Every month, for the last year or so, Opie — and we– have been making a trip to an acupuncturist in Northern Virginia. Opie has had osteoarthritis since he was just four. He is now pushing 11 and as he ages we are trying to ensure that he remains healthy, pain-free, and mobile.
I was rather skeptical about acupuncture, although friends recommended it highly. And a little worried about the idea of my baby as a pincushion. But I was reassured when we noticed an improvement in his comfort level during walks, and it also helped that Opie didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he enjoys his visits to the vet because he gets to socialize with other pooches, and even some cats, in the waiting room. He is also rather zen about the procedure itself. The veterinarian feels his spine for tense spots and sticks a number of long, slender needles here and there– he assures us that Opie doesn’t feel anything more than a slight prick when the needles go in, and in fact most dogs relax and even fall asleep during acupuncture. Opie doesn’t actually sleep but instead hangs around eyeing the treats that the veterinarian keeps on the table and rewards him with at the end of each session.
During one of our first visits to the acupuncturist, I discovered an Indian grocery store just up the street. Which was wonderful because the Maryland suburb of Washington that I live in has no Indian grocery stores and I usually have to drive nearly 10 miles to get to one. Now I combine trips to the acupuncturist with my Indian grocery shopping, stocking up on spices, flours, and all sorts of delectable Indian veggies I can’t find anywhere else.
One vegetable I always pick up is arbi, or colocasia.
This rather unpretty root vegetable can be hard to figure out for someone who’s never cooked or eaten it before. If you haven’t, think of it as the low-profile but high-impact cousin of the wonderful potato — now there’s someone we all know and love. Arbi has a whiter, denser flesh than potato’s, its skin is pretty much inedible, and its flavor is bland with addictively earthy tones. But in Indian cuisine, you can do with an arbi pretty much what you can do with a potato– you can make a delicious subzi out of it, shallow-fry it into crispy deliciousness with a few spices, dunk it in a sauce, or, like I did this time, turn it into a flaky, wholesome paratha that your tummy and your tastebuds will thank you for.
This paratha is gluten-free, partly because I wanted to try out some singoda flour, or water chestnut flour, that I also picked during my last trip to the Indian store. I had never eaten singoda flour before but it is commonly used in north India during religious fasts– in fact, all foods eaten in India during religious fasts tend to be gluten-free (I am not sure about the rationale behind that). I also added some sorghum or jowar flour to the recipe, and some besan for a little added crispiness. If you don’t mind the gluten, you could also just make these with whole-wheat flour. Sub part or all of the gluten-free flour with wheat and follow the rest of the recipe.
The technique I used for this paratha is an offbeat one– instead of making a stuffing, like one would with Aloo Paratha, I actually mixed the colocasia, boiled and mashed, and some spices and herbs into the flour. This also works better because gluten-free breads can be hard to roll out. If you make this paratha, try patting it out like another great Indian bread that often tends to be gluten free– Bhakri. This helpful video from Minoti of Vadani Kaval Gheta shows you exactly how to do it. You can also use a tortilla press lined with cling wrap or a rolling pin, but if you choose the latter roll out the paratha very carefully, flouring frequently and liberally.
Here’s the recipe. Enjoy, all!
Gluten-Free Arbi Parathas
(Makes 12 parathas)
10 medium-sized arbi corms, cooked in boiling water until a knife inserted through the middle goes through cleanly and without any resistance. Arbi is easy to find in Asian or Indian grocery stores. Pick medium-sized corms that feel firm to the touch and smell fresh and earthy. I usually cook the arbi with some water in a pressure cooker, which is the easiest way to get them done, but you can submerge them in water, bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and let them simmer about 10-15 minutes until they are done.
1 cup singoda or water chestnut flour
1/2 cup chickpea or garbanzo bean flour, or besan
2-3 cups jowar or sorghum flour
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves or coriander leaves, or a mix of both
1 tsp aamchoor powder (dry mango powder)
Salt to taste
Peel the arbi, chop roughly, and place in a food processor with half a cup of water along with the powdered spices, salt and the mint. Process until you have a really smooth paste. If you don’t have a food processor, try mashing the arbi with a potato masher as smooth as possible, and then mix in the water and the spices.
Mix the water chestnut and chickpea flours with the arbi paste and add the jowar a little at a time until you have a firm dough that does not stick to your fingers. You can do this by hand or in a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Once your dough is ready, immediately form 12 balls and roll them in your palms to make them really smooth.
Now liberally flour the rolling surface and your fingers and pat out the parathas using the technique in Minoti’s video for rolling bhakri. You want to spin the paratha slightly each time your fingers make contact with the dough. It may sound complicated but trust me, you will get it. If the paratha feels like it’s sticking, flour again. If you do end up with a tear, patch it, flour over it, and continue patting it out. This paratha should be no more than five inches in diameter.
Heat a flat griddle over medium-high heat. Place the paratha on the griddle and flip over when bubbles start to form and golden-brown spots appear. Spray on some oil or and when the underside has golden-brown spots, flip over once more and cook for a few more seconds.
Serve hot with some vegan raita, chutney, or some spicy Indian pickles.
Every morning and evening, after his walk, Opie will burrow behind the boxwood in our front yard and sit there for as long as we will let him. Occasionally, he will surprise a passer-by with a friendly woof, leaving them scratching their heads because there isn’t a dog in sight.