Taro-Leaf Rolls

Patrel

If there were a top five of favorite Parsi snack foods, patrel would be on everyone’s list. It’s one of those dishes with Hindu Gujarati origins now completely absorbed into our cuisine and transformed by it. Patrel is definitely exotic and requires some effort, but it is worth all the time you put into it because there is no other taste quite like it. This recipe, which produces patrel of the highest order, was adapted from the one in the 1975 edition of the Time and Talents Club cookbook; its contributor, the late Mary Jamsetjee, my friend Firoza’s aunt, was a respected authority on Parsi food.

Patrel for Parsis, patra for Gujaratis, consists of taro (Colocasia esculentum) leaves spread with a sweet, sour, hot paste and then stacked, rolled, tied, and fried, following the traditional approach, or simply steamed, which I prefer. To finish the dish, the rolls are sliced after they cool and then lightly sautéed or grilled. For Parsis, patrel is a finger-food snack or appetizer, although Gujarati cuisine has recipes for patrel in coconut milk or other sauces.

Having made patrel for almost thirty years, I just recently discovered that large uncrinkly chard leaves make an entirely satisfactory substitute for the taro leaves. The size of the leaves determines the yield. You’ll get from four to eight rolls and at least forty to fifty slices of patrel from this recipe—enough for a gathering.

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Ingredients

Masala

  • About 4 green chiles, depending on heat
  • About 4 dried red chiles, depending on heat
  • 1 (1-inch-long) piece peeled fresh ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 egg-size piece compressed tamarind or 1 cup Thai prepared tamarind pulp
  • 1 ½ cups chickpea flour (besan)
  • ¼ cup rice flour
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 medium-size very ripe banana (best if too mushy to eat)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons jaggery or brown sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 12 large untorn taro or chard leaves (15 inches long from base to tip, not including the stem), or more smaller leaves
  • About 1 cup vegetable oil for shallow-frying
  • Lime wedges

Method

  • For the masala: grind the chiles, ginger, garlic, cumin, and turmeric to a paste in a food processor. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the paste and fry for 3 to 5 minutes, until the aroma rises.
  • Place the compressed tamarind in a bowl. Pour in enough boiling water to cover the tamarind generously and soak about 15 minutes. Rub the softened pulp through a strainer. Measure 1 cup of pulp into the bowl of a food processor and add the fried masala paste, all the flour, the banana, and the jaggery. Pulse to a smooth, thick paste. Season the filling with salt to taste.
  • Wash the taro leaves gently, and trim off the stems. Using a knife or vegetable peeler, carefully shave down the midribs. If leaves tear in handling, save them for the inner layers, where you can also use smaller leaves or make a patchwork. Make piles of 3 to 4 leaves, keeping the strongest ones for the outermost layer.
  • Put a leaf in front of you, dull side up, pointed end facing away. Using your hands or a rubber or wood spatula (you don’t want to tear the leaves with something metal), spread thinly with the filling. The filling should be thin enough for you to see bits of leaf through it. Stack another leaf on top and spread with filling, then repeat the operation with 1 or 2 more leaves, making a stack of 3 to 4 leaves. Fold the 2 bottom lobes away from you. Fold in the sides and crease slightly. Then roll up away from you as tightly as you can, easing over the hump where the stem joins the leaf. Tie with cooking twine in three places so that you have a neat cylinder. Repeat until you use up the filling and leaves.
  • It’s best to cook the rolls right away. Place in a single layer in a bamboo or metal steamer and steam for 25 to 30 minutes. You know patrel is cooked when a thin sharp knife slips easily through the thickest part of the roll without any resistance. Even though patrel is fully cooked at this stage, it will not be firm enough to slice until it is thoroughly cold. At this point, the rolls can be held, refrigerated, for a few days.
  • When ready to serve the patrel, cut the cooled roll into ½-inch-thick slices and shallow-fry them (the usual Parsi method), grill them briefly, or dry-fry them in about 1 tablespoon oil in a hot cast-iron skillet, the type with ridges if you want a striped effect.
  • Serve hot or warm with a squeeze of lime.
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