“Naattinpuram nanmakalaal samruddham”
This line from a Malayalam poem loosely translates to “Goodness abounds in the village.” Life in the village is so much about sharing. Produces from your garden, special items made in the kitchen, sweets and savories that relatives bring, everything is shared with neighbors. Commonly cultivated backyard vegetables like drumstick, drumstick leaves, mango, jackfruit, all these items are shared with neighbors. Colocasia is one such plant/vegetable that neighbors share. Pictured here is a very sweet and super-efficient Saraswathi chechi, a great lady. One of her many roles include being a domestic help to my mother and many other families in our neighborhood. All special items such as banana stem, drumsticks, colocasia stem, tender jackfruit, raw mango, pass hands through Saraswathi chechi and a portion reaches all households in the vicinity.
I would say that the colocasia plant is highly underrated. All parts of the colocasia plant – leaves, stem, and bulb can be used for cooking. Not all varieties are edible. Some that grow in wilder areas are to be avoided, I hear. Gujarati cuisine has colocasia leaf rolls called Paatra. The Mangalore region also has recipes using the leaf. I am not sure if any cuisine apart from Kerala uses colocasia stem. At home, we make 3-4 different varieties of dishes using colocasia stem and the leaf.
Thaal (colocasia stem) avial is a dish that I learned from a neighbor while I stayed in Kochi. The best part about learning a recipe from someone is that you can never forget them even after many years. The first time you tasted that dish and how it smelled then lingers in your mind forever. Along with that the people involved with that memory stay on too.
There have been many requests for this recipe. Due to lack of availability of ingredients, I have had to wait long before I could make the dish and click photographs. I was super excited yesterday when I finally got to make the dish after waiting for several years; all thanks to Saraswathi chechi.
Colocasia stem (medium sized) – 2
Long beans – 100 gms
Raw banana (long) – 1
Raw papaya – 200 gms
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Red chili powder – 1 tbsp
Tamarind – lime sized
Water – as needed
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Coconut oil – 1 tbsp
Salt to taste
Grated coconut – 1 half coconut
Jeera – 1/2 tsp
Shallot – 1
Wash all the vegetables. Peel the skin from colocasia stem. Remove the edges from long beans. Peel raw papaya and raw banana. Cut all the vegetables into one-inch long pieces. Keep the raw banana pieces separately. Add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder to a bowl of water and put the raw banana pieces in this bowl of water. Keep aside. The colocasia stem pieces seem like a lot but it shrinks to 1/4th size when cooked.
Soak tamarind in 4-5 tbsp of water and keep aside.
Put all the vegetables except raw banana in a thick-bottomed vessel. Add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder, red chili powder, and salt. Add 1/2 cup water to the vegetables, close the lid, and maintain medium fire. Stir occasionally and cook for 5 mins. When the vegetables start looking pale and getting cooked, add the raw banana pieces. Stir well and close and cook for another five minutes. Extract tamarind juice from soaked tamarind. Add to the vegetables being cooked. Mix well.
Meanwhile, grind the grated coconut, shallot, and jeera to a coarse paste without adding much of water. When the vegetables are well-cooked and the salt and tamarind extract has been absorbed into the vegetables, mix the ground coconut paste with the vegetables. Cook for two minutes. Add curry leaves. Turn off. Add coconut oil and mix well. Enjoy the wafting aroma when you mix fresh curry leaves with the hot vegetables and coconut oil. Serve hot along with rice.
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