Perfect Patra

patra-by-Ramona-PozekPatra is an amazing savory pinwheel snack of India made by rolling a spicy ground dal (chickpea) paste infused with cummin and tummeric into taro leaves. There are all kinds of other ingredients as well, such as coconut, garlic, mustard and sesame seeds, cilantro and lime.

My favorite global food guru Ruth Reichl does a splendid job of explaining the slightly labor intensive process of preparing this wonderful dish on her show Adventures With Ruth.

So inspired was I by her episode on Indian cuisine, that I found myself in my local Patel Bros. Market in search of fresh taro leaves and dal. Whilst wandering the aisles with a basket of fresh ingredients, I was lucky enough to spot bag of prepared Patra in the freezer case — culinary serindipity!

deep-foods-patraIt’s a little hard to describe Patra because it doesn’t taste like anything I’ve ever had before. Taro leaves are firmer than spinanch but they have s similar mildness. The dal is savory but the coconut lends an unspected sweetness. Patra is considered a snack because you pop them in your mouth like a finger food. If you have never had Patra, I highly recommend it.

Here is the recipe by chef and author, Julie Sahni of Julie Sahni’s Indian Cooking School in  New York as featured on Adventures With Ruth:

For stuffing

  • 1 cup chana dal (yellow split peas; black chickpeas skinned and split), picked over
  • 2 to 3 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
  • 1 teaspoon asafoetida or 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (3/4 tsp fine salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 (10- by 12-inch) fresh taro leaves (elephant ears), or a 1 lb package fresh taro leaves

For tarka (seasoned oil)

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh or frozen grated unsweetened coconut, or (well-rinsed packaged sweetened flaked coconut, patted dry)

Make stuffing

  • Rinse chana dal in a bowl with several changes of cold water until water runs clear as it is poured off. Soak chana dal with enough cold water to cover by 1 inch for 1 1/2 hours.
  • Drain chana dal, then put in a food processor with 1/2 cup water and process to a grainy puree, stopping to scrape down sides and adding a little more water, if necessary, to help process. (Do not over grind and turn batter into a paste).
  • Transfer puree to a bowl and stir in pepper flakes, cumin, coriander, tumeric, asafoetida, salt, and baking powder.

Prepare taro leaves

  • Cut out stem and center ribs from leaves to make 12 halves. If leaves from a package vary greatly in size, make 3 groups of 4 like-size halves (very large leaves, up to 20 inches, can be halved again crosswise so that one leaf is enough for all four layers) and divide chana dal stuffing into 3 amounts accordingly.

Make rolls

  • Working with one group at a time and roughly 1/3 of stuffing, turn leaves dull side up and spread a spoonful of filling over each, then stack leaves and roll up loosely from one narrow end to another. Place roll, seam side down, in basket of a steamer. Repeat procedure with remaining leaves and stuffing so that you have a total of three rolls (possibly of varying sizes) in steamer basket. Bring 1-inch of water to a boil in steamer, and steam rolls 15 minutes.
  • Transfer rolls to a cutting board and cut crosswise into scant 1/2-inch pinwheel slices. Arrange slices, a cut side up, on a serving platter.

Make tarka

  • Heat oil in a small skillet or very small saucepan over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add mustard seeds, then cover skillet while seeds pop, about 1 minute. Uncover and add sesame seeds, then immediately pour oil with seeds over pinwheels. Squeeze lime juice over pinwheels then sprinkle with cilantro and coconut and serve.