Vepudu or fry refers to the category of vegetable preparations where vegetables are shallow fried until they are crisp on the outside and soft and cooked on the inside. They typically are flavored very simply with salt, chilli powder, asafetida and sometimes cumin and turmeric. Potatoes, okra, plantain and taro root (chaama dumpa) are some examples of vegetables that taste great as vepudus.
I have childhood memories of enjoying chaama dumpa vepudu. My mom uses a lot of curry leaves in this dish. They get fried till crisp and add a fantastic flavor. Taro root is heavy and not very easy to digest, so the addition of curry leaves, cumin and asafetida makes it easier on the stomach. This is usually eaten in lunch and avoided for dinner. Rasam is a good accompaniment with this dish. It makes for a perfect meal.
I think here in the US, we get a slightly different variant of the taro root than we are used to in India. In India, I know how to pick good ones. The ones that are small and round are the best. The variety we get here are all large and the long ones sometimes taste better than the round ones. So, I pressure cook them all and discard the ones that are hard and undercooked. These won't be good eats and it's better they go into the garbage than into our stomach. Typically the good ones get soft when cooked and can be peeled easily.
Quantities are approximate in this recipe. This is more of a method really. It's very simple, the instructions are lengthy because there are a few subtle things if not done right, can spoil the dish.
Taro root / chaama dumpa ~ 2 pounds
Oil for cooking
Salt to taste
Chilli powder to taste
Asafetida/Hing ~1/4 tsp
Cumin seeds 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves a handful
Wash and pressure cook the taro roots for 3 whistles. The whistles will depend on your cooker and size of the roots. Bigger ones may take longer to cook.
If you are not using pressure cooker, you can cook them like potatoes. Submerge them in a large pot with an inch of water over the taro and let it come to a rolling boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, check if done, otherwise continue cooking for a few more minutes.
Strain the taro in a colander and let them cool.
Peel them and discard the ones that are hard to peel.
Cut in a small dice and separate the pieces.
Take a pan and add a few tablespoons of oil. Take a flat pan instead of a curved wok like pan. This ensures an equal chance for all pieces to fry. The oil should form a thin layer all across the pan.
Once it sizzles, add cumin seeds and the coarsely broken curry leaves and let them fry.
Add the cooked, diced taro. Try to place them flat and give them space to fry. If they do not all fit in one pan, use a second one, or fry in batches. If the pan is over crowded, you will be left with steamed taro and not fried taro. Not good eats, we do not want to be left with mushy taro.
Do not be tempted to mix often.
Let them fry after placing them in pan. Once the fry on one side, it will be easy to stir them, they won't stick to the pan.
Stir a few times gently, giving them enough time to fry on all sides.
Add salt when they get a sear on all sides.
When they are golden and crisp, add chilli powder and turn the heat off and mix well.
Eat immediately with steamed rice.
If you are planning to eat later, do not add chilli powder. When you are ready to eat, warm up the pan and add chilli powder and mix well. If you heat it after adding chilli powder, it burns and the smell will make the whole household cough. There is a Telugu word for it "gotru".
Cook and cool the taro.
Peel and discard the hard ones.
Cut in a small dice.
Heat oil in a pan, add hing, cumin and curry leaves.
Once it sizzles, add the cut taro.
Let it fry till all sides, add salt and mix well. Sauté till golden brown and crisp.
Add chilli powder and enjoy!