“…the leaves contain needle-shaped oxylate crystals that can cause a stinging sensation in the mouth and throat when not properly prepared… ” How nice….that makes me want to dive right in to a plateful….
The truth is, I’ve already eaten arbi leaves…
A few years ago, as I was wandering through the aisles of the nearest Indian grocer, I happened upon a can of them, already seasoned, rolled, cooked and sliced, and, as I had no idea what they were, I naturally placed the can in my basket. Upon arriving home, I tucked it away in a corner of the cabinet. When an inquisitive moment paired with a driving need to exoticly-impress a date finally came, I was pleasantly suprised to see whorls of green layered with gold! I removed them as carefully as I could, but as some of you may already know, it is inevitable that a fair portion of these canned goodies will break. However, whole or broken, the taste was unforgettable: rich, dark greens layered with besan, roasted and infused with an unfamiliar formula of spices, fragrant from re-heating in the microwave oven… for Umrikans this will more-than-suffice for exotic. The date? Well… I could tell by the way his mouth fearfully avoided the morsels as he chewed and swallowed that he was far from feeling fond affection; still, he inspected each piece carefully, turning them this way and that with his fork, his head cocked first one way and then the other in a not-so-subtle attempt to understand and unravel their mysterious aesthetic. I had no explanation to offer, just: “…more chutney?”.
Sometimes, that’s the only way to taste new things in Umrika-land… I looked for them on my next curry leaf run, but it appeared that there was a greater demand for bags of dry, crunchy chaat mixes as these now hung off the corners on clips, filling the entire section, obviously having overgrown their former territory like potted mint will try to do if left unchecked. I passed up the frozen parathas, the pathetic kerelas and left the store with my new stash of kari-patta. Instead of cash, I should have searched my trunk and produced a pair of pruning shears for trade…add another hefty item to my expanding list of “things that I must buy online…” (I grumble much more about the sudden, much-more-local loss of Jyoti karhi and dhal makhani, but I’m keeping my chin up, and mouth open for things to come).
Luckily, recipes for these exquisite, intricate-looking rolls abound in food-blog land. And it isn’t just besan finding its way between the leaves: rice, coconut, and Aunt Karisma’s undies show up in recipes that stretch like crackled elastic from Uttar to Andhra Pradesh. I, however, decided to start my tasting taut and twangy in the sweet-sour state of Gujerat, and collected nine different recipes of similar sort to contrast, compare, calculate and finally arrive at a recipe indicative of the Gujerati opus but without any particular credit in owe.
Unfortunately I was missing just one, perhaps important, ingredient for my recipe: the arbi leaves. I don’t expect to see them for sale anytime soon, or anywhere nearby. That very nice man from Delhi has a hard-enough time stocking usable tendli, let alone leaves that would never make the menu of the restaurant next door. This summer I’ll grow my own, and post the results if I’m able to speak after the first bite. Collard greens are plentiful here and make a fair substitute.
Oh, and just for trivial thrills, there are dishes made from the leaves which do not contain a souring agent; apparantly the taro plant(the accepted Umrikani apellation) is crucial to the cuisine of Hawaii, and other Pacific island cultures; for now though, I’d like to play it safe.* (A tip from Vee of Past, Present and Me: break the stem of an arbi leaf you intend to use, rub the juice on your inner wrist and count to ten; if it stings, the oxylate concentration is too high. Don’t use them. Take it as an omen that you’ve been cooking too much and take the afternoon off from the kitchen. Order out for pizza.)**
The multiple steps involved in preparing these may seem daunting, but actually it’s quite easy; you can even do as I did and start a day ahead of serving, casually doing each step when you have time.
18 arbi leaves
2 1/2 C besan
2 t ground dry red chiles (more or less to taste; I used more)
1 t turmeric
3 t sugar or gur
salt to taste
3 T oil
1/2 C tamarind paste/extract
3 t ginger paste
1 bunch of coriander leaves, finely chopped
1)Trim stems from arbi leaves, wash well and pat dry. Carefully slice off the thick center rib of each leaf, taking care that you don’t split them in the process (it happens though- hide these in the middle of the rolls; know one will be the wiser). Place each leaf on a board and gently roll it over with a rolling pin, again being careful not to split the leaves.
2)Divide the leaves by similar size into groups of three.
3)Mix the besan, ground chiles, turmeric, sugar and salt. Add the oil and mix well by hand until the mixture resembles crumbs.
4)Add the tamarind paste, ginger paste and enough water to form a thick, but easily spreadable paste (like peanut butter or yoghurt cheese). Add the coriander leaves and mix well. Check for salt.
5)Taking the groups of leaves in turn, ribbed sides facing up, spread the paste thinly( if you think of it more as an adhesive than a substantial filling, you’ll do fine…in fact, you should be able to adhere them securely to the walls of your kitchen, should you be so moved…) on each of them, placing the next leaf on top of the previous one before spreading the next layer of paste. So, you will have the following configuration: leaf, paste, leaf, paste, leaf, paste. When three have been layered and pasted, and with the tip of the leaves toward you, fold 1-2″ of the sides toward the center, and then roll firmly starting from the leaf tips to the stem end. Secure the rolls with cotton string (if you wish, or just place it seam-side down) and place in the container of a steaming apparatus. Steam for 40 minutes. Allow the rolls to cool before handling.
