There are few occasions when you get to enjoy finger-licking hot steamed rice served with sambhar and papad on a banana leaf or lip-smacking khichdi on an areca bowl. There is a huge difference between having food from a fancy dinner plate and a humble leaf plate. First, the latter is not expensive; second, it is biodegradable; and third, it has health benefits. Leaf-wrapped food also has the same benefits. It looks good, adds its own flavour to the dish and also add health benefits to it.
Talking about the leaves which can be used for this kind of preparation, Nishesh Tripathi, executive chef, Radisson Blu, Pune Hinjewadi, says that lotus, banana, fig, oak, bamboo and grape leaves are ideal. “Each and every leaf has a distinct flavour and a medicinal use which can be put to use,” he says.
He mentions that leaf extracts have shown antioxidant, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory and tumour-preventing properties.
Popular dishes, which are made using the leaf-wrap technique, are Patra Ni Macchi, Rice Pankhi, Damani Dhokhla and Miang Kham (a Thai preparation), to name a few. “The leaf-wrapping technique not only protects the food in a secure package but it can be grilled, steamed or even roasted, which lets the leaves add a unique flavour and a distinct aroma to the dish,” says Sheik Mohideen, corporate chef, Savya Rasa. He also says that the leaves have antibacterial properties. Apart from grilling, steaming and roasting, the leaves can be used for shallow frying and even broiling food.
Madan, chef, Scribble Cafe and Bar, Viman Nagar, says, “This culinary technique, usually involves steaming the food which is very healthy as it has extremely low fat.” As the wrapped content is generally protein, it is perfect for weight watchers.
Vinod Dighe, chef, The Bombay Velvet, Kharadi, says that leaves give a good flavour to the food and are also good for health and the immunity system. Steaming is the best way of cooking leaf-wrapped food, he further mentions.
The chefs share a few delectable recipes with us:
• Turmeric leaves... 6-7
• Soaked rice. ..2 cups
• Ghee or oil.. .1 tbsp
• Grated coconut. ..1.5 cup
• Grated Goan pyramid jaggery... 1 cup
• Cardamom powder... 1 tsp
• Charoli ...1 tbsp
• Soak the rice overnight, the following morning remove the excess water and grind it into a smooth and thick paste.
• Rinse the turmeric leaves and wipe off the moisture with a cloth and place them aside. Slice the leaves into halves if they are big in size.
• For the stuffing take a heavy bottomed pan and add ghee.
• On a low flame, saute the charoli for 40 to 60 seconds.
• Add fresh grated coconut and jaggery powder and keep stirring the mixture for 3 to 4 minutes.
• Once the jaggery melts, the mixture will leave an aroma, switch off the gas and mix all the ingredients well.
• Add the cardamom powder and mix nicely. Switch off the gas and allow the mixture to cool down.
• Place a scoop of the coconut-jaggery stuffing over one side of the leaf. Wrap the leaf and make sure it is sealed properly.
• Place these parcels on a steamer for 7 to 8 minutes, once the colour of the leaves changes, the dish is ready.
• Allow to cool and then unwrap the leaves.
(Recipe by Vinod Dighe, chef, The Bombay Velvet, Kharadi)
Kerala style Meen Pollichathu is cooked in coconut oil covered with banana leaves and traditionally prepared with Karimeen — pearl spot fish. But you can use seer fish instead, which is available here. The fish is marinated with tangy masala made of tomato, red chillies, onions and tamarind and wrapped in banana leaf and tawa grilled.
• Seer fish.. .500 gm
• Shallots. .100 gm
• Mustard... 1tbsp
• Tamarind... 1 lemon sized
• Tomato... 50 gm
• Garlic.. .5 cloves
• Ginger... 2 inches
• Green chilli.. .2
• Coconut oil. ..50 ml
• Banana Leaf.. .5
• Lemon. ..2
• Chilli powder.. . ½ tbsp
• Turmeric powder.. . ¼ tsp
• Black pepper powder.. . 1 tsp
• Curry leaves... 5 to10
• Coconut milk.. . 2 tbsp
• Salt to taste
• Fish (slice them into fish fingers).................................................100 gm/ 5 pcs
• Cut the shallots into thin slices
• Soak the tamarind and take the extract
• Chop the tomatoes and green chillies
• Make a paste of the ginger and garlic
• Cut the banana leaves into small strips
• Grind and extract the thick milk from the coconut
• Marinate the fish with half quantity of the ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice, turmeric powder, salt and keep it in the fridge.
For the masala
• Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds and allow it to crackle.
• Add chopped green chillies and sliced shallots, curry leaves and saute till the shallots gets golden brown.
• Add the remaining quantity of ginger-garlic paste and saute well till the raw flavour is gone.
• Add chilli powder, turmeric powder and saute till the raw flavour is gone.
• Add chopped tomato and salt and cook well till the oil oozes out from the masala.
• Add tamarind paste and cook with the masala for 3 minutes.
• Add coconut milk and black pepper powder and sauté for 2 minutes.
• Check for seasoning and take the pan off the flame.
• Allow it to cool.
• Place the masala on the small strips of banana leaf and place the marinated fish and wrap it tightly with the book fold technique. Ensure all pieces are the same size and shape.
• In a pan, heat 3 tbsp of coconut oil and shallow fry the fish evenly on a slow flame for 4 minutes and turn the other side and cook for another 3 minutes.
(Recipe by Sheik Mohideen, corporate chef, Savya Rasa)
Patra Ni Macchi
• Rawas fish... 4 pcs
• Mint. ..40 gm
• Green chilli.... 5 gm
• Black salt. ..4 gm
• Lemon.. .1 pc
• Coriander.. .20 gm
• Coconut. ..1/2
• Turmeric powder. ..2 tsp
• Red chilli powder.. .2 tsp
• Salt to taste
• Banana leaves or baking paper. ..2
• String to tie
• Clean the fish and marinate it in the spices and salt.
• Using a grinder, whip up a batch of the regular green chutney.
• Cut small pieces of the banana leaves or baking paper and then coat the fish fillet with 2 tbsp of the green chutney. Make sure every inch of the fish is coated with chutney and then wrap the banana leaf with a string to make a neat parcel.
• Put the fish in a preheated oven for 15 minutes.
• For a more authentic approach to the dish, steam the parcel. To steam, put water in a pressure cooker till it touches the base of the steamer, and place the parcels of fish on the steamer and close the lid of the cooker without the whistle. Steam the fish for 10 minutes on each side.
• Once the fish is steamed, serve the fish with the banana leaf still on.
(Recipe by Nishesh Mani Tripathi, executive chef, Radisson Blu, Pune Hinjewadi)