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Eating elephant’s ears?!! March 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, and no, I’m not talking about ripping the ears off elephants and grilling them, or smoking them and giving them to your dog. Instead, I’m talking about the water-loving tropical plant, Colocasia esculenta, popularly known as “elephant ears” because some moron apparently thought the big leaves resembled the triangular ears of the beloved pachyderm. As if.

“Esculenta” does imply edible, though, and it turns out that this particular elephant’s ear produces the tubers revered in the tropics as taro, which is believed to be the world’s oldest cultivated crop.

Taro tubers are used to make poi, a tropical staple that, as I understand it, looks, tastes, and feels like paste. Eeeewww. (But to be fair, as far as I can tell, the same could be said of cream of wheat, which people apparently also eat with pleasure. I suppose that poi-lovers, confronted with my own beloved Southern specialty, grits, might pronounce the same judgment on it. Naturally, we grits-lovers, cream-of-wheat-lovers, and poi-lovers would doubtless all defend our favorites to the death.)

But I digress. I bring this up because I was recently in my favorite Indian grocery, Rice & Spice in scenic Emmaus, PA, looking for fenugreek leaves so I could make a few recipes from the cookbook Modern Spice by Monica Bhide. Until encountering Monica’s book, I’d never heard of fenugreek leaves as a culinary ingredient, though I’d enjoyed fenugreek seeds for years. Sure enough, Rice & Spice came through; I left the store with a large bunch of fresh fenugreek leaves.

But of course I couldn’t resist wandering around while I was in there, breathing in the fantastic aromas of spices and incense. I stopped to admire the bin of fresh ginger “roots” (actually rhizomes, think iris), which are always huge, plump, and fresh. And next to them, I saw a bin full of dirty, hairy tubers that were starting to sprout. Mind you, “dirty and hairy” isn’t about to stop me on the road to culinary discovery. Things can always be washed and peeled. Perhaps this was a delicious, aromatic cousin of ginger. Picking up one of the tubers, I held it to my nose, expecting that hot, lemony, gingery smell to explode through my sinuses. Instead, I smelled… dirt.

Mercifully, the proprietor appeared just then and asked if I was looking for anything in particular. “Do you have fenugreek leaves?” I asked, immediately confusing the issue by brandishing the offending tuber and asking, “Oh, and what’s this?”

“It’s elephant’s ear,” she replied.

“Uh.” All I could think of were the ornamental elephant ears beloved of water gardeners such as yours truly. “Uh.” (Stunned by this revelation, I was not at my most astute.) I hate having to resort to the “Oh, duh!!” question, but in this case, it was ask the question or never know, so, oh, duh: “What do you use it for?”

“We use it to make patra.” Seeing my continuing burnt-out-bulb expression, she went to the freezer case, grabbed a box, and said “Here. Try this. It’s really good.”

The box cost a whopping $1.99. I was game. Once home, I saw that it’s the elephant ear leaves, not the tuber, that are used to make patra, aka “patra leaf roulade.” (The ingredients list calls them “alvi leaves.”) The brand is Bhagwati’s Recipes of Gujarat, named for the founder of Deep Foods, which you’ll doubtless be familiar with if you patronize the Indian section of your grocery’s shelves or frozen foods areas. The dish is described as “Spiced leafy roulade sauteed to a soft texture then garnished with shredded coconut and fresh coriander.” The half-inch-thick, 1 1/2-inch-wide wheels of patra looked like cross-sections of a really elaborate wrap.

I already had leftover dal and palaak paneer at home that I’d made a bit earlier in the week, and I’d bought some house-made samosas while at Rice & Spice, so I figured it would be easy enough to make some basmati rice, heat up the leftovers, and serve a delicious Indian meal with yogurt, mint chutney, tamarind-date chutney, hot tamarind sauce, and homemade peach-apricot chutney as sides, heating up the samosas and patra rounds to serve as appetizers. But I hit a snag: The only directions on the patra box were for microwaving, and we don’t have a microwave.

Not to be daunted by mere directions, I put the patra rounds in the toaster oven with the samosas. And once everything was hot, I served them up with the tamarind sauce and mint chutney.

Yum!!!!! Who’d have thought elephant ears were even edible, much less good? Not me. But these patra leaf roulades were delicious. I can’t wait ’til the next time I’m in Emmaus and can stop by for another box (or two).

Meanwhile, if you garden and grow elephant ears, and are now contemplating trying to make your own dishes with the leaves and/or tubers, a warning: I don’t know about the leaves, but the tubers are apparently poisonous until they’ve been cooked or soaked. And poi fans, please: If you have any good poi recipes, let me hear from you!

                ‘Til next time,

                              Silence

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Comments»

1. Becca - March 31, 2010

whew! I’m glad you added that disclaimer about poisonous! Once, having developed a fondness for taro chips, I set about to make my own. I was discouraged by a horticulturist who assured me my beautiful elephant ear plant was quite poisonous and not at all the plant used to make taro chips. Now, I think he was right but that they are indeed the same plant and so are edible if properly prepared??

From what I’ve read, it’s the same plant, Becca, as long as the ornamental elephant ears you’re growing are the species Colocasia esculenta. Obviously, thousands of people make their own poi and don’t keel over as a result, and obviously, the tubers were being sold at the store so people could grow their own leaves for patra, but frankly, I think I’ll stick to the ready-made version…

Becca - April 1, 2010

the plant that I was prepared to slice, dice and fry was something that had simply come up of its own in the yard. It was probably the esculenta variety–but who wants to take chances, right? :)

Er, I have a bad feeling that it was most likely an ornamental aroid, Arum italicum, since that comes up freely in shady parts of my parents’ property down in Nashville. It’s a subtly but truly lovely plant, with deep green arrowhead leaves with discreet white markings, and adds a great deal of ornamental value where it grows. But I believe it is really and truly poisonous, no matter what you do to it, so I’m glad you didn’t try to eat it!

Becca - April 1, 2010

I looked up both varieties–and it appears that it was the esculenta–with leaves larger than my head. I may have to go back to that little house and dig them up, eh? That arum italicum has gorgeous flowers–reminds me of what we call the pinecone ginger.

Yes, the arum has leaves the size of a large hand, not a head. So go for it, Becca! But… gulp… do be careful!!!

2. Kulsum at JourneyKitchen - August 9, 2010

heheh you are funny. It happens to me all the time but not with Indian vegetables as I’m Indian but other foreign vegs. I’m so fascinated by them and end up bringing odd things home and wondering what to with it! I’m posting the patra recipe on my blog tomorrow as I made it today. It is one of our favorite things to eat. I was finding the different names that elephant ears leaves has to accommodate on the post and here I landed up. I hope you will visit and enjoy making it !

Thanks, Kulsum! I loved your blog—everyone, check out Journey to the World in an Indian Kitchen at http://journeykitchen.blogspot.com/ —and added it to my favorites list so I can keep up with you. Your patra recipe post, “Arbi ke Patti/Colocasia leaf rolls” is fabulous. They look SO good!

3. masha7 - June 9, 2013

My DH and I just ate exactly the same meal, and I had to ask the Mighty Google, “What are alvi leaves?”- your blog came up, wonderful! (And we bought samosas at the Indian grocery store, too, but we’re in Florida.)


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