Arbi Ka Bhartha (Mashed Taro Root)

Taro root is called arbi or arvi in Hindi and chembu in Thamizh. This rhizome is widely used in Indian cooking. But not very many people know about this mash recipe. Much more well known and popular is the classic baingan bhartha (mashed eggplant). I came upon this dish while I was a very junior employee in an advertising firm in Mumbai (then Bombay). My salary was so low that after paying my rent and commuting fare, I was left with practically nothing. So, food was limited to a couple of vadas and sambar at the railway canteen. This was my breakfast. Railway canteens served very inexpensive food of decent quality. I then skipped lunch. On the way home in the evening, I’d stop at a restaurant where they served this dish. It was the cheapest on the menu. So, dinner was invariably a couple of rotis (Indian bread) and arbi ka bhartha. Forty years later, I still fondly remember this dish. So, Hari and I re-created this recipe. Did it taste marvellous!

Arbi Ka Bhartha

500 gms taro root (arbi, chembu), washed
1/2 tsp carom seeds (ajwain, omam)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (sabut jeera, jeeragam)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds (rai, chinna kadugu)
A generous pinch of asafoetida (hing, perunkayam)
1/2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 onion, chopped fine
1 green chili, chopped fine
1 sprig curry leaves
2 tomatoes, chopped fine
Unrefined salt to taste
1/4 tsp turmeric power (haldi, manjal podi)
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp coriander powder (dhania powder, kothamalli podi)
1 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
Transfer the taro root to a pressure cooker
Add 1 cup water and cook for 1 whistle (you can also cook on stove top until the taro root becomes soft and ‘mashable’)
Switch off flame and let the steam release naturally
Open the lid and transfer to a plate
After the taro root has cooled somewhat, peel them
Then gently mash them with a potato masher or a fork
Set aside
Heat a wok and add carom seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, asafoetida and ginger-garlic paste
Finally add the onion, green chili and curry leaves
Mix well
Cook for about a minute, sprinkling a little water if necessary
Once the onion has turned translucent, add the chopped tomatoes and salt
Mix well
Keep the flame low
Cover the wok and cook for about 2 minutes or till the tomatoes are mushy
Remove the lid and mix well
Then add the turmeric powder, garam masala, coriander powder, red chili powder and Kashmiri red chili powder
Mix well and cook till the aroma of the spices emanate
Now add the mashed taro root and mix well till the masala coasts the taro root fully
It should take about a minute to mix everything
Sprinkle a little water, if necessary
Now cover and cook for about 2 minutes, mixing the contents in between
After 2 minutes, remove the lid
Add the lime juice and mix well again
Garnish with the coriander leaves
Mix well and switch off the flame
Transfer the bhartha to a serving bowl
Serve hot with Indian breads or serve as a cutlet

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