Sunday, February 18, 2007

D is for Dum ki Arbi

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.

The "D" of Indian Vegetables

The letter D inspired nine delectable Indian flavors!

To start off, three D vegetables and four preparations, all vegetables that are relatively unfamiliar to me and that I have never cooked with (what a learning experience this is turning out to be for me).

First up, daikon, the beautiful peppery vegetable that is simply known as radish in India but as daikon in the US and other countries, that was made into a delicious Daikon-Coconut Chutney by Suma of Veggie Platter.

Next up, not the drumsticks that are popular additions to sambar, but the drumstick leaves that are stirred into a nutritious and unusual Drumstick leaves pulao by Inbavalli of Here Now.

The drumsticks themselves were not forgotten, however, and were paired with some tangy mango in a lovely Konkani Drumstick dal by Ashwini of Food for Thought.

Then there is the unusual cucumber called the dosakaya, made into a very creative, sweet-and-aromatic Dosakaya Breakfast Bread by Linda of Out Of The Garden.

Next come two D ingredients that are staples in Indian cooking.

One is dal, the nutritious lentils and pulses that form the basis of Indian vegetarian cooking, made into an tasty Dal Moghlai by Pavani of Cook's Hideout who adds vegetables to make the dal a two-in-one deal.

The other ingredient is dahi or yogurt, cooked into a tangy sauce with potatoes in the Gujarati dish Dahi Batate Nu Shak by Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine.

Next, there are two D styles of cooking.
One is the handi (pot) style of cooking, used in a royal medley of mixed vegetables called Diwani Handi Sabzi by Latha of Masala Magic.

The other is the dum (steam) method of cooking in my entry below.

Finally, when the kitchen is running short of all vegetables except the pantry staples- onion and tomato- you can still whip up the tasty and comforting Dadpe Pohe by Manasi of A Cook At Heart, a favorite Marathi snack!

Many thanks to all the participants and hats off to their creativity!

D is for Dum ki Arbi: The "Dum" technique of cooking

Dum, dum pukht to be precise, is a slow, time-honored method of cooking that originated in Moghal cuisine. Dum (pronounce the "d' as in the "th" of "them" and not as in the "d" of "dull") actually means steam, and the basis of dum cooking is to seal the pot completely with some dough and let the contents simmer to perfection, infusing the dish with a heady aroma rather than allowing the flavors to escape. I wanted to name this post: "Dum is the new smart" but thought that people were sure to groan and throw their saucepans at me! :) Read more about dum cooking in this article.
In any case, when I started this series, I had two intentions. One was to share my favorite ways of cooking up vegetables with Indian flavors, and the other was to explore ways of cooking vegetables that were unfamiliar to me. Well, this letter presented itself with two opportunities: to try a style of cooking that is new to me (dum) and to cook a vegetable that I have never cooked with before, and only eaten a few times (arbi).
Arbi, also known by various aliases as arvi and taro and colacassia, is a root vegetable. In fact, it is the root of the plant whose giant leaves are used to make those delicious savory rolls called patra or alu wadi. Read more about this delicious but underrated vegetable here.
So off I went, the intrepid cook :) in search of some arbi. I found the smaller variety of arbi in the local international market. Frankly, the knobby, hairy roots terrified me!
Back home, preparing them was easier than I expected. A word of caution: the juices released when arbi is peeled can be slightly irritating to the skin, so one might want to wear food-prep gloves or coat the hands with some oil at the very least. First, I yanked the hairs off the arbi (surreal, I can tell you) and then used a peeler to peel off the tough skin. Then the vegetable is quite easy to dice up.
I had chosen a rich-sounding recipe from the popular Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor. An easy-going guy with a charming personality, he gets a lot of credit for bringing restaurant-style cooking to Indian homes through his books and TV shows. This recipe, in typical restaurant style, I might add, calls for deep-frying the arbi and then going through several complicated steps to pull the dish together. I took ruthless short-cuts and ended up with good results anyway. For starters, I roasted the arbi instead of deep-frying it. I tasted a piece after roasting it, and loved the buttery taste. Interestingly, arbi is perfect for this sort of slow-simmered dish, because after roasting, the pieces did not fall apart in the curry at all, they stayed intact and yet absorbed all the flavors.

