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Choice ingredient: Urvesh Parvais on rainbow chard

Categories: Expert guidance

In this regular series, cooks with a connection to Borough Market explore the seasonal ingredients that give them most pleasure. This month Urvesh Parvais, co-owner of Gujurati Rasoi, tells us why rainbow chard is his favourite October ingredient

Gujarat is a vegetarian state and one of the great things about the food is the imaginative ways we use a wide variety of vegetables. The food that we cook at Gujarati Rasoi is a real reflection of the food that we cook at home.

Autumn is a great time for vegetables, with all the squash, cabbage, and other brassicas coming into season, but my favourite ingredient in October has to be rainbow chard. The reason I've chosen it is because while it is wonderful in itself, it also has some similarities to a vegetable we use a lot in the Gujarat.

For me, rainbow chard is one of those vegetables that is satisfying in a variety of ways. The colours, the texture, the flavour—it has everything really. It has a defined flavour that you can really work with, and it works well with the spice combinations we use.

Edible wrapping
The leaf is also robust enough to play with without it falling apart, which is great as we often use leaves as edible wrapping for parcels of food. Also I think it’s just beautiful. When you pick up a handful of chard, there are yellows, reds, greens—I find a pleasure in the raw ingredient, which is not something you can say about all veg, no matter how wonderful they eventually taste.

One dish that is very popular at this time is called patra. It is named after the patra leaf used to make the dish back in Gujarat. In the UK it’s known as taro leaf, but this can be quite hard to get hold of so we tried different leaves, without success—until we tried the rainbow chard. We were delighted, it works so well.

When using rainbow chard for patra, I use a rolling pin to roll the thick stem at the centre of the leaf flat, so it becomes pliable. I then make a paste with gram flour, millet flour, yoghurt, jaggery (which is a raw cane sugar), tamarind paste, some chilli, ginger and a little bit of garam masala and salt.

A thin coating
I then smear a thin coating of the paste over one side of the leaf, fold in the sides of the leaf so it makes a rough oblong shape, then roll up the leaf from the tip end with the paste inside and skewer it with a toothpick to hold the roll in place. It is very simple.

Once you’ve made a few, put them in a steamer. If you use a leaf about the size of your hand, steam the patra for about 12 minutes. You will know it’s done because it becomes quite firm.

Some people like to eat it at this stage, just sliced and drizzled with sesame oil. Others allow it to cool then slice it, which looks lovely because you can see the swirl of the paste and the colours of the chard.

Cumin and cinnamon
I like to let it cool then saute it lightly in hot oil, sprinkle it with a little cumin and cinnamon, add some onions into the pan and when they are lightly caramelised, toss in a little butter and serve hot. It’s delicious.

Another wonderful dish that uses chard is called paneer tikka. Paneer is a very young cheese that you mix with different spices. Every family has their own recipe. Try combining ground cumin, ground coriander seeds, black pepper, ginger, chilli, fresh coriander and lemon juice with paneer, then mould into small patty shapes.

Brown the patties on both sides using the oil that naturally comes from the cheese. To serve, pour some romano pepper sauce on a plate, then lay some wilted chard across the sauce—it looks lovely against the beautiful rich red—and place the paneer tikka on the chard. It is a beautiful dish with a wonderful mix of colours, textures and flavours on the plate.

This is the thing about rainbow chard—on the surface it seems such a simple ingredient, but with a bit of imagination it can be the real star of the plate.