Pan-roasted Taro with Indian Spices

Pan roasted taro has been a firm family favourite for at least three generations. It is something my Mom has and continues to prepare at least once every 10 days if not more often and we (my Dad and I) never complain when this is on the dinner. There is something about the crisp outer and the slightly squishy centre about this root which makes it so addictive that you have to force yourself to stop. This version of pan roasted Taro pairs so well with steamed rice, Sambar, Rasam that its almost a must have on our menu when we have traditional south Indian feasts at home. Having said that, my Dad has given this lovely roasted rounds bursting with flavour, a totally new avatar by serving it as a cocktail starter, which surprises almost everyone who has it for the first time. And I think it makes perfect sense – these little golden crispy slices of taro served on a cocktail stick make the most unusual delicious starter and not to mention they are full of complex carbs, protein, anti-oxidants which is just what you need when you are on a boozy session.

Pan roasted Taro with Indian spices

Although Taro is a root vegetable, its texture and taste is so different from spuds and that’s the reason, it makes for such a fantastic alternative. Its almost an ant–thesis that a vegetable in its raw form, which is not pretty at all, undergoes such a metamorphosis when treated right, that its unbelievable. So don’t be put off by the raw vegetable, its just waiting to be transformed into a Cinderella of sorts. You will find this in most Asian or African stores in the root vegetable section alongside yam, eddoe, sweet potatoes and are sometimes slightly bigger sized but not too different in taste.

Roasted Taro

One thing you need to be careful of while cooking Taro, is not to overcook it as it is almost impossible to undo the damage. If that happens, it will turn into a complete mush making it very difficult to work and you will end up with a bowl of mashed taro. If at all that does happen, the only way to salvage it would be to add lots of plain flour and breadcrumbs along with spices and salt and deep fried into little cutlets or burgers which actually taste very good too. The trick is to cook it in an open pot  so you can control the cooking process and let it boil for about 15 minutes, test with a sharp knife to make sure its soft all the way through.

Next comes the spicing – being a dense carbohydrate, it requires quite a bit of seasoning and spices for the flavours to infuse well – otherwise it can taste quite bland. You could also thrown a big pinch of salt into the water while boiling to help it along.

This recipe is so simple with such few ingredients and comes together in just 30 minutes So give it a shot, it is one of my absolute favourite dishes – you won’t be disappointed!

Ingredients

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  • Taro roots – 1/2 kilo
  • Vegetable Oil – 5 tablespoons
  • Mustard Seeds – 1 teaspoon
  • Cumin Seeds – 1 teaspoon
  • Chickpea Flour – 2 tablespoons
  • Ground Red chilli – 1 teaspoon
  • Ground Coriander – 1 teaspoon
  • Ground Turmeric – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Salt to season
  • Fresh Coriander – Chopped fine ( optional)

Method

  • Wash and rinse the whole taro roots under clean cold water till the water runs clean. Soak the roots in a big bowl of water for about 10 minutes, allowing the residual soil to settle at the bottom and discard the water. Now place the whole taro roots in pot of fresh water and bring to a boil covering with a lid leaving a small gap to allow the steam to escape. By making sure you choose even sized roots, they will more or less cook at the same time which will be about 15 minutes. Prick a knife through the centre of the biggest root to check it thoroughly cooked. It should give in easily yet hold its shape. Do not be tempted to pressure cook as you will not able to control the cooking temperature and you might end up with really squashed roots;

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  • Let the roots cool off and rinse in cold water to bring them to room temperature or cool enough to handle. The skin should peel off easily. For slightly tougher ends, use a small knife to skin. Slice the roots into 1 inch lengths, no smaller;
  • Heat up the oil in a non stick wok and add the mustard seeds. Once they splutter, toss in the cumin seeds, ground spices quickly followed by the sliced taro. Season well with a big pinch of salt and turn with a flat ladle such that the slices are evenly coated with the spices. Keep the heat at low to medium level and let the taro caramelize slowly, turning occasionally and carefully so that the slices do not break up. Due to the soft and glutinous texture, boiled taro tends to get squashed quite easily. To avoid this, it is important not to over cook them and to handle them with some tender loving care;

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  • Once the slices are evenly browned and all the spices are absorbed, take them off the heat and serve hot garnished with fresh coriander. This is great as a side with steamed rice or fantastic as a cocktail  starter.

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