Dum ki Arbi

(heavily adapted from a recipe by Sanjeev Kapoor, serves 3-4)
1. Roasting the arbi: Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Peel the arbi, wash it and cut it into bite-size pieces so you have 2-3 cups arbi in all. Toss it with a tbsp of oil and some salt and pour it on a baking sheet coated with non-stick spray. Roast the arbi until it is golden-brown and tender. This took me 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the arbi from the oven and set aside.
2. Make the yogurt mixture: In a bowl, combine 1 cup yogurt, 1 tsp red chili powder, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp cumin powder and 1 tsp coriander powder.
3. Make the masala paste: Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan. Fry 2 onions, roughly chopped, until they start browning. Add 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste, 2 heaping tbsp white poppy seeds, and fry for a couple of minutes more. Blend this mixture to a fine paste and set aside.
4. In a small bowl, combine 1/3 cup of atta (whole wheat flour) with some water to make a firm dough (this is for sealing the pan) and set aside.
4. Heat 1 tbsp oil in the saucepan (it is convenient to use the same one that the onion was fried in). Fry the masala paste for 2-3 minutes, then stir in the fried arbi, 1/4 tsp of nutmeg powder, 1 tsp garam masala, 1/2 tsp cardamom powder and salt to taste.
5. Stir in the yogurt mixture and mix well. Add a cup or so of water if the curry appears too thick.
6. Now put a lid on the saucepan. Roll the prepared dough into a long "snake" and press it down firmly to seal the lid on the pan all around, like so:
7. Simmer the sealed pan on very low heat for 20 minutes. Break the seal only when you are ready to eat.
8. Garnish with some chopped cilantro and a dollop of cream, if desired.

The verdict:
Delicious, delicious! I feel good about trying a new vegetable, and we really enjoyed eating it in this rich, royal dish. The "dum" method is a treat because of the heavenly aroma when the seal is broken. When I broke the seal, V was standing behind me, and we both gasped involuntarily at the heady scent that wafted up!
Next time, I will increase the amount of water that I add before sealing the pot, to give the result more gravy...this time, the dish was fairly dry. The curry could also use some acidity, so I might add some tomato puree next time (and there will certainly be a next time).

How do you serve this dish?
I served it with some freshly steamed basmati rice and simple dal fry and the combination was very tasty. This curry would also go well with some rotis or naans (flatbreads) as part of a typical North Indian meal.

Fellow bloggers have come up with many delicious dishes cooked using the "dum" technique:
Dum Aloo (potato) from Food For Thought ,
Another version of Dum Aloo from Recipe Junction,
Dum Bhindi (okra) from A Recipe A Day, and
Vegetable Dum Biryani from Healthy Home Cooking.

Previously on the A to Z of Indian Vegetables...
A is for Aloo Gobi: North-Indian Stir-Fry
B is for Bharli Mirchi: Stuffed Vegetables
C is for Carrot-Cashew Payasam: Desserts


  1. Hi Nupur, I too have been afraid of "hairy root veggies", and shame on me as many are readily available. Your finished dish looks too good to miss so I guess I'll have to face my fear! The step-by-step instructions are great as always. Thanks for sharing the fun -- and this delightfully different dum dish (oh my, time for me to get off this "D" kick now ;) )

  2. What an interesting way of steaming! Is it difficult to clean the dough off the pan?

    I've never eaten taro except in the form of chips, though I have seen it in the store. Can't wait to try this! I had only recently become aware of the fact that taro contains some irritants on, of all places, Top Chef - they were in Hawaii learning about native ingredients and that came up in the discussion of taro. I was curious what the irritant was (there are apparently a number of them, including calcium oxalate crystals) and came across some advice that the taro be blanched before peeling - which might be an alternative to using gloves.

