Follow Mint Lounge

Latest Issue

Home > Food> Cook > Cooking with leaves, the Karnataka way

Cooking with leaves, the Karnataka way

From screwpine and jackfruit to turmeric and dill, locally-grown leaves have elevated dishes in most Karnataka kitchens with their aroma and unique taste

While making  the moode may sound easy, the art is in weaving the .moulds. (Wikimedia COmmons)
While making the moode may sound easy, the art is in weaving the .moulds. (Wikimedia COmmons)

Listen to this article

My grandmother, who grew up surrounded by thotas (Kannada to English translation suggests, ‘garden’ but it’s more like a personal forest) developed a lifetime friendship with nature. For quick fixes of any kind—ranging from mosquito bites to cold and cough—she turned to tulsi (basil) leaves without any hesitation. Growing up, I watched her suggest a leaf for any problem or mood. Gastric problems? Chew on some guava leaves. Craving for something sweet? Piping hot kadabus made with jackfruit leaves were the answer. 

Also read: The Kashmiri in California delivering ‘monje aachar’—and a taste of home

When you are young, you don’t realise what gift this kind of childhood, spent amidst lush gardens and forests, is.  Today, there is increasing attention on regional recipes, featuring local shoots, roots and leaves, on social media.  Many leaves, which once grew in our grandparents’ backyards are often available in local markets. Here is a mix of familiar and lesser-known food made with leaves across Karnataka.

Screwpine leaves 

In Kannada, idlis, steamed in cylindrical moulds made of screwpine leaves, are called moode. The name in English sounds too foreign—almost hesitates to roll off the tongue. These idlis are softer and when you open the cooker, the steam carries a unique aroma that hastily fills up the room. The art lies in weaving the moulds. The variety of screwpine leaves, that are used in the moulds, come without thorns and are called mundaka in Kannada. 

Another type of leaves used to steam idli batter belong to the jackfruit tree. There are called kotte kadabu and have a light distinctive flavour and a unique aroma.

Dill leaves

These are a staple in most households across Karnataka. In Kannada, they are called sabasige soppu and are used to make a wide variety of everyday dishes, including stir fries and dal. Dill features in one of the most popular breakfast dishes, akki roti (thin flatbreads made of rice flour). A good amount of finely chopped dill leaves is a must for the authentic flavour and crispiness of the roti. Dill leaves mixed with toor dal, either as a stir-fry or as a soupy dish are often enjoyed with jolada roti (flatbreads made of sorghum).

Banana leaves

Although moode and kotte are the more popular moulds to make idlis, my grandmother would often use the banana leaves from her backyard—a technique my mother passed on to me. There are varieties of idlis to try in Karnataka but in my experience, those made using banana leaves are the softest, melt-in-your-mouth kind. You can also try making cucumber idlis with banana leaves. For this, the batter is made using grated cucumber, coconut, and millets. 

Khara kadabu, made by using dosa rice, urad dal, coconut, and curry leaves, is a variety of savoury rice cake that’s made by steaming the batter in banana leaves. 

Turmeric leaves

One of the most relished sweet dishes of Karnataka is the kadabu, or steamed rice roll made with arashina ele or turmeric leaves. The turmeric leaves probably have the strongest and the most distinctive flavours among all the leaves used for steaming. When a mixture of coconut and jaggery is put on a rice batter spread across a turmeric leaf and steamed, the distinctive aromas of the leaves are absorbed by these kadabus to give you a unique flavour. 

Palm leaves

In Bengaluru, a signature biryani that’s available as a midnight feast or a morning breakfast is the Donne Biryani. ‘Donne’ in Kannada refers to large cups made of palm leaves. The piping hot, special biryani, usually made with short grain rice mixed with marinated meat, is served in environment-friendly cups made of areca palm leaves. It comes with a half-boiled egg, some raita, and gravy. 

In an interview with The Better India, Rajeev, grandson of S Mannaji Rao, who started Shivaji Military Hotel—a hotel that has been serving Donne Biryani since 1935— explained that this is cooked in two processes. “The first is that the rice mixed with meat is cooked on firewood, which gives it a unique flavour. The second step is ladling this mix into the leaf, which further adds flavour.”

Colocasia leaves

Pathrode, a leafy treat that’s gained popularity in recent years, is made using colocasia leaves. A spicy batter is prepared by grinding rice, grated coconut, tamarind, and red chillies. This is spread across the colocasia leaves, rolled, and steamed. These are then sliced to look like little pinwheels and lightly sauteed in oil before serving. This can be enjoyed as a snack or side dish for lunch or dinner. 

You will also find different versions of pathrode across India. patra in Gujarat, rikwach in Uttar Pradesh and alu vadi in Maharashtra. 

Also read; Dishes made of millets now on Parliament canteens' menu



Next Story