Thursday, 5 July 2012

Oh! Dis comfort food!!

Baked Spicy Colocasia/Arbi Wedges

So much is made of comfort foods! We need no second bidding to indulge in them at the first hint of stress, the first sign of tiredness or the first indication that we are going to be too busy to cook anything elaborate. I am yet to have a favourite comfort food that is not simple, but why do we need an excuse to make a simple meal (made just that much sinful by that dollop of ghee or butter)? Is it that our comfort foods of today are often nostalgic memories from our childhood? How much of a role do associations, memories, shared beliefs, fashions and food trends play in categorising dishes like metkoot toop bhat, smabar rice, rasam rice,  khichdi and kadhi, rajma chawal, kadhi chawal, varan bhat toop, mashed potato, hot chips with mustard/mayo and creamy- buttery –salty- pasta as comfort foods? Or is it the properties and bio-chemical composition of these foods that render them comforting?

And what about dishes made of vegetables like prickly colocasia leaves and roots, itchy and slightly bitter gawar, itchy suran(Indian Yam),  the bitter karela (Bitter Gourd/Melon) and the not so bitter kartola (spiny bitter melon), bitter methi (fenugreek) pungent and smelly mooli (white radish)? Not to forget the exotic and often ‘snob’ value attached to vegetables like asparagus, artichokes, kohl rabi, celeriac, rutabaga, watercress, parsnip, et al, which tread that thin and dangerous line between tasty and nasty! Why do we eat them if they have the potential to cause such discomfort?

In the course of my quest for answers, I have placed one vegetable dish that is on my ‘must make’ list. The dish is the Bengali Shoukto- made with bitter gourd, radish, cluster beans, brinjal and pungent mustard. I want to make Shoukto to discover the redeeming feature of this dish that might sound - to some who cannot venture beyond bhindi and aloo-  just a tad less vile than the magic potion brewed by Macbeth’s three witches.

Years ago, in one past life full of music and rhythm, I remember discussing unusual and rare ragas – also known as anvat ragas with mother. The discussion actually was triggered by my genuinely puzzled query at why the spiny and bitter karotlas were the most expensive vegetable at the green grocers. Mother opined that vegetables of this ilk were anvat vegetables like anvat ragas like Shuddha Nat, Nat Kamod, Hansakinkini, Abheri… these vegetables are like acquired tastes and grow on you, not only because they are different from your run-of-the- mill cauliflower, cabbage, potato and what have you, but because they tickle and titivate sections of hitherto sleeping taste buds in our mouth! Just like anvat ragas that pluck those strings of our hearts that have remained dormant so far when we try to savour the notes, while trying to place them in relation to other widely known ragas. Not to forget the fact that we also revel in feather in our cap that we are able to identify a Raga Khokhar!

So true!  These vegetables challenge us out of our comfort zone. Our reward then is the enjoyment and appreciation of those novel and unusual flavours, textures and tastes! There sure are some physiological or biochemical reasons why we like these veggies. Perhaps myriad reasons my foodie friends may put forth. But let’s just acknowledge one undeniable bonus- you might just get to hobnob with that rare breed of people called food connoisseurs and show off the rare and unusual vegetable dishes you have cooked!

Just like I want to show off- ok, maybe only show will do- my baked spicy arbi wedges. Arbi or colocasia, is one such vegetable, which for some or all of the reasons above, I keep turning to. Despite some horrible childhood memories of severe itching in the throat after I unsuspectingly dug into some of these yummy guilt-free chips!

Baked Spicy Arbi (Colocasia/ Taro) Wedges


10 Arbi (colocasia/taro) corms, boiled, peeled and cut into long thin wedges
2-3 tbsp coarse chickpea flour (ladu besan) (fine besan will also do- just add some semolina or bread curmbs)
½ tsp garam masala (or more)
½ tsp amchur (dry mango) powder (it helps mitigate the itching caused by calcium oxalate in the colocasia
Ajwain powder or dried oregano leaves to taste
Chilli powder to taste
A pinch of turmeric
Salt to taste
Oil spray or 1 tbsp oil


In a bowl, mix the flours, spices and condiments and adjust the salt as per taste. Roll the wedges in this dry flour mix and make sure they are coated on all sides. Place on a baking sheet on a tray. Spray a few bursts of oil onto the wedges. If you are using a tbsp of oil, pour it onto the wedges in the tray and make sure that all the wedges get a coat of oil. Bake in a medium hot oven for about 15 minutes, or until the wedges become golden brown and crisp. You may need to turn the wedges in the tray once or twice to ensure even baking.

Serve as starters with a dip. These wedges will taste great even with sambar and rice! This is a very healthy  and low fat alternative to fried wedges...

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