Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dr. Roopa's Bhuni Arabi

Two weekends ago when Uncle Dheer visited us he took us to meet his old friends. In his usual style he told us this family is special, J.Nath paints South Indian life on his farm in Kodaikanal and his daughter and SIL have lived with the tribals for 10 years. Yet inspite of this introduction I reluctantly agreed to go visit the family that's when I realized over the years I am turning more into a recluse.

J. Nath, The painter and his painting

We were greeted at the door by a young girl, Gayathri. I was told she is the grand daughter of J Nath. As we stepped in the painter himself appeared from a room inside greeting Uncle Dheer in Punjabi. This is Dr. Roopa he said pointing to his daughter. Namastes exchanged and we settled down onto the sofas. We went in to a room where Jayaji, his wife was resting. To my surprise she talked to me in Marathi. After the initial awkwardness there was a change in mood. Roopa was cooking for all of us single handedly, so I went to ask if I could help. I saw she was roasting some besan. While the tomatoes bounced in the boiling water. She was making sabut moong dal with tomatoes, cauliflower and boiled Arabi lay on the side. Curious I asked what the powder was, she enlightened me, besan, dhania, jeera powder.

As I meddled in her way, I got to know that she taught at Rishi Valley School where her kids studied. I was quite curious to know what she taught by now knowing that she was a surgeon and her speciality, Community and Public Health. As we talked I found out that She was from Fort Convent, Mumbai a sister school to my school. I soon discovered I was with a highly evolved family. Deva was not at home that day, I missed a chance. Both Roopa and husband Dr. N. Devadasan served the tribals in the jungles of Gudalur for 10 years until couple of years ago when Roopa decided to focus on her children while Deva continued his research on the tribal health. Read all about these change makers here.

It is such a pleasure to listen to Roopa talk about everything around her and that affects the common man. Even J Nath felt proud of his daughter as he was listening to the discussions we were having, oscillating between health, medicine, alternative medicines, her time with the tribals, spiritualism, music, painting etc. Yes were with them for atleast 6 hours. Dad got up from the sofa twice in an attempt to leave, as he does not like to stay on at any place till the host feels discomfort. Each time J Nath would ask him to stay on longer. Post lunch he got the tea made and served us the famed Ginger biscuits from Kodi. While we enjoyed the hot tea, it was fun to hear a brief on the painter's life from him. He is childlike and a great storyteller. I was watching him as he talked animatedly about life before Mumbai happened and and now the reclusive life he leads along with Jayaji in Kodi.

We talked about many things and some of Roopa's words will ring in my ears for a long time.

On alternative medicine:

"I am trained in allopathy, but having lived with the adivasis and watched and heard alternative medical practitioners, in all these years. I see no conflict in medical rules. I have gone out of the framework and have realized, Who am I to come between the healing process and the sufferer? I would like to be known as a healer rather than a doctor."

On life of the adivasis:

"We the city bred consider ourselves to be civilized but we need to learn from the adivasis their evolved knowledge of survival. We only take from nature but I have never seen an adivasi collect a tuber for a meal without planting an eye back into to the soil."

On the tough choices she has made in life:

"I have been able to hold together."

As we take leave, I hear her telling Uncle Dheer about a new school, she and Deva are starting soon.


At lunch Roopa treated us to a Punjabi meal of Roti, Cauliflower, Bhuni Arabi and Sabut Moong Dal! Cauliflower stir fried in a bit of butter topped with generous amounts of ground pepper and salt. It was nice and crunchy and tasted yummy. The Sabut Moong dal was flavoured with blanched tomatoes and spiced with a dash of red chili powder and turmeric. Rotis served hot off the tava. My favorite was the Bhuni Arabi. Here is the recipe I mentally registered as I watched Roopa cook and after tasting it I had declared to her that it was going to be a post on my blog. You will agree with me that Dr. Roopa is a fabulous cook but a even more a highly evolved human being just like the rest of her family.


1/4 kg Arabi/ Colocasia tubers

2 tablespoon chickpea flour

1 teaspoon corriander powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon red chili powder

1-2 teaspoon dry mango/ amchoor powder

1 tablespoon oil

salt to taste

Boil and peel the arabi, keep aside to cool in a plate. Meanwhile in a wok dry roast the chickpea flour till it gives an aroma. Add corriander, cumin and red chili powders and roast for another 5 mins. Pour the roasted powder over the arabi. Shake the plate so that the arabi rolls in the flour and it gives an even coat. Now heat the oil and roast the spicy flour coated arabi till brown. I actually missed watching the last step as I was outside in the living room talking with her father. I forgot to ask her about it.

My dedication to this lady whom I have begun to admire and hope to stay in touch with is a healthier version of the same recipe.

Boil the arabi with tamarind and peel. Keep aside to cool in a plate. Meanwhile in a wok dry roast the chickpea flour till it gives an aroma. Add corriander, cumin and red chili powders and roast for another 5 mins. Skip the amchur powder as we have already used tamarind. Pour the roasted powder over the arabi. Shake the plate so that the arabi rolls in the flour and it gives an even coat. Now in a preheated oven broil the spicy flour coated arabi till brown.

This arabi preparation is among the best I have tasted. It can be served as a starter not only that it can be made in advance and hence an ideal recipe for a party.
Updated on 27th Dec 07
The taste of Arabi flavored with amchoor is the taste of rustic Punjab but tamarind converts it into a more southern experience. Use little tamarind so that it is not overwhelming.


  1. This arabi recipe sounds delicious - I'm always seeking variations! Will let you know how it turns out.

    BTW, I love your post - very fun reading!

  2. Thank you for sharing and giving an insight into such wonderful people. It was real pleasure reading about must've been great meeting them in person.

    arbi looks great..I do the same except don't fry the time will try this way..I love arbi...thanks for the recipe..

  3. It was a pleasure reading your post! Aarbi looks so yummy!:)

  4. What a wonderful post. It made my day. The world needs more healers, in every sense.

  5. I started admiring Dr.Roopa too. thanx 4 sharing about ur visit with them

  6. These people are simple great !! It was a pleasure knowing them through your post !!
    Loved your arbi too.

  7. Food for thought... You had all your senses well fed :)

  8. swome people are leaders in a quiet way. dr. roopa and her family are in that category. they make a difference without making sure everyone hears about it. and they are good at whatever they do.

  9. Wow.. what a coincidence.. I've heard of Mr. Nath, the artist, through a very close friend of mine from school and have met his wife briefly whilst she was staying at my friend's place. It was great to read and know more about them through your eyes.

  10. If only more of us could be like takes courage and conviction to do that.

  11. Hi,
    I really takes courage and lot of conviction for doing the kind of work that Dr Roopa and her husband are doing.

  12. what wonderful people. You were very blessed to meet them.

  13. VegeYum @ A Life (Time) of Cooking welcome here! Keep visiting.

  14. VegeYum @ A Life (Time) of Cooking welcome here! Keep visiting.

  15. Anjali,
    Thank you so much for sharing this story & recipe..i followed the link about dr. roopa's school . As a mother of a pre-schooler, it was wonderful to know that there are schools in India with such a progressive and wholistic approach. Also made the arbi, which was superb.

  16. I just saw this in Delhi belle's - I loved this post, and its great to know about such a wonderful couple!


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