Prasadam - Leaves, Part 2


Lotus Leaves

Jun 12, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.

In addition to their functional use as serving plates, the leaves of banana plants make an excellent wrapper for foods that can be steamed, baked or grilled. As we demonstrated with a few recipes yesterday, almost any conceivable foodstuff can be wrapped up in banana leaves and cooked. Likewise, foods can be rolled into packets made from all sorts of edible or food-friendly leaves. And, their use extends beyond simple wrappers they can even be used as fresh, organic 'frying pans'.

In the following recipe for Cholkya Vayli Bhakri, a Konkani specialty of rice roti on banana leaf, you'll find a method for cooking with leaves that can be used with banana, lotus, jackfruit, taro and sesame leaves, among others. Cholko means 'a piece of leaf', vayli means 'on top of', and bhakri means a fried roti or bread that's grilled on a leaf.

Cholkya Vayli Bhakri

Cholkya Vayli Bhakri


    1 cup Rice flour (very fine)
    1/2 cup Coconut (fresh or frozen)
    Leaves for cooking (e.g., banana, lotus, jackfruit, taro, sesame)

These ingredients will make the simplest of roti, but you can employ many, many other batters with a similar excellent result. Simply mix a soft dough with enough water so the dough's spreadable. Wash and dry a prepared piece of banana leaf. (Prepared means a leaf softened by steam, or made flexible enough to work with by lightly roasting.) Spread a thin layer of dough on the prepared leaf and cover with another piece of leaf that's the same size. The size of the roti is determined by the surface area of the leaf.

Heat a tava or griddle and fry the roti until the bottom side leaf begins to brown and char, but not burn through. Remove the leaf and discard, then flip the roti, and repeat, cooking the other side. Remove the brownish leaf slowly and discard. Again turn and remove the second leaf, then fry for a few seconds on both sides, without leaf. Apply ghee if desired.

Sesame Leaves

Other batters you might try are those that are leavened, e.g., with baking powder; idli or dhokla types batters, or several of the batters described in our segment on Bataka (dumplings).

As we mentioned yesterday with regard to banana leaves, when many 'cooking leaves' are heated, some constituent element generally imparts flavor and aroma to the food, whether it be through softening of a natural wax or infusion of the leaf's spice, sweetener, or acid.

The same principles described above also come into play when leaves are used in one of the most ancient cooking methods known: pit roasting. Before the modern era, one of the favored methods for slow roasting was to dig a pit in the earth, lining it with aromatic leaves that would impart a particular flavor or other benefit like moisture, aroma, medicinal or nutritional value. In the bottom of the earth pit a good fire would be built on top of rocks, then allowed to burn down to embers. The embers would be removed, and a thick bed of leaves (all food-friendly!) would be placed on top of the hot rocks. Foods like root vegetables or fruits would be layered on top, then more leaves, food, etc. A covering of dirt would be placed on top, and sometimes a second fire was built.

The pit would then be left for anywhere from 12 to 36 hours. When the foods are removed from the roasting pit, they're incredibly well cooked slightly caramelized, soft but firm, and loaded with the flavor and scent of the leaves. Among the many benefits of this cooking method is that with foods having harder to digest carbohydrates, like some root vegetables, the constituents are converted to a more usable and tasty fructose by the slow roasting.

While the ancient method of pit roasting isn't associated with traditional Krsna prasadam, which wouldn't be cooked in earth (or a dirty place), the principles can still be applied to baked goods that are oven or pot roasted over embers. So many flavorful and aromatic leaves can be used. Some, like curry or bay leaves, are simply used to flavor the roasted vegetables, while other leaves are cooked and eaten directly. The leaves of Taro or Jackfruit can be used this way. Vegetables like potatoes, eggplant, tomato, okra or peppers can be layered between the leaves, which will impart their nice flavor to the foods, and the leaves also serve as a cooked green.

The thin, heart-shaped leaves of the taro have long fleshy stems. They taste much like spinach, and are cooked in just the same way as spinach. Eaten raw, taro leaves would cause your throat to scratch, so they must always be cooked first. They're wonderful in dahls and soups, wet sabjis, or as a side green leafy dish.

Tender jackfruit leaves and the young male flower clusters of jackfruit are wonderful, cooked and served as vegetables. You can prepare jackfruit leaves just as you would spinach or cabbage. The large leaves make excellent food wrappers and like banana, can be fastened together for use as leaf plates.




    2 cups Rice
    3 cups water
    15 bulbs of ripe Jackfruit with seeds removed and the flesh cleaned
    1-1/4 cup grated Coconut
    1-1/2 cup melted jaggery, filtered
    1/4 teaspoon Cardamom powder
    2 big Banana leaves

To make the batter for Patholi, soak the rice in water for about six hours, then drain completely. Once the rice is well soaked, remove the seeds from the jackfruit and clean and chop the flesh. Next, mix together the rice, grated coconut, chopped jackfruit and melted jaggery, and grind it into a thick, coarse paste, using scant water as needed. The batter should be a light brown. Add the cardamom powder.

Clean pieces of cooking leaf (banana, lotus, taro or sesame), and pat dry. Put as much batter as will fit in the center of the leaf, allowing room to fold the wrapper into a packet. In a steamer, cook the Patholi for 25 to 30 minutes on medium heat. Allow to cool, then gently remove the leaf covering, and offer.

Taro Leaves

Aluchi Paatal Bhaji (Taro Leaf Curry)


    For Sabji:
    12 stalks of tender Taro Leaves (aluchi paaney)
    1/2 cup shredded Raw Coconut
    2 cobs fresh Yellow Corn, cut to 1-1/2 cups kernals
    2 Tblsp Tamarind paste
    2 Tblsp jaggery
    6 Green chilis
    1 tsp Cumin Seeds
    1 tsp Black Pepper, coarse ground
    1 Tblsp Sesame oil
    Salt to taste
    cup Chana Dal (split chickpeas)
    cup raw uncooked Peanuts
    1 tsp. Coriander powder
    1 tsp. Cumin powder, roasted
    2 Tblsp. Masala (your preferred)

    For Tempering:
    1 tsp Fenugreek seeds
    2 tsp Mustard seeds
    1 tsp Turmeric powder
    1 tsp Asafoetida powder
    10 fresh Curry Leaves
    dry Red Chilis to taste
    Ghee for frying

Grind the coconut, green chilies, cumin and peppercorns to a fine paste and set aside. Wash and soak the chana dal and peanuts in warm water. Wash the taro leaves and stalks, peeling the stalks and rolling up the leaves. Slice them into thin horizontal strips.

In a little ghee, cook the taro on low flame until its wilted and reduced. Add the corn and 2/3 cup water. Cook for about 20 minutes, then add salt, jaggery and tamarind, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in the ground coconut paste and simmer 5 minutes more. Add the soaked chickpeas and peanuts and another 2 to 3cups of water, and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. Fry the spices in a little ghee, and add to the sabji. Mix thoroughly, and offer hot.


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