From Backyard to Table: Planting and Cooking in the Time of COVID- 19
By Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
One of my favorite street snack foods in India was Patra or Patarvelia. Patra is a savory dish made with Colocasia or taro leaves, bean flour and spices.
These appetizers are made by first spreading a spiced batter of the nutritious garbanzo bean flour on taro leaves and then rolling them into logs, steaming the logs and finally cutting them into slices to pan-fry them briefly. So, unlike many Indian snacks, they are not deep fried, but steamed and pan-fried with a small amount of oil. They are nutritious and delicious.
I vividly remember how patras were prepared back home and wanted to make them here. But the trouble is, with the exception of some Indian markets in New York City, the main ingredient for patra – the taro leaves – are almost impossible to find in the U.S. This is perhaps why you hardly ever find patras in an Indian restaurant in America.
However, the taro roots are easily found in Asian markets in the U.S. as these tubers are used in East Asian, African and Hawaiian cooking. So one spring day of last year, I bought a bag of taro roots from a Chinese market and asked my husband to plant them in our Outer Sunset backyard of San Francisco. He planted them in a box and sure enough, the leaves showed up within a few weeks. And they proliferated into large leaves this summer.
I have not done much gardening since I moved to the U.S. from India. There was enough dirt in my childhood at the family farm — a kind of “been there, done that.” So I had no romantic notion of gardening and growing food. It’s hard work! But this year due to the coronavirus lock-down, like many of my neighbors, I have taken up gardening. I love it, especially after harvesting these healthy taro leaves. If you water taro leaves adequately, they will thrive even in the Sunset fog, although they love sunny days.
I am very excited to share this “back yard-to-table” recipe. You can’t get any more local than this!!
Note: To those who want to make this recipe but do not have taro leaves; do not worry. You can use swiss chard, red chard and/or collard green leaves to replace taro leaves.
Caution: Do not eat the raw taro leaves! They are extremely astringent and may cause a mild rash if you chew them. However, cooking the leaves by stir frying or steaming will take this sharp taste away.
Patra making requires several steps, but the end product is worth the trouble.
First, make and spread a spiced batter on the leaves. Next, stack them and roll them into a log. Then, steam the log and cool it. Last, slice the log into thin discs and briefly pan-fry them in a little oil to be served hot, warm, or at room temperature with a chutney or a sauce.
- 12 taro leaves (Colocasia leaves) or 9 to 10 chard or collard green leaves, cut into half lengthwise, middle stem removed.
- 1½ cups garbanzo (chick-pea) flour
- ½ teaspoon each: turmeric, cayenne, coriander, and cumin powders
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- Juice of 1 or 2 lemons or limes (about 3 – 4 tablespoons)
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 3 tablespoons peanut, corn, or safflower oil or frying
- ½ teaspoon black or brown mustard see
Wash the leaves and dry them with paper towels completely. Cut off the thick stems of taro leaves where they were snipped from the plant and discard. (If you are using chard or collard greens, you will need to cut the leaves in halves to remove the entire long stems.) Set the leaves on a dry work surface.
To make the batter, place the garbanzo flour in a mixing bowl and add spices, garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice, salt and just enough water to make a thick spreadable batter similar to hummus in consistency. Whisk the batter until well blended.
Next, prepare an apparatus to steam the patra rolls. First, lightly oil the inside of a vegetable steamer basket. Place 1½ cups of water in a wok with a tight-fitting lid or a large cooking pot that can accommodate the steamer basket.
To make a patra roll, place a taro leaf (or a half chard or a half collard leaf) on a work surface and spread two tablespoons of batter all over on it evenly. Lay a second taro leaf (or half chard leaf) on top and spread the batter in the same manner. Continue spreading and stacking until you have used four leaves (or 6 to 8 half leaves).
Carefully roll the stack of leaves into a compact roll starting from a pointy end. Some batter may fall out, but that is OK. Set the roll into the steamer basket. Next, repeat the process to make two more rolls. Place the two rolls in the basket with the first roll so that the three touch each other to form a triangle, as shown in the picture. The soft rolls will solidify into very compact logs while steaming.
To steam the logs, place the steamer basket into the wok or pot, cover, and bring the water to a boil. Steam them over a medium flame for about 20 minutes, checking after ten minutes to add more water if necessary. When the rolls look compact, turn off the heat and leave the pot covered for several minutes. Uncover, remove the basket and allow the rolls to cool for ½ hour or longer.
When the rolls are completely cooled, take them out of basket and place them on a cutting board. Cut each roll into ½-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Arrange the slices on a platter, sprinkle some lemon juice on top, and now you can serve them while hot with fresh chutney.
Or, for a more popular finish for crunchier slices, continue with the next step of stir frying. Place a tablespoon of oil onto a skillet and add mustard seeds. After the seeds start popping, carefully place patra slices in the pan in a single layer. Cook them for a few minutes until they are golden brown on the bottom. Turn the pieces over and cook them briefly to brown the other side.
Remove the patra with a spatula and place them on paper towels. Repeat the process with remaining slices and arrange them on a platter and serve with fresh mint chutney. (Recipe below).
Chutneys are relishes served with almost all Indian meals to give the menu an additional accent. The thin chutney like this one is served with snacks or appetizers as a dipping sauce. Herbs such as cilantro and mint used in this chutney can be grown here, almost year around.
- 1 cup fresh mint
- ½ cup green onions with some of its greens
- ½ cup cilantro leaves
- ½ cup yogurt (or for a vegan option use coconut or soy yogurt)
- ½ jalapeno pepper (most seeds and veins removed)
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons of water
Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree them for a few minutes until it forms a smooth sauce. Add a bit more water if necessary. Keep the jar of the processor closed for a few minutes to let the flavors settle. Then, transfer chutney into a serving bowl or a jar and refrigerate for future use.
These recipes are modified from Shanta’s cook book “Cooking Together: A Vegetarian Co-op”.
Copyright © 2017 by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff is a Sunset District resident and the author of “Cooking Together” and “Flavors of India”. Both cook books are available at Other Avenues Food Store on 3930 Judah Street. Shanta writes recipes and articles on food and nutrition. She also teaches vegetarian and vegan cooking classes in the Outer Sunset.
Categories: Cooking Together