Spicy Green and Gold

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Gujarati cuisine is unlike any other Indian cuisine. It has an amazing number of sweet and salty dishes and garnishes that are chosen to offer culinary harmony during mealtimes. Almost strictly vegetarian, this cuisine is traditionally served to guests on ornate platters, accompanied with sumptuous rice dishes and a variety of wheat breads.

Even though the Western Indian state of Gujarat has had many foreign influences over the years, the basic tastes have remained the same. The famous Gujarati thali (a selection of dishes, chosen to create balance in taste and color) is always served with sweet and sour chutneys and pickles.

Here is a partial list of some of the more popular Gujarati dishes. You may have sampled some of them in vegetarian Indian restaurants:

Bhel PuriCrisp puffed rice with cilantro, onions, and potatoes seasoned with tamarind, and mint and garlic chutneys
Bhatura CholleHuge puffed puri (potato puffs)
Masala DosaSpiced potato in crisp, savory crêpev
UttappamA thick rice pancake served with sambar (a minty, spicy condiment)
Gobhi ParathaShredded cauliflower in a flaky, flat bread
Pav BhajiSpicy mixed vegetable purée served with bread
DhoklaSteamed chickpea cake with mint chutney>


Patra is a popular Gujarati vegetarian snack or ingredient used in main or side dishes. It is a rolled, filled menu item that resembles a green and gold pinwheel when sliced. Patra is also known as “pathrode,” and the leaves are sometimes called “aloo” or even “elephant ears.” The taro leaf is the traditional wrapper; however, spinach or collard leaves can be substituted when making your own patra.

There are many different ways to prepare patra, just like any beloved traditional dish. Patra is rolled up with tamarind paste and a variety of spices, steamed to solidify the filling, and then sliced and fried.

Besan is usually the main ingredient in the filling or paste for patra. Besan is garbanzo bean flour, also called gram flour. It is not a finely ground flour, and the ‘grittiness’ actually adds texture to recipes in which it is used. Besan can be found in Indian markets and online, but it is easy to make your own. Simply lightly toast cooked garbanzo beans in a hot oven until they are crispy. Grind the crispy garbanzos in a food processor or by hand with a mortar and pestle.

Nowadays, many households cut to the chase and purchase canned or frozen patra, which can be micro-waved or quickly fried. If you are looking for canned or frozen patra, you might also search for alu wadi, which is “patra” in the Marathi dialect. Canned or frozen patra are usually sliced before packaging. When you open the package, you will see swirls of dark green and gold. You can microwave, steam, or fast-fry canned or frozen patra, depending on your time and your needs. Patra have a wonderful fragrance of spices, including ginger, chili, and garlic. In addition, if rolled correctly, the leaves and filling form a delightfully chewy, almost meat-like texture.

Make Your Own Patra

Making patra, rather than purchasing it canned or frozen, takes some dedication, as it does require some ingredients not usually found outside an Indian kitchen. Patra may sound intricate to make, but it is basically a roll — a leaf is spread with a paste-like filling, rolled, and then steamed, baked, or, most traditionally, fried. We have found it is well worth the effort to make your own.

Here are some recipes that allow you to prepare your own patra. The recipes freeze well, so make a double batch and freeze the extra for later. Steam, microwave, or fry frozen patra right from the freezer. (Do not thaw.)

Traditional Patra

(Makes 15 pieces)

There are many “traditional” ways to prepare patra. This is a favorite one. Canned tamarind paste and other ingredients for this recipe are available in Central American, Middle Eastern, and Indian markets or from online retailers.

15 patra leaves (If patra is not available, use large fresh spinach leaves or collard greens, with the center spines removed.)

  • Paste
  • ¼ cup tamarind paste, rolled into a ball
  • ¼ cup jaggery (dark brown sugar) or slightly moistened organic brown sugar, rolled into a ball
  • ¼ cup chopped, deseeded fresh green chilies of choice
  • 1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (a spice mix available in Indian markets, from gourmet grocers, and online)
  • 1 cup besan (gram or garbanzo bean) flour
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • Cooking Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon rai (whole black mustard seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon til (untoasted sesame seeds)

Clean and set aside the leaves you have selected. If you located fresh patra leaves, cut out the stems and stalks.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the paste ingredients until well-mixed. This will form a paste that is spreadable.

Place the leaves, single file, on a clean surface. Place a small amount of the paste on one edge of a leaf and roll tightly. Repeat until all the leaves are used. This is the patra!

Steam the patra in a stovetop steamer* for approximately 10-15 minutes. To test if the patra is done, insert a knife into the center of a patra. If the knife comes out clean, it’s done.

Heat oil in a wok or a deep pot. Add rai and til to season the oil. With a very sharp knife, cut patra lengthwise into thin strips. Drop the sliced patra into the hot oil and fry only until the slices become crisp.

Carefully remove patra from oil and pat dry with paper towels. Serve hot or cold, with fruit chutney, shredded coconut, or diced fresh fruit. The fried patra can be frozen.

