By Naini Setalvad
Colocasia is one of those rare vegetables where the root and the leaves are used to make a variety of mouthwatering dishes. Its high nutritional and medicinal content makes it a must in every home, says Naini Setalvad
The large and billowing colocasia leaf looks like the ears of an elephant. Commonly known as arbi ke patte in Hindi, alu che paan in Marathi, alvi na patta in Gujarati and taro leaves in English, it has many medicinal properties that makes it a wonderful food during the rains. Just as an umbrella protects you from the rains, so also arbi and its leaf protect you against many ailments.
Colocasia is mainly consumed for its edible corm and leaves. Both of these are usually roasted, baked or boiled and peeled and eaten as a vegetable. The leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals. The plant thrives in the rainy season, growing profusely.
Although colocasia leaves lose most of their nutritional values when cooked along with salt, they are rich in several nutrients. The Vitamin A content is good for your vision. It also contains Vitamin C, which improves the lustre of the hair and gives a sparkle to the eye. Vitamin C is essential for skin health. Its antioxidant action cleanses your body, removing the bad effects of wrong eating, stress and pollution. The cleansing action adds a glow to the face.
The iron content in colocasia leaves improve the quality of blood, and boosts liver health. It is a rich source of calcium, which is essential for sturdy bones and women’s bone health and guards against pre menstrual problems. It is good for lactating mothers as it increases the flow of milk. The potassium content of the leaves may help to lower blood pressure. Colocasia leaves contain traces of zinc, which is excellent for men’s health and acts as a mood stabliser if consumed regularly.
Consuming these fibre-rich leaves can help to regulate the digestive system, cleanse it, preventing constipation and stomach-related disorders.
The juice of the fleshy root (the corm, arbi), is consumed to alleviate fever. The leaves are useful in treating asthma. The stems of the plant are used to stop bleeding of wounds and relieve the pain and inflammation of insect bites. There are innumerable ways of cooking it. In India, colocasia is used to make soups, snacks, vegetables, the most popular one being ‘patra’ (a rolled delicacy made from leaves, coated with spices, steamed and then tempered with seasonings; see recipe in earlier page).
Most edible varieties of colocasia (both corm and leaves) contain traces of oxalic acid, which leads to an itching sensation in the mouth and hands during contact. To prevent this, make sure you wash it thoroughly before use. Rinse the itchy area well under running water. A little tamarind juice added during cooking will prevent the itchy sensation when you eat it.
Colocasia has great significance in Hawaii where it is believed that it existed from time immemorial even before the birth of the human race. It is ranked fourteenth among the staple foods in the world.
Colocasia rice wraps
10 colocasia leaves
1 1/2 cups steamed rice
1/2 cup gram flour (besan)
2 tbsp. tamarind pulp
1 tsp. red chilli powder
1/4 tsp. turmeric powder
1/4 tsp. ajwain seeds
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
3-4 pinches asafoetida powder
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp green chili paste
1 tbsp. coriander leaves, finely chopped 5 – 10 curry leaves
1 tsp. jaggery powder
salt to taste
2 tbsp oil
For the seasoning
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
1 tbsp coriander leaves finely chopped
10 curry leaves
1 tbsp. oil
o Mix the gram flour and tamarind extract with 1/2 cup water.
o Add chilli powder, salt, jaggery, cumin, ajwain seeds, and turmeric powder.
o Stir with a spoon until smooth, and no lumps remain. Keep aside.
o Heat oil in large heavy pan, add ajwain and cumin seeds, and allow to splutter.
o Add curry leaves, asafetida, chilli paste, garlic and ginger paste and mix.
o Add rice, coriander and stir.
o Take off fire and set aside to cool.
o Remove thick veins from the back of each leaf.
o Roll each leaf gently with a rolling pin, to flatten all veins.
o Place two leaves one on another, with the smaller one on top.
o Place them with the smooth side facing down.
o Spread a thin layer of batter on the leaves facing up.
o Sprinkle a layer of rice over batter.
o Roll tightly from base to tip, folding in sides to form a closed cylinder.
o Keep aside. Repeat this with the remaining leaves.
o Seal the open edges with a bit of batter.
o When all the rolls are ready, steam them, in a vessel or cooker making sure the vessel is well above the water level.
o Steam for 20-25 minutes, remove, and allow to cool.
o Cut into slices.
o Arrange in a serving dish.
o Heat oil for seasoning, first add mustard seeds, followed by cumin seeds and sesame seeds, and allow to splutter.
o Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
o Serve with green coriander chutney.
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