  3. Hi Nupur

    Thanks for the Dum Arbi recipe. It was a neat idea to roast it in the oven. I stopped using arbi as whenever I fry it, I had to use a lot of oil. Now I will use your recipe. Nice roundup of recipes too for 'D'.

  4. Thanks, Nupur. You are taking pains to not only dish out mouth-watering recipes but also provide a forum for the rest of us to interact.

    My 'E' recipe is already cooking :)

  5. Nupur I am so sorry for my laaaate entry. I had actually made the dal yesterday when I wrote to you, but some friends dropped in and I couldnt take a photograph. My post is up now... can you sneak me in?
    Many thanks.
    The only way I'd eat arbi is if it had dum or moghlai as a prefix I think :-)
    I was laughing at the title 'dum is the new smart' should have kept that!!!

  6. Hi Linda, I am *so* glad I tried cooking with arbi...we really enjoyed the taste!

    Cathy, the dough sealant actually dried out during the cooking process and I found that it just broke off when I tapped against it to break the clean-up was not a problem. I think it needs to be the consistency of playdoh, any wetter and it might make for a messy clean-up. Love your top chef tips for working with taro! Thanks for sharing the info. I actually watched that episode but did not remember the tips. Shame on me :)

    Hi Lakshmi, yeah, I was glad that the roasting worked well! Thanks for participating.

    Hi Inbavalli, so glad you are participating in E too! I am learning so much from the entries.

    Ashwini, you are in!

  7. Once again, a dish and a cooking method that are completely new to me! I'm really enjoying this alphabet series -- so much to learn about Indian cooking. Thank you!

  8. D for delicacy, D for Delicious, D for Dum Pukht Biryani and so on

  9. Hi, You've started an enjoyable alphabetical series here! I had a good laugh reading about the cleaning the arbi! I don't like that part myself! Arbi recipe is interesting. I too had blogged one earlier, do check it out. :)

  10. Hey Nupur,
    Lovely roundup! Thanks for all your effort!
    The Dum ki arbi looks so delicious! I was looking at your post and my husband walked in and looked at your dum ki arbi and he said 'that looks groovy, i'm hungry now :-)' He's not much of a foodie and coming from his this was cool!
    Will try your recipe sometime - when ic an find arbi!

  11. Hi Nupur, I really didn't have any idea about this dish and the main ingredient. Always wondered what excatly it is, whenever I came acorss this here in our indian store ;) Thanks for sharing the recipe and the dish looks quite tempting :)


  12. Hello Nupur,

    I am so impressed with the introduction of the new way of cooking - The Dum way..I always end up making taro root chips, you version of Dum arbi looks very delicious.

  13. Hi Nupur, your Dum Arbi looks awesome. Baking arbi is new to me because we usually boil it before doing anything with it. Thanks for making the short cuts and making the recipe simple.

  14. Hi Nupur,

    I like Arvee a lot cos of the potato like feel and chewy flesh. Wow...but I have never tried it deep frying. I do cook it and add spices and herbs. Should try this the way, ur photos are rich too!!

  15. Loved the way you think about cooking - so this morning since I had to decide what to do with the arbi I purchased earlier this week on impulse, went with your recipe. Followed your instructions to the T and its in the "Dum" right now. Will let you know the results later!

  16. Hi,

    I tried this out last night and it is delicious. I was worried all the cooking would reduce the arbi to a mass but instead it absorbed all the flavours and is just the right texture.
    Good recipe.. thank u

  17. Fabulous!!! I never liked arbi esp coz of its consistency; but this was fabulous!!! Just had rotis n dum arbi and cannot help but thank you from the depths of my tummy (if theres some space left i.e) :D

  18. I came across this post of yours while browsing for arbi recipes and have just finished cooking my arbi your way. Its superb and you are so right about the smell!!! Thank you so much for posting this recipe. Henceforth, I will Dum all my veggies! :-D

  19. nice one :) I was searching a good arbi recipe as I tried only one till now..beautifully explained too :) and happy to see you are also from STL .

  20. Hi Nupur, I made this today n it turned out very nice. Even my kids were asking for more of it. Thanks for sharing this recipe.


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