Note: If you don't have a stovetop steamer, create one by pouring 2-3 inches of water into a deep pot. Then, place a small colander on top of the pot, making certain that the water does not touch the patra.

Total calories per patra: 96 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 15 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 7 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Patrana Samosa

(Makes 10 appetizer-sized servings)

This recipe is a combination of patra and samosa — a crispy, filled-pocket appetizer.

  • 10 patra or spinach leaves
  • 1 cup peeled, boiled, and medium chopped potatoes
  • ½ cup steamed green peas
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped, deseeded green chilies
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped sweet onions
  • 2 teaspoons softened nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 1 Tablespoon plus ½ cup besan (gram or garbanzo bean) flour, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon plus ½ cup water, divided
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Wash leaves and lay flat. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, mash potatoes and peas. Mix in cumin, chilies, cilantro, onions, margarine, 1 Tablespoon besan flour, and 1 Tablespoon water. Smear each leaf with a ½-inch of paste and roll up.

When ready to serve, combine ½ cup flour and ½ cup water to form a batter. Heat oil. Dip each patra into the batter and then quickly fry in oil. Flip to fry other side. Serve hot with sweet chutney.

Total calories per serving: 89 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 8 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 14 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Palak Patra

(Makes approximately 17 patra)

This version of patra is meant to be prepared with palak (spinach) as the ‘leaf’ and has a delightful, spicy ginger-chili flavoring.

Canned tamarind paste is available in Central American, Middle Eastern, and Indian markets or from online retailers.

34 big palak (spinach) leaves

  • Paste
  • 2 cups besan (gram or garbanzo bean) flour
  • 3 Tablespoons rice flour
  • ¼ cup tamarind paste, rolled into a ball
  • 2 Tablespoons vegan sugar
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garlic paste
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (a spice mix available in Indian markets, from gourmet grocers, and online)
  • Cooking Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • Garnish (Optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons grated coconut
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Wash spinach and soak in ice water for 30 minutes.

In a separate bowl, mix together the paste ingredients. Drain the spinach and pat dry. Place two spinach leaves together and lay flat on a clean surface. Smear completely with paste, approximately ½-inch thick. Roll tightly. Repeat until all the leaves are used.

Steam whole patra for approximately 10-15 minutes, until thoroughly steamed.

Heat oil in a wok or a deep pot. Add mustard and sesame seeds to flavor the oil. Cut the patra into thin strips and fry quickly in oil until crispy, approximately 20 seconds. Carefully remove from oil, drain, and serve garnished with coconut and cilantro. You may also cool the patra and freeze for later use.

Note: To serve frozen patra, you will need to microwave it on HIGH for approximately 1 minute or until hot or to stir-fry it in hot oil and then serve.

Total calories per patra: 83 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 24 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Turiya Patra

(Serves 6-8)

This is an incredibly tasty dish. The squash is cut into small pieces and then simmered with the patra.

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 2 pounds banana squash or butternut squash, peeled, deseeded, and chopped into 1-inch pieces (approximately 5 cups)
  • 12 slices patra
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh green chilies
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon vegan brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • Water to cover squash
  • Shredded coconut and cilantro to garnish (optional)

Allow a deep pot to heat and spray with oil. Add squash and quickly cook, tossing constantly. Add remaining ingredients plus sufficient water to cover the squash. Bring to a quick boil. Reduce, cover, and simmer until squash is soft, approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Serve hot, garnished with coconut and cilantro.

If desired, this dish can be served with sweet chutney and steamed green peas.

Total calories per serving: 271 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 44 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 21 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Matar Pulao (seasoned rice)

(Serves 5)

Use this recipe as a “bed” on which to serve patra.

  • 2 cups uncooked basmati rice
  • 2 Tablespoons nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • ¼ cup chopped, deseeded green chilies
  • ½ Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 cups thawed frozen green peas
  • 4 cups water

Rinse rice in cold water and set aside.

Melt margarine in a large pot. Add chilies, ginger, and cinnamon. Sauté and toss for 1 minute. Add onions and sauté until onions are golden brown, approximately 3 minutes. Add the rice, green peas, and water. Mix while bringing to a fast boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes or until all water evaporates. Serve hot with sliced patra.

Total calories per serving: 372 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 68 grams Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 119 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Apple Butter and Tamarind Chutney

(Makes approximately 3 cups or twenty-four 2-Tablespoon servings)

Serve this condiment to balance the flavors of patra or other spicy foods.

  • 1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 ¾ cups apple butter or sweetened applesauce
  • ¾ cup apple juice
  • 1 Tablespoon tamarind paste
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper

Heat a skillet (no oil) and toast cumin seeds for 1 minute. Cool and grind. In a food processor, combine all ingredients until a smooth texture is attained.

This chutney can last for up to 2 months if refrigerated in an airtight container.

Total calories per serving: 45 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: <1 gram
Sodium: 1 milligram Fiber: <1 gram

Nancy Berkoff is The VRG’s Food Service Advisor.