thaal varatharachathu

Kerala Style Colocasia Stem Curry (Chembu Thaal Curry)

thaal varatharachathuTraditional recipes like these are what make me feel good about blogging my recipes. Until last year, I did not know that we could cook colocasia stems!  Having been raised in Bombay instead of Kerala where my parents are from, I somehow missed this seasonal curry in our annual vacations to Kerala! What a tragedy that was! But I am so glad that I finally got a chance to taste this curry – thanks to my dearest aunt Z!  She is my paternal uncle’s wife and is a phenomenal cook.  Every time I meet her, I learn something new from her! And I was fortunate to have been in her home last summer when she had made this curry as her daughter (my cuz) was visiting!  After tasting the curry, I am not surprised why this one is a favorite of my cuz!

colocasia stems and leavesSince we cannot easily find colocasia stems here in the US (we do get the leaves in the Indian grocers called as ‘Alu’), my first task was to grow the plant. Luckily, it was not too hard to do that. In early spring, I planted a few sprouted taro root tubers into my vegetable patch and within a couple weeks, I could see a plant emerging from them! I was so excited since I could basically cook the whole plant – the stems(for this curry), the leaves (for making alu wadi or stuffed rolls) and the roots(the tubers)! The stems are also loaded with nutrients – vitamins and fiber.

chembin thalI was very fortunate again this year when we visited India this summer to learn this recipe from my aunt! My son also loved this curry while we were there (he does take after me, you know 🙂 ) So I was super keen on trying out my aunt’s recipe ever since we got back and I finally got my chance a few weeks ago when I had about 4 large stems enough to make a curry! I used the leaves to make ‘Alu wadi‘.

This recipe is almost like the paavaka theeyal or bitter gourd curry I have posted before. I used Kodampuli instead of tamarind for the sourness since tamarind is not good for my arthritis. But you could substitute tamarind if that’s what you have available. Btw this curry is normally served with white rice but it tastes great with kappa (boiled yuca) as well which is how I enjoyed it.

Chembu thaal curry

5.0 from 1 reviews
Kerala Style Colocasia Stem Curry (Chembu Thaal Curry)
Recipe type: Main Course
Cuisine: Kerala
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 3-4
A traditional Kerala curry made from colocasia stems (stems of taro plant) that is simple yet so tasty and comforting!
  • 4 stems of colocasia plant (take only stems)
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper or kashmiri red chilli powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tbsp fresh grated coconut (or frozen grated coconut that has been thawed or you can use unsweetened shredded coconut)
  • 1 clove of garlic, sliced
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 2 small dry red chillies (I use Kashmiri red chillies to keep it less hot)
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 small piece of kodam puli soaked in ½ cup warm water (or a quarter size portion of tamarind soaked in water)
  • salt as needed
For tempering:
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp shallot (finely chopped)
  • 6-8 fresh curry leaves
  1. Wash the stems thoroughly and scrape the outside to remove any tough fibers. Then cut the stems into 1 inch long pieces. Place them in a medium sauce pan and add the salt, turmeric , chilli powder and 1 cup water and cook covered (with lid open slightly) for about 5 mins until the stems turn soft. Turn heat off and keep this pan aside.
  2. Now heat a skillet or a frying pan and add the grated coconut and roast it on low to medium heat stirring constantly for about 4-5 mins until the coconut is almost golden brown. Then add the garlic, cumin, coriander and red chillies. Continue roasting for another couple mins on low heat. Turn heat off and transfer the mixture to a food processor jar and add the ½ cup water and blend into a very smooth paste. Transfer this paste to the saucepan with the cooked stems and stir to mix.
  3. Place this saucepan back on the stove on low heat and add the soaked kodampuli along with the water (or the tamarind pulp if using tamarind). Let simmer for about 3-4 mins and Check for seasoning and add salt as needed. Turn heat off.
  4. In a separate small tempering pan, heat the coconut oil and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the shallots and stir fry for a couple mins. Then add the curry leaves and turn heat off. Add this oil mixture to the curry.

colocasia stem curry kerala style


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  1. My dad bought me some baby taro roots, but I haven’t gotten around to cooking them yet. I want to cook them today. However, it looks like two have produced shoots! I don’t remember seeing shoots on any of them when my dad first gave them to me. May 18th is when my dad gave them to me, and it is now May 31st. If I cut off the shoot parts, would it be safe to eat? Or should I just throw them into the compost pail, uneaten? I’ve heard that Irish potatoes that have sprouted should have the sprouts cut off before eating. Do taro root shoots make the entire taro root toxic? Or are just the shoots themselves toxic? Or are the shoots nontoxic?

    • Hi there! Yes you can certainly eat it after cutting the shoot parts! I do that all the time! And I sometimes plant the ones with the shoots in my garden so I can cook with the leaves as in this recipe! Enjoy your taro root! Another tip – In summer it is best to store taro in a refrigearot since they tend to germinate (like what you describe) or they get rotten if the room temperature gets too high!

  2. Lovely recipe, Indu. Our traditional recipes make such good use of all edible produce be it the stem, the leaf, or the peel. I loved the colour of your curry.

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