As a kid, I remember, when my mom returned from work, along with her bag of vegetables from the local market would be a bunch of cauliflower leaves.
In India, at vegetable markets, vendors usually have a pile of freshly plucked cauliflower leaves ready to be thrown away, as they sort and clean the day’s produce and prepare it for sale. The only creatures who seem to relish them are the cows.
My mom ate them once at a friend’s home and quite liked them. She started asking the veggie vendors if they had any. They were happy to give her as many as she wanted, for free. Late Sunday afternoons were fritter times. She would fry up a storm of pakoras and bhajias – potatoes, onions, cauliflower flowrets, plantains, whatever was around. My absolute favourite were the cauliflower leaf fritters, ‘cos they were super crisp and wonderful tasting.
These blue-green leaves are packed with vitamins A, C, and antioxidants.
J had never tasted them, and it’s hard to find them in grocery stores in the U.S., where the cauliflowers are stripped down to the flower. Since we grew cauliflowers this year, we had plenty of leaves, and I must admit to liking them a lot more than the cauliflower itself. Plus, they don’t have that cauliflower odour.
For nostalgia’s sake, and to introduce him to this favourite childhood treat of mine, we fried up a storm. Cauliflower leaves are sturdy and have a relatively low moisture content. J was totally charmed by their crackling crispness. If we’re deep-frying something, it had better taste this good.
CAULIFLOWER LEAF PAKORAS
Wash and pat dry 12-15 medium cauliflower leaves. It is important that they are totally dry.
Preheat 4 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet to about 360 F.
Soak a marble-sized piece of tamarind in warm water for a couple of minutes to extract about two tablespoons juice.
Whisk together in a bowl, 2 cups chickpea/ flour (besan), 1/4 cup rice flour, 1/2 tsp each chilli (cayenne) powder and cumin powder, 1/4 tsp ajwain (bishop’s weed) and salt. Add the tamarind extract and just enough water to make a batter thick enough to coat the leaves completely without sliding off – like pancake batter. Taste it to make sure it’s well-seasoned.
When the oil is hot, dip the whole cauliflower leaf in the batter, make sure it’s completely coated, and slide it in the oil carefully. You can fry three or so at a time.. Stay away from the pan, ‘cos if the oil gets through the coating, you may have some spluttering action. Fry them until they are golden brown, turning them over once. Drain in a paper-towel lined plate. Let it sit on the plate for 2-3 minutes, to drain and firm up a bit.
CAULIFLOWER LEAF AND ONION BHAJIAS
Chop up the cauliflower leaves, add about half the quantity of chopped onions, add them to the pakora batter. Take 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of the veggie batter in your hand, and drop it (very gently) in the hot oil. You can make five or six at a time. Turn them over once, and remove when golden brown and crisp.
These will not be as crisp as the pakoras, but have an interesting flavour dimension because of the onions.
Edited to add: We were using up left over pakora batter. If making batter especially for bhajias, these tips posted by our reader Vishakha (see comments) are useful:
“To get the onion – cauliflower leaf bhajjis to be more crispy try this : mix the chopped onions, leaves into dry besan +spices. Let rest for 15-30 mins. Mix again and add only as much water as you need to get the dropping consistency. American onions have a lot more moisture than Indian ones and usually you’ll need very little – at this point whey is better than water if you have it handy.”
CAULIFLOWER LEAF SPIRALS (PATRA / PATRODE / ALU WADI)
These spirals are normally made with colocasia (arvi/taro) leaves and are deep-fried. We made this guilt-free absolutely delicious version with cauliflower leaves.
We followed Anita’s recipe @ A Mad Tea Party. They turned out great. (There’s a reason why we call it ‘the idiot-proof blog’.)
The two things we did differently –
** Cauliflower leaves (ours were large), may have a tough and thick inner rib. Making a ‘V’ cut on the leaf, take out the entire inner rib. It makes it much easier to roll. The roll in the picture has the rib intact. We removed it for the next batch of spirals. It was MUCH easier to work with.
** We steamed the rolls, cut them vertically into spirals, then sauteed them in a pan. Splutter 1/2 tsp each mustard seeds and white sesame seeds in 1 tsp oil, add some curry leaves. Toss the spirals in this mixture until a tad crisp. Use a steel or cast-iron pan. They were delicious. You can also shallow fry them with a coating of rice flour or semolina.
Other recipe ideas for Cauliflower leaves: