tadka (tempering) to add flavour. I chose to use a pan for the tadka, but that can just as easily be done in the Instant Pot on the saute setting.
Steaming and peeling arbi:
Before steaming the corms, wash them under running water. If possible brush the skin thoroughly to remove any dirt. Then place the steam insert in your instant pot, add about 1/4 cup of water to the pot. Place all the washed arbi on the steaming insert inside the pot. Close the lid, turn the vent to the sealing position and steam for 4 minutes. Once done, either allow the steam to escape naturally or turn the knob to venting.
The next step is to peel these corms. I oiled my hands while doing this. Even though cooked through the corms can still cause itching. Skin of steamed corms peels off easily. Using a paring knife or any small knife, cut a corm at the top and pull the skin off. Alternatively, use a vegetable peeler. Then slice all the arbi into thick rounds.
For the tadka, warm up a skillet (cast iron, or any other) on medium high heat. In a bowl mix turmeric, salt, red chilli powder and a teaspoon of water. Keep aside.
Once the pan is hot turn the heat to medium/low and add a tablespoon of oil followed by cumin and asafoetida. Let the seeds sputter before adding all the sliced arbi. Turn and saute these for a minute or so. Then pour the wet mix of spices and stir well. Keep turning until all pieces have been coated. Lower the heat; cover and cook for another minute before turning off the stove. That’s it, arbi ki sabzi is ready, once again!
Arbi ki sabzi – a throwback to summer afternoons!
Every season comes with its own vegetables and fruits, their scents and flavours. Early days of warm weather in India are always exciting. Arbi becomes available in plenty – fresh, soft and delicious. New mangoes, kærī, start appearing in vegetable markets; perfect for making aam panna and chutneys. Then there is bhindi (okra) and various kinds of gourds that take the place of meaty cauliflowers and juicy red carrots. Nevermind that within weeks the repetitiveness of these vegetables gets boring. In hindsight, there is nostalgia for those aromas and flavour, nothing more.
In that spirit, I hope you will both create new memories with food during these days of self-isolation and social distancing as well as relive those from your childhood.