Elephant Yam / Senai / Sooran is one of those vegetables that my mom always gets home from the market. The whole sooran weighs around 3 kilos, with a rough muddy exterior and smooth pink interior.
Simple yam curry with a sprinkle of fresh coconut is their comfort food with rasam sadam (rasam-rice). However, my skin gets all red and itchy if I happen to touch this in the raw form, which is why I can never buy it from a market, where a piece is cut off the large vegetable and sold by weight.
In supermarkets, it is a different deal. Cut pieces are neatly wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap.
I have seen yam peeled and cubed, sold frozen in some Indian stores in the US.
Here, when I get home this itchy vegetable, it is usually the plastic wrapped variety from the supermarket, which my househelp cleans and cuts into cubes, ready to be used. If you are handling yam for the first time, make sure you wear sturdy gloves because a large number of people I know have skin allergy to the raw vegetable. Some experience itchy tongue and throat after eating the cooked vegetable too.
Yam like any other starchy vegetable, when pressure cooked without its skin, can turn into a mush pretty quickly and in a closed cooker it is a process that can easily get out of control. Which is why, although i am a big advocate of pressure cooking, I make an exception here, to boil the pieces in water with salt and turmeric, remove them when they are just tender and proceed with the curry.
In a traditional Tambram style, once the pieces are cooked in salted water, they are drained. Mustard seeds, asafoetida, udad dal and dried chillies are tempered in hot oil and then the boiled yam cubes added with any required salt and a little bit of sambar powder for taste. It is finished off with a light garnish of freshly scraped coconut.
The Chettinad style is slightly spicier and more fragrant because of use of fennel seeds (saunf/sombu). You can also add crushed garlic to the tempering for more punch, which I have avoided.
This is a very simple recipe, the only thing is to get the yam cubes boiled to the right degree, so it does not turn mushy and pasty.
Recipe for Chettinad Style Senai Curry
Time taken: Under 20 minutes
250 grams yam, skinned and cut into roughly 2 cm cubes
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of turmeric powder
1/2-1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp of coriander powder
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 tsp of desiccated or fresh coconut
Handful of mint leaves (optional)
2 tsp oil
Pinch of asafoetida
2 sprigs curry leaves
3 dried red chillies, broken
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp chana dal
1 tsp udad dal
In a vessel, place 2 cups of water with 1/2 tsp salt and pinch of turmeric powder. Bring it to a rapid boil.
Add the cubed yam to this, cover with a lid, leaving a small opening for the steam to escape.
Check with a knife to see when it is nearly tender. This should take around 6-8 minutes depending on the variety of yam.
Remove this in a colander / sieve and allow to drain well.
Meanwhile, prepare the tempering. Heat the oil in a non stick kadai (wok). Add all tempering ingredients one after the other, and stir on medium flame till the udad dal and chana dal turn golden brown.
To this add the drained yam cubes, red chilli powder, coriander powder, coconut and mint leaves. Toss gently to coat well. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp salt as per taste. On a low flame, let this crisp up a bit.
Serve hot with roti or with any sambar or mor kozhambu and rice.
Most starchy vegetables like colocassia (seppankizhangu), potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains (vazhakkaai) or a mix of these can be prepared in this manner.