I was in Cape Town a couple of weeks ago for the annual Design Indaba. Part of my ticket for the 3-day convention included food vouchers for the convention’s food stalls, and one stall was called The Masala Cafe. For 3 days straight, I ate what I was convinced was made by the Gods themselves: puri and patha.
I have never in my life been so blown away by a food stall. This cafe-style pick-n-mix of Indian finger foods – from spring rolls to chilli bites – was run by Indian mothers, and one thing in particular stole my heart. It’s called “patha,” which is made from yam leaves that have been layered with a spiced chickpea flour filling, rolled into a log, steamed, sliced and fried, before being put between two pieces of “puri,” a kind of blend between a roti and naan bread.
God, did it taste good.
I have cooked with chickpea flour before, but it’s flavour is not something you can substitute into everything. My pancakes, for example, did not taste great, and it doesn’t work like flour because it doesn’t have gluten. So it stays quite liquid and doesn’t knead well.
And the beauty of this dish is the spices – oh, the spices! Traditional Indian food is so fragrant, and packed with flavour, and all of these spices have health benefits attached too! It turns any set of ingredients – no matter how boring – into the most intense gastronomical experience ever. It really never fails to blow me away.
I admit, I had to hunt for some of the ingredients in the recipe I found online, but considering how little there is online about this recipe, I think you could wing the spice mix to a certain degree. I guess it’s a family thing, and a mother’s recipe will always have something in particular that sets it apart from everyone else’s, you know?
One thing, though, that I think I need some more practice working with, is tamarind paste. I strongly advise that you find one that has been filtered already, otherwise you’ll end up like me and have to painfully strain through the mess that is pure tamarind paste. Wowzer. Guuurrrl, I was not expecting to add 30 minutes to the prep time for this stuff. Sheesh.
Being a noobie to this whole kind of cooking, I bought it pure because I thought “Heck, let’s get the real shizz!” In hindsight, I should’ve researched it a bit more, because little did I know that I had bought it as it gets taking from the husk: full of fibres, and full of rock-hard pips. Yuck.
The straining of this is incredibly messy too, and cleaning the sieve afterwards was a pain in the motherfriggin’ buttocks.
However, once I had scaled that mountain feeling uber triumphant, I could continue with the recipe. The rest is pretty straightforward, and actually pretty fun once you get into it.
One hurdle I still faced was making a steam bath…
… and voila! A baking tray filled with 500ml of water, 2 forks turned on their side, and an enamel dish placed on top. Not pictured is my bamboo steaming lid, but you can cover this with any large lid you have on hand.
Oh, and I used spinach in mine as opposed to yam leaves, purely because yam leaves are not so easy to find. If you do find them, use them, but spinach works as well.
Then, you basically work on layering your blanched leaves and chickpea paste (like a lasagna), rolling it up, steaming it, and letting it cool completely before you slice it and fry it!
Paired with some roti and yoghurt, and you have yourself an impressive-looking dinner that was totally worth the effort!
Patha, Indian spiced spinach leaves
1 big bunch of spinach leaves (with nice big leaves, whole)
½ cup all purpose flour
1 cup channa flour (chick-pea flour)
½ cup tamarind concentrate
½ cup yogurt
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp oil for the mixture
(oil for frying patha)
4 tbsp coriander
3 tbsp cumin powder
2 tbsp fennel powder
½ tsp hing powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp chilli powder/chilli flakes
1 tsp ground ginger
- Start by mixing the flours and the spices together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a food processor, puree the onion, garlic, yoghurt, lemon juice and tamarind paste until it’s a nice and smooth consistency. Add this to the dry ingredients.
- Add the salt and the sugar, and mix together. The filling should be like a hummus kind of spread in consistency, so add flour or chickpea flour if it’s too runny. Season with salt to adjust to your taste.
- Having blanched your spinach leaves very lightly, just to soften them slightly, start with a layer of spinach leave on the base, and then alternate layering a thin spread of the paste with a layer of spinach leaves.
- Once you’ve finished everything up, carefully pinch one of the long sides in, and pretend you’re rolling a Swiss-roll. When you’ve rolled it, carefully lift it into your steaming dish (I had to cut mine in half to make it fit). THIS BIT IS MESSY – don’t worry. Clean up when you’re completely finished.
- Cover the roll and steam for about 30 minutes. Be careful to refill the water if it evaporates.
- When that’s done, let it cool and ideally leave it in the fridge for overnight.
- When you’re ready to eat it, slice it into centimetre thick slices and fry in some oil for about a minute either side, just to brown it a little bit.
- Serve with some roti and some yoghurt, and you’re set! Bon appetit!