Patra [Spicy tangy taro leaf and gram flour roll-ups]
I’m not at all sure that this lovely little Gujarati-Maharashtrian snack called “patra” (or patraveliya, or aḷuvaḍi–अळूवडी, or patrode) is to be made as an offering to the victorious Goddess of Dussehra or Vijaya Dashami — who is worshiped so much more fervently in the Eastern states than the Western. But when ingredients present themselves, I follow their leads — and hope humbly that She will not mind. For those fasting or otherwise observing strictures during this festival season, this is after all an entirely sattvic food as understood by Ayurveda: no-onion-no-garlic; “pure, essential, natural, vital, energy-containing, clean, conscious, true, honest, wise.”
So, I’ll get to it. The “patra” of patra are the leaves of the taro or colocasia plant (the root of which is known locally as arbi, in Tamil cheppankizhangu). They are large, and almost elephant-eared (not to be confused with garden elephant ears which are inedible!). Smeared with a spicy chick-pea flour paste, they are rolled, steamed, and then lightly fried and seasoned. The result is a crisp, hearty little snack: perfect as a starter or with a steaming cup of afternoon tea.
You’ll have to find–or grow–your own patra. Just about 4-5 leaves makes a dish that serves a light snack to 4 hungry humans.
Clean them under running water. Use a sharp knife to trim stalks, and cut away the thick portion of the middle vein–so that they can later be easily rolled without breaking.
Pat dry and set aside while you prepare the paste.
The paste consists essentially of chick pea flour or besan, green chilli and ginger paste for spicy bite, powdered spices for flavor, a bit of jaggery for sweetness, and lime juice for the tartness that holds it all together. The precise ingredients are in the recipe below. You mix them all into a thick-ish, smearable paste that looks like so:
Next, spread a leaf out, dark green side down. You’re going to smear the back like so:
Stack another leaf on top once you’re done (you can alternate the orientation of leaves if you wish; it makes for a more rectangular form which is easier to roll and later cut), and smear it, too. Continue this for about 4-5 leaves, or until your paste runs out. I’d not go more than 6 leaves though, to manage size.
Next, roll. If you’ve alternated leaf orientations, then it hardly matters from which end you begin to roll. If you’ve kept the lovely leafy shape, however, you’ll need to follow it while rolling. So, start at the divided end like so–rolling tightly but not so much as to squeeze out the paste:
And continue till you’ve finished:
.. and have a nice tight green roll. The paste will act as a bit of an adhesive, so you needn’t worry that the roll will disintegrate. Try it–it’s much easier than it appears.
Then get a steamer ready. Anything will do. Bamboo steamers, a wide pan deep enough to hold steaming water and a smaller pan (not unlike a bain marie), or even an idli stand. Cut the roll in half if you must, set it into your steamer, make sure there’s enough water in there to steam the roll-ups for 25 minutes. Colocasia leaves have some oxalic acid content which is neutralised in cooking, so do let them steam the whole 25 minutes. Go read a book for a while… until the timer rings and you open up your steamer to find these beauties:
Let the hot rolls set for about 10 minutes [go back to reading…]. When they’re cool enough to handle, cut them into slices about 1/2″ thick like so:
Prepare a pan to shallow-fry: heat a few teaspoons of oil, and when that’s nearly smoking drop in equal quantities (a 1/2 teaspoon each) of mustard seeds, sesame seeds, and a few curry leaves. They’ll splatter, and you’ll arrange the steamed patra on top, a bit like this:
Drizzle a bit more oil on top. Fry on high heat for just about 2-3 minutes, turning once in between. The objective is just to brown and crisp the rolls a little (and maybe take care of any last remnants of oxalic acid which may cause throat itchiness while eating — easily addressed with some buttermilk or yogurt, by the way). You’ll wind up with these:
And you’ll be so pleased with them, you’ll quickly offer them to the Goddess in whose honor they were made, and save yourself a few to have with a steaming cup of tea .. and remember that book you were reading? Mmmmmmmm…
- 4-5 Patra (Taro leaves/Arbi Patta/Cheppangkizhangu ilai)
- 3 green chilies
- 1″ fresh ginger
- 1 cup besan (chickpea flour or gram flour)
- Juice of 1 large lime or lemon
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder (dhaniya or malli thool)
- 1 tbsp powdered jaggery (or sugar)
- Generous pinch amchur or dry mango powder (leave it out if you don’t have it)
- Generous pinch of asafoetida (hing, perungaayam)
- 1 tsp salt, adjust to taste
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup Water or as needed to make a thick-ish, smearable batter.
- For the seasoning: a few teaspoons of oil, a 1/2 teaspoon each of mustard seeds and sesame seeds, and a few curry leaves.
- Prepare the leaves first, by washing them and trimming the stalks.
- Using a sharp knife, carefully cut away the thicker veins from the back of each leaf, taking care not to damage the leaf itself (usually this means only the central vein).
- Pat your leaves dry and set them aside.
- Grind the green chillies and ginger with a little water into a smooth paste. Mix in the lime/lemon juice.
- In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and powders and then add the ginger-chilli-lemon paste and just enough water to have it all come together into a thick batter which feels like it will smear well enough.
- Taste the paste--you want it to have an intense spice-tang with a nice follow-up of sweetness. Adjust anything you need to adjust to get that.
- Lay your first patra, dark green side down, on a clean counter,and smear it with the chick pea/besan flour paste. Repeat with the next 3-4 leaves.
- Then, starting from the "broken" leaf ends (close to where the stalk would have been), roll the leaf stack into a nice, tight roll, taking care not to squeeze the paste out in the process. Press down a bit more firmly to incorporate the stalk. The paste will act as a bit of an adhesive, so you needn't worry that the roll will disintegrate.
- Then get a steamer ready. Anything will do. Bamboo steamers, a wide pan deep enough to hold steaming water and a smaller pan, a bain marie, or even an idli stand. Cut the roll in half if it’s too long, set it into your steamer, make sure there's enough water in there to steam the roll-ups for 25 minutes. Colocasia leaves have some oxalic acid content which is neutralised in cooking, so do let them steam the whole 25 minutes.
- Let the hot rolls set for about 10 minutes. When they're cool enough to handle, cut them into slices about 1/2" thick.
- Prepare a pan to shallow-fry: heat a few teaspoons of oil, and when that's nearly smoking drop in the seasoning spices: ½ teaspoon each of mustard seeds, sesame seeds, and a few curry leaves. When they splatter, arrange the steamed patra slices on top in a single layer.
- Drizzle a bit more oil on top. Fry on high heat for just about 2-3 minutes, turning once in between. The objective is just to brown and crisp the rolls a little.
- Serve hot with tea or coffee.