Sunday, August 8, 2010

My new favorite food

Unfortunately, the season for greens is decidedly NOT NOW in India. Since we eat seasonally here on the farm, we eat a lot of rice, dal and chapatti for our meals, with only the occasional okra, (picked fresh from the vast field of it behind the kitchen) to break up on the monotony. I’m not a fan of okra to begin with, and having it pressure cooked turns it into slimy mush. Having it twice a day for a few days in a row was a bit much even for this vegetable lover. The interns and volunteers do a lot of dreaming out loud about spinach and kale.

Okra is occasionally replaced with a vegetable called “bitter gourd”, which is a pimply looking cucumber- like thing that people have variously described as tasting like “nail polish remover” and “paint thinner”. They weren’t kidding when they named it bitter gourd. It’s also supposed to be capable of curing diabetes and Satya hinted around at making a juice out of it for me. I said no, thank you. I’ll take my shots.

So when “patol” or “patra” was being prepared in the kitchen, we all got a little excited. Patra is stuffed taro leaves (also known as cassava, yucca and tapioca, in Africa, Latin America and North America, respectively) that are steamed and fried. The beautiful big taro leaves (which I think look like elephant leaves) are picked (this day by me and Sheela) and trimmed and folded around a chickpea and rice paste. The filling is made chana (chickpeas) and chawal (rice) that have been soaked and ground and seasoned with lots of sour mango powder (amchur), loads of garlic, red chili, garam masala (a mix of hot spices), salt and pepper. The paste is spread over the leaves in layers four or five deep which are then folded, rolled and tied with a stem of lemongrass. The process of making them is fragrant, messy and wonderfully participatory and hands-on.

The taro leaf rolls are then steamed, and if eaten for breakfast the next morning, are sliced and reheated by frying. They are served with a sauce of the chickpea paste. I am told that this is Dr. Vandana Shiva's favorite dish, and so we were treated with this for her recent visit here. It was a humbling pleasure in so many ways to participate in the harvesting, preparing and sharing of this delicious, unique food with such a tremendous woman.

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