6)Now, take each roll, remove the string, and slice crossways carefully, using a sharp knife, into 1/3-1/2″ slices. These may be eaten just as they are with relishes, but most often they are finished with a tempering, such as the following, or deep-fried. I decided to take the middle road:
For the tempering:
3 T oil (if you would like to drizzle or toss them with oil, then use this amount, if you would like to shallow-fry them, use 5-6 T, adding more if necessary)
2 t mustard seeds
2 t cumin seeds
2 t sesame seeds
2 pinches of asafoetida/ hing
1a)Heat oil over med-low heat, add mustard, cumin and sesame seeds; when the mustard seeds splutter, add the hing, swirl and then pour over the sliced rolls. Toss gently to coat if you wish.
1b)If you would like to shallow-fry these, then place a cover on the pan when the seeds begin to splutter and allow them to finish. Remove from heat, and then remove the fried seeds with a spoon. Set these aside. Return the oil to heat and fry the slices on each side until golden brown, adding a little more oil if necessary.
2)In either case, sprinkle them with 3-4 T grated coconut and serve.
If you decided to shallow fry them and still have the reserved fried spices, take them and follow me…
Pel’s Quick-and-easy Pistachio Pilaf
1/2 C grated coconut, fresh or frozen
the fried spices from the previous recipe
a handful of shelled, roasted pistachios (soaked and skinned as well, if desired)
2 C dry, pilaf-making rice, rinsed well and drained (I tried sona masoori- it worked)
3 1/2 C water
3/8 C coriander-mint chutney (coriander and mint leaves, lime juice, salt, ground roasted cumin)
salt to taste
1)Wipe the inner surface of the pan with oil and roast the coconut until very lightly golden over a low flame, add the fried spices, pistachios and a little oil and fry for about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid any scorching; add the drained rice and mix very well- about 2 minutes more.
2)Add the water, chutney and salt to taste (I used 1/2 t, but it depends on the saltiness of the chutney); Bring to boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid, turn heat to low and steam for 20 min. Lift lid and fluff with form, re-cover and let stand for a few minutes.
I needed a dish made of pulses next, so, going with the green theme and the Gujerati flavour, I took this recipe straight out of Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking:
Moong Dhal Na Poora
1 C moong dhal (I used dhal with skin for extra colour and nutrients)
3/4″ piece of ginger, peeled, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1-2 fresh green chiles, cut into 3 pieces
1 t salt, or to taste
1/4 t baking soda (optional…I didn’t use)
1/4 t turmeric
2 T coriander leaves, minced finely
1 small onion, peeled and minced finely
about 1/2 c oil/ghee (I used peanut oil)
1) Pick over the dhal and rinse well; soak in plenty of water for 5 hours; drain.
2)Make a paste or puree of the ginger, garlic and chiles. Grind it with the dhal, adding 1/2 c of water, the salt, baking soda, and turmeric until you have a thick batter. Stir in the onions and coriander leaves.
3)Heat a tava or griddle over medium-low heat; for each poora: drop a teaspoon of oil on the cooking surface, tilt to spread; place 1/3 c of the batter in the center, count to 4, and then with a small ladle or spoon spread the batter by swirling it outward from the center in a spiral, aiming for a 5-6″ circumference; drizzle 1/2 t of oil over the poora surface, and another 1/2 t at the edges; cover and allow to cook for about 2 minutes, or until the underside has a reddish tinge. Flip the poora to the other side, and allow to cook uncovered for about 1 1/2 minutes, until it develops reddish spots.
4)Make all of them this way, stacking them on top of each other. Be sure to stir the batter in the bowl well before each one is made.
Then, I really needed something special to moisten all of this dryness. Anita’s very delicious and very versatile Walnut and Mint Chutney(of A Mad Tea Party) seemed like the answer -and it was!…. except I used pistachios… which she said is just fine….
I know that you might have an urge to add a bit of garlic or ginger or temper-of-hing to this, but don’t! The Kashmiri Pandit Chutney Patrol (KPCP)will come after you if you do!!!!
If you are feeling really fancy, you can make little spoons of celery-sticks, like I did!!
(Ooops! It looks like a Marathi specialty wanted to sneak into the post too… oh well!)
I had a few of the patra bajia left over a fter a few days, and as I was making sweet-cassava pakoras for some company and had hot oil at the ready, I decided to deep-fry some of them as well…. Although I was at first dismayed watching my hard-earned spirals unravel in the oil, the final effect is astoundingly beautiful: a bit like mini-galaxies….
(that’s a lousy photo… make them and see for yourself! They are very crispy… and remain crispy for a looooong time…)
This is my entry to Jihva for Ingredients- Greens, May 2007, hosted by Indira of Mahanandi, co-hosted by Nandita of Saffron Trail. This month’s JFI marks the one-year anniversary of this Indian food-blogging event. May it continue for a hundred more!
“Oxalic acid may be present in the corm and especially in the leaf, and these foods should be eaten with milk or other foods rich in calcium so as to remove the risks posed by ingesting the free oxalic radical especially for people with kidney disorders, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis. Calcium reacts with the oxalate to form calcium oxalate which is very insoluble.” (Wikipedia, the full entry can be read here)
**Pel may have added that last part… But in consolation, a concisely-written page about taro may be found here.