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Many New Year’s resolutions revolve around modifying eating habits. During the holidays we are surrounded by food, bombarded with ads, and guilty of indulgence. Once that is behind us, it is time to clean up our diets. Many people resolve to cut down on empty calories, carbohydrates, and desserts. My resolution is to avoid those crunchy, irresistibly tantalizing, deep-fried Indian appetizers.All cultures have their versions of these cherished foods, known as appetizers or “hunger teasers” in the United States. They are called dim sum (touch the heart) in China; antojitos (little whims) in Mexico, and farsan (a light, ornate snack) in India. Farsans can be more than just bite-sized treats; they can be served as a first course before the main entrée, or alone as a lunch or a light supper. To accompany farsan, chutney is a must. Farsans can be time-consuming to prepare, but worth the effort. They can be prepared in stages, and they go faster the second time around.
Many farsans are deep-fried and not suitable for people who wish to avoid fat. As an alternative, I have compiled a number of farsan recipes that do not require deep-frying. Here is one of my favorites: patra. This virtuous farsan is steamed, filled with lots of leafy greens, and is low-fat, wheat-free, and vegan.
Patra, a popular street snack, is sold all over India, but is seldom found on the menus of Indian restaurants in other parts of the world. This nutritious appetizer is worth the trouble to make and is substantial enough to turn into a one-course meal. Traditionally, leaves of taro plants, which cannot be eaten uncooked, are used to make this dish, but any large edible leaf can be used. Chard and collard leaves are perfect. Cabbage leaves, however, are unsuitable for this recipe.
This is a three-step recipe, and each step can be completed separately to fit your schedule. First, prepared garbanzo flour batter is spread on several large half-leaves that are stacked on top of one another and rolled into logs. The logs are then steamed and allowed to cool. The cooled logs are sliced into ½-inch-thick rounds. The rounds can be served with a chutney, or in an additional step they can be stir-fried briefly in a small amount of oil before serving.
4 large taro leaves or 8 green or red chard or collard leaves (or a combination of these)
2 cups garbanzo flour or chickpea flour (besan)
¼ teaspoon each turmeric, cayenne, coriander, and cumin powders
½ teaspoon freshly minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 cup water
juice of l lemon or lime
3 tablespoons peanut, corn, or safflower oil
½ teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
Wash, dry, and cut the leaves in half lengthwise, removing the middle stems. Mix the garbanzo or chickpea flour, spices, salt, lemon juice, and water together to make a batter. Place one half-leaf on a flat dry surface and spread two tablespoons of batter evenly over it. Lay a second half-leaf on top of the first and spread it with the same amount of batter. Continue this process until six half-leaves have been used. Carefully roll the stack of leaves into a log, keeping it very compact. Some batter may fall out, and that is okay. Then tie the roll with a bright-colored thread to keep it from opening. Set aside, and make a second and third roll the same way. The rolls will feel wet but will solidify in the next step.
To steam the patra, pour 1½ cups of water in a wok or a Dutch oven-type pot with a tight-fitting lid. Lightly oil the surface of a large vegetable steamer basket. Arrange the three rolls in the basket in a triangle shape so that they touch each other only at the ends. Carefully place the steamer basket into the wok or pot and cover. Steam the rolls over medium heat for about 25 minutes, checking to make sure the water hasn’t boiled away. When the rolls look compact and solid, turn the heat off and leave the pot covered for several minutes. Then uncover and remove the basket carefully. It will be very hot. Allow the patra rolls to cool in the basket for half an hour or longer. When they are cool enough to handle, snip off the thread and, using a serrated knife, cut the logs into ½-inch thick slices. Arrange the slices on a platter and squeeze the lemon juice on top.
The steamed patra can be served with a fresh chutney. Or continue with the next step, stir-frying the patra with a small amount of oil.
Heat the oil in a skillet and add the mustard seeds. Allow the seeds to pop for few minutes and then carefully place as many patra slices in the frying pan as can be arranged in a single layer. Cook them for a few minutes until golden brown on the bottom. Turn the pieces over to brown the other side. Repeat the process with any remaining slices. Sprinkle with freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice and serve with a chutney.
Mint chutney makes an especially good dipping sauce for any appetizer since mint is a good digestive aid.
1 cup fresh mint leaves, stems removed
½ cup chopped scallions, including most of their greens
1 tablespoon freshly grated gingerroot
1 or 2 hot chilies, seeds and veins removed and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unflavored yogurt, soy yogurt, or soft tofu
3 tablespoons water
Place all the ingredients in the jar of a food processor or blender and mix until smooth.
|Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health-food store. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, illustrator, and art student. Visit Shanta’s Vegetarian Ethnic Kitchen|