Patra or Alu vadi: Colocasia leaf rolls
Nothing can get fresher than a bunch of recently cut greens. A bundle of un-torn, fresh-as-the-morning greens tied up in string or with a blade of grass are sure to invite me. Just like this pretty bunch right here.
Alu or colocasia leaves are a favorite in Maharashtrian cuisine–the tender leaves, with their green stalks are used to make Paatal Bhaji, a mild curry made with peanuts and lentils, that is eaten with rice. The large ones, with purplish stalks, like the ones I have here, are used to make Alu vadi or Patra, as our Gujarati Suvarna ben would call it. Essentially, it is a simple roll of colocasia leaves and a gram flour-based batter that is steamed, sliced and fried. In most cities in Maharashtra, grocery stores sell the steamed rolls, ready to be fried at home. (You do get the ready-to-eat stuff in namkeen stores, but this blog is about cooking at home.) These rolls are ghastly, at the very least–they are dry, have too much gram flour or spice, and you cannot taste the colocasia at all. And once they’re fried, they go dry and chewy, and your guests will eat not more than one piece, leaving you with a plateful of very sad looking patra. Therefore, I urge you to try it–once you make it yourself, you will realize how funnily simple it is, and you will never ever turn to the packaged version again. Really.
This dish works as an excellent side to traditional fare–serve it alongside plain rice and dal to lift the meal, for instance. I have, however, served it several times as a starter, and no matter how much I make, it always gets over. The lovely contrast of the smooth steamed batter against the taut leaves that go crispy as they are fried, and the subtly sour, sweet, and spicy flavors of the other ingredients make it a good accompaniment to hot masala chai on a rainy afternoon.
- 1 large bunch of large colocasia (alu) leaves; there are usually about 10 or 15 in a bunch
- 1 cup chickpea (gram) flour
- 1 and 1/2 tbsp. tamarind paste (I use a jar version; you could make yours fresh)
- 2 tbsp. finely chopped/grated jaggery or sugar
- 1 tsp. cumin seed powder
- 1 tsp. red chili powder
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
- salt to taste
- vegetable oil for shallow frying
- fresh coconut, grated
- cilantro, chopped
- Wash the leaves and pat dry. De-stalk the leaves.
- Flatten or trim the veins on the underside of each leaf by using a rolling pin or knife, taking care not to tear the leaves. Keep aside.
- Meanwhile, set up your steamer.
- In a mixing bowl, place all the other ingredients. Using enough water, make a thin batter.
- On a large work surface, place the largest leaf, glossy side down, tapering end facing you.
- Using your fingers as a brush, spread a thin layer of the batter on the leaf.
- Place another leaf (working from the largest to the smallest) on the batter and repeat the process.
- Once you have a sloppy looking pile of about 5-6 leaves, roll it up. Fold the broad ends first (see collage) and then roll up tightly, tucking the sides in as you go along.
- Repeat until you’ve used up all the leaves.
- Place in the steamer and steam for about 15 minutes or until the leaves appear cooked and the batter is set. Remove and cool completely.
- When cool, slice the roll into roundels about a half inch thickness.
- In a pan, heat the oil and shallow fry the roundels carefully until the edges begin to crisp up.
- Serve hot, topped with coconut and cilantro.
Note: The Gujarati Suvarna ben would not fry the little babies; she’d make a tempering of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, asafetida, and curry leaves, and toss the sliced roundels in it, with the coconut and cilantro. Equally yum, and a tad healthier!