Aai’s picture, courtesy: Nirmala Purushotam
My maternal gran has been one of the biggest influences to my culinary obsession. As a kid, I would be perched atop a tall stool in her bright and airy south Bombay kitchen while she made the silkiest, thousand-layered ghadi-chi-poli. She would send me out to the living room as she roasted the semolina for sheera, training my senses to identify the perfect stage from the heady aroma wafting from the kitchen. It was she who taught me to save coriander stalks and add them in a tadka for daal. I owe a huge chunk of my ability to understand textures, aromas, and food pairings to her.
Aai (my maternal gran) always kept an immaculate kitchen, employing her Gandhian ways in keeping just as much as she needed—no indulgences. And yet, she could serve up the most glorious of meals to sudden guests. To this day, she regularly checks the kitchen for unnecessary extravagance that could potentially be wasted. Not that we always listen to her. Wink.
One of my favoritest things in Aai’s kitchen is this beautiful, ancient, brass steamer. As a kid, I remember how she would get a small charcoal stove going in her kitchen balcony, buying small amounts of kerosene and charcoal from the maid and the dhobi. On top of the reddening jewels of charcoal would sit this gleaming steamer, containing rice or sweet potatoes or whatever else she needed to steam for the day. It would sit there for over an hour, gently cooking its contents in the smoke-scented steam in its belly. The flavor of plain rice steamed in this was something else entirely.
As I saw Amma’s turmeric plant bending over with the weight of the fresh leaves of the season, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to get out the old steamer and make some Patole. These sweet, rice and coconut dumplings come from the western coast of India, and are made in the monsoon because that’s when the turmeric leaves are fresh, the new rice is sticky, and something warm and comforting is welcome. As the dumplings steam gently, the aroma of the turmeric leaf steeps into the rice flour batter, and makes it a perfect carrier for the sweet, modak-like stuffing inside, made from freshly grated coconut and jaggery. Eaten piping hot with a spoonful of freshly made ghee, it can soothe the most frazzled of nerves, and give you a mother’s reassurance about everything that’s going to be alright.
- 10 turmeric leaves, washed and destalked
- 1 large cup of freshly grated coconut
- ¾ cup of jaggery, chopped
- ¼ tsp. green cardamom seeds, powdered
- 1 cup of fine rice flour
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ cup of water
- Place the coconut and jaggery in a thick-bottomed saucepan and cook on medium heat until well combined. The jaggery should melt and the mixture should be dry to look at, but it should have some moisture in it.
- Add the powdered cardamom and combine. Keep aside.
- Get your steamer ready.
- Meanwhile, combine the salt and rice flour in a mixing bowl and make a thick batter, using as little water as possible. The batter should not be runny.
- Place a turmeric leaf horizontally on a chopping board. Spoon over some of the batter and spread it into a thin layer all over the leaf.
- Spoon the coconut filling onto one half of the leaf.
- Fold the other half over the filled half and press slightly. Place in your steamer and allow to cook for about five minutes.
- Unfold on a serving plate and serve piping hot, topped with ghee.