The aroma of a flavourful leaf

different taste
Last Updated 21 August 2014, 14:27 IST

Wrapping food in leaves and steaming it is a popular cooking technique. The leaves add a distinctive aroma to a dish, be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

The most common leaf used for cooking, wrapping and serving in a wide range of cuisines of tropical and subtropical areas is the ubiquitous banana leaf.

“When cooking, serving or wrapping food in banana leaf, an aroma is added. Even steaming with banana leaves imparts a subtle sweet flavour to the dish,” says Chef Prem Ram who is also the head of department of a hotel management institute. There are other leaves too like pumpkin and bottle gourd, bamboo and lotus, colocassia (arbi) and spinach leaves which lend themselves to such innovation. 

“Bamboo or lotus leaves are favoured in Chinese cooking. They are usually used to wrap glutinous rice. These natural wrappers lend their herbaceous aromas to the food and help keep the food moist. Sticky rice dumplings are wrapped in dried bamboo leaves and usually have a basic savoury filling of pork, chestnuts, preserved egg and dried mushrooms wrapped into a pyramid shape,” tells Ram.

The colocassia leaves can be roasted, baked or boiled. These leaves and stems can be eaten after boiling twice to remove the acrid flavour. 

   “Even fig leaves are commonly used to wrap, grill or steam seafood. The leaves give the cooked meat a smokey, fruity flavour, and distinct aroma,” says Ram. 

Talking about the leaves which are essential to Indian cuisines, Swasti Aggarwal, regional head & chef, Foodhall, says, “Bay leaves are added to biryani, dal or makhani gravy. It is removed before serving the dish. However, curry leaves are used for tempering and can be eaten with the dish. Kaffir lime leaves are added to Thai curries for aroma while simmering the curry. Chopped coriander leaves are a garnish to most Indian North Indian dishes.

According to Aggarwal, “Most leaves give a flavour to the food and are added for more depth and aroma. It’s the aroma of a flavourful leaf that you smell when the freshly prepared dish is served in front of you.”

This property of leaves, however, limits the use of spices in any particular dish. “Leaves have their own flavour and natural taste. 

One should not add other dominating ingredients or spices to them. Most herbs have antiseptic, expectorant and antispasmodic properties. We should have an idea about them to use them in right quantity to get the right taste,” says Ram. 

(Published 21 August 2014, 14:27 IST)

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