A tradition is a family thing, possibly of a community or of a region. It is a thing we have lived with since forever, usually from even before. It could pertain to communication, attire, ritual, procedure, occasion or celebration, occupation, decoration or design, and food.
Traditions bring into our lives the ways preferred by generations, who found them meaninful and, at least in culinary matters, opportunities to perfect practices that yield immense satisfaction value and good, happy feelings. A great food preparation could settle much of the ills on our mind, if not all – a great state for taking up almost any other activity including sleep, a wonderful way to heal ourselves of residual stresses and strains.
The thought of writing this column occurred some days before while savouring a dish I have dug into all my life. It is called ” Gojha ” in my house and in our native place in Bhojpur, on the southern side of the Gangetic plain, half-way between Varanasi and Patna. At other places in the vast region around, it is known as Rikwachh or Girwachh. It is a simple if time-consuming and recipe-sensitive preparation made of colocassia leaves.
The vegetable proper is a tuber that grows below the soil top. Locally, it is called Kanda, Arbi or Arwi. The tuber and the leaves of the plant have high oxalic acid content which, if not appropriately tempered by a measure of sourness, causes itching in the throat. The compound is stated to deplete insigficant amounts of calcium from the body, on one hand, and is an essential catalyser for immune system effects, on the other, as a natural chemotherapy against rogue cancerous growth and vigorous antidote to viral, bacterial and vascular formations.
Before we include the dish in our menu for the day, we need to glance at the calender : the leaves are only available in the monsoon months of July and August, perhaps a few days before and after. Then, one needs to know or have a clue where they would be available. They are unlikely to be found in the vegetable section of branded retail shops in city malls.
A weekly haat or locality bazaar nearby would be good bet, where hawkers of the whole range of seasonal and perennial produce converge on a particular weekday, set up roadside shops in the evening in baskets or on carts, and even on the ground over thick gunny spreads. The crowded congregation is loud with curses and caution-calls frequently heard from passers-by on foot, bicycles, mobikes or cars, and hawkers voicing rhythmic words in their very own peculiar but artful ways. The brightly lit mela wraps up late, between ten and eleven in the night, if it has not rained or is not likely to. The maid of the house could be a tremendous one to outsource the job of procuring the dark green arbi-ka-patta, as I would specify to her in my dialect.
Buy a few bundles of colocassia leaves. They come with the stalk.
Choose the ones that have younger, fresh looking leaves.
Cut off the stems, wash the leaves thoroughly and put them in a basket.
Leave them to drain and dry.
Prepare a flowing mix of chikpea flour with water, which will add to taste as well as serve to bind the leaf layers. A less flowing mix will end being spread in thicker layers that will harden the final product, an undesirable attribute. Maybe 7 – 8 gm of the flour per average sized leaf of about 7″ – 8″ length…
Now add to the paste :
1 A souring agent, in sufficient enough concentration…
We’d use dry raw mango pieces, about 9 – 10. Leave it soaked in water for 5 – 6 hours before grinding it to paste.
Or, add about 2 tbsp of raw mango powder, that is “aamchuur.”
( for about 40 leaves, big and small, and 300 gm of flour used. )
Add a dash of lemon to give it a flavour.
2 Chilly …
Green Paste, about 1 tbsp full, for 300 gm of flour used.
Red, about 3/4 tsp … in same proportion.
Pepper, about 3/4 tsp … or a pinch less.
3 Garlic Paste, about 1 tbsp … 10 good size cloves.
4 Ginger Paste, a little more than 1 tsp …
5 Cumin Powder, a pinch less than 1 tsp …
6 Garam Masala, a little more than 1 tsp …
7 Turmeric Powder, about 1/2 tsp …
8 Salt, about 1 & a 1/2 tsp … er, make it to taste.
Now we have the leaves and the paste before us. Start dressing the leaves by shaving off the thicker veins on them. It’s more to do with difficulty of rolling up the layered leaves than taste. Thicker veins would pierce and tear the adjacent leaf layers, while rolling them into a cylindrical form. But take care while shaving … not to cut off excessively and cause holes through the leaf.
Take a large steel plate with high enough edges and place it upside down, to keep the flat top up.
Choose one of the largest leaf in the basket and spread it face down on the flat top. The side would be lighter green and we would see the prominent veins and the places they have been shaved off.
Now begins the application of the prepared batter on the back of the leaves.
We do it best by the palm; dip it face down on the surface, flip the fingers a little into it and, with a carving action over the surface, pick up a lyer of the paste on the palm. Place the laden palm on the leaf and rub over it in one direction, spreading the potent mix all over. Repeat as necessary.
Place another leaf, back side up, and repeat the process.
Take care while placing the leaves on top of the one below, to ensure the area is almost equally covered by the subsequent leaves. So that, when the layers are sufficiently done, the entire spread is equally thick, barring the edges.
Fold the edges to straight line, at the left and right, and start rolling from below ( closest to yourself ) up. Keep it tight, not allowing to loosen while rolling the layered lot into a cylindrical shape.
We’ve now got an interim fruit of our labour : the roll. Make a couple more … Then, put them to steam for about 40 – 45 minutes. We put them in the separators, in its pressure cooker, without the weight on the lid.
Before you decide to shut the flame, check if the rolls are cooked : put a thin wire, knife or fork, and allow it to fall through roll … it should with ease. Take it off the steamer and allow it to cool. Putting it in the fridge for a while, for it to harden, is a good idea. It helps in cutting it up into inch – wide slices.
We stir fry the Gojha slices … with a little oil, usually mustard, and some mustard seeds and a few broken red chillies to raise the flavour and enhance the taste.
These delicious slices are part of our lunch or dinner, mostly with plain rice … Enjoy !