There are many cultures around the world where cooking and eating wrapped food is popular, but I am not talking about burritos, samosas, or even a shwarma. I am talking about food that is wrapped in a leaf to cook, and then consumed in different ways — with or without the leaf.
This process is most popularly used in tamales in Mexico, pasteles in Latin American countries, bibingka in the Phillippines, kakinoha-zushi (leaf-wrapped sushi) in Japan, and pepes in Indonesia. The leaves wrap a variety of dough, sticky rice, meats, and add their rustic flavor and aroma to the food.
When such food is cooked over a grill or in a steamer, it teaches an important life skill — that of trust. As the cook cannot open the leaf to check if the food inside is cooked until they have to remove it from the flame, the cook learns to trust their instincts and be confident in the tiny signs which may suggest that the food is cooked.
In India, there’s a variety of food that is cooked wrapped in a leaf, but the two most popular food items are — idli (in South India), and aloo vadi (in West India).
In Gujarati cuisine, the same aloo vadi becomes patra, or patroda. Now, this particular item is very different from all the other food mentioned above, because the leaf here is not wrapped around anything and later discarded. It is the leaf that you eat.
Made of colocasia leaves (also known as taro, kesuve, and arbi), patra is a popular steamed snack in Gujarat, also shallow-fried and sold in packets to last longer. The bunch of leaves grow with little care, and taste delicious when cooked in the right way.
Disclaimer: These leaves are NOT to be eaten raw. If you have any food allergies, be wary of eating these leaves, as it may cause itching in the throat.
How to make colocasia leaves spicy rolls (patra):
- 2 cup gram flour (besan)
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger-green chili paste
- salt as required
- 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
- 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
- 12 medium-sized colocasia
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
- oil as required
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/4 cup jaggery
- water as required
- In a big bowl, take 2 cups of besan. Add turmeric, red chili powder, ginger-green chili paste, asafoetida, jaggery, and lemon juice. Drizzle some oil in the mixture and mix well. Add salt and water to make it a fine paste.
- On a flat platform, take a colocasia leaf. With the help of a knife, carefully remove the veins from the center of the leaf on the backside.
- Now take the leaf and apply the besan mixture all over it. Start rolling from the bottom ends of the leaf, and roll it tightly till you reach the top. Cover the roll with some more besan mixture.
- Repeat steps 1–3 for all the leaves.
- Steam the rolls in a steamer for about 20 minutes. Once they are cooked, cut the rolls into smaller, 1/2 inch slices.
- Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds and sesame seeds once the oil is hot. Once the seeds crackle, add some asafoetida.
- Add the cut slices of steamed patras and fry them for about 5 minutes. Serve hot with your choice of chutney (coriander or garlic).