Elai Adai (sweet parcels) is the most delicious dessert exclusive to Kerala. It is made out of jaggery, jackfruit and coconut (what dish out of Kerala doesn't have coconut in it? My handsome and charming son often says: Any recipe you have, adding coconut to it can only make it better). Another delicious treat made of the same ingredients is chaka pradhaman (more about this later). The elai adai can be prepared during the jackfruit season as well as off season and in remote places away from Kerala. The NRK's prepare elai adai by preserving the jackfruits as jam which in itself is quite the delicacy (side dish for adai for instance). As a child, jackfruit jam was the only jam available to us (none of your strawberry-raspberry mixes for us). The taste of elai adai is augmented by the delicious flavour of the plaintain leaf in which it is wrapped and steamed. My h. and c. son reminded me that this resembles the tamales available in Mexican restaurants. Similarly the Saraswat brahmins of Udipi and Mangalore make kadubu which is cooked by wrapping in turmeric leaf. Banana leaves are available in Indian stores, and frozen leaves are available in Chinese stores. The last time I visited the U.S. one of my nieces asked me if I could prepare elai adai for her. I told her that if she could arrange for the banana leaves, I could make them for her and she promptly got the frozen ones from the Chinese store, they were just what the doctor ordered for this purpose. Since my h. & c. son is not so industrious, we made it at his place by borrowing banana leaves from one of his neighbours. Thanks anonymous neighbours! Just goes to show that even in America, you just have to ask and you will receive.
A quick note on the jackfruit (Artocarpus integrifolia). This fruit is particular to India, especially Kerala. It is a huge egg-shaped fruit with a hard and prickly outer green shell, and it weighs some 10-20kgs. The sweet aroma of a ripe jackfruit can be smelt as far away as 50-100 feet (and 1 kilometer in the case of my astute and blessed mother in law). Cutting a jackfruit open is quite the process. You have to keep cutting it into halves to get it to a manageable size. First oil your hands and the heavy duty knife that you intend using. Without the oil, your hands and knife will get all sticky because as you cut it, the fruit secretes a white sticky resin. This resin has to cleaned off the fruit with a rolled up piece of paper of cloth. Because the resin hardens easily, it was used as a sealing agent to fix broken pots, buckets etc. There is a thick white stalk that runs along the center of the fruit. The edible part of the fruit comprises many yellow (yellow when ripe, white when raw) fruitlets that are firmly attached to this stalk. Each of these fruitlets in turn is "protected" by little white sepals. These sepals also have to be carefully peeled off the fruitlet. Ultimately you get a yellow fruitlet that encloses within itself a hard egg-shaped seed. The fruitlet is the most delicious fruit that you'll ever have the fortune of eating. It is full of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. This fiber is of course a double edged sword. Eat too much jackfruit at one sitting, and you'll pay the price the next day. Now don't throw away the seeds: like many other things we've figured out many tasty dishes that can be cooked with the seeds. But more of that later.
When I was growing up in Kerala, during the summers we used to get huge jackfruits from our family farm or backyard. Each of them used to weigh some 15-20 kilos. We all used to sit in our concreted backyard in a big circle (during summer, our house was full of visiting cousins and uncles, on any day there would be about 50 people at home). At 9 in the morning when the maid had finished her cleaning and dish washing, our Echiyamma (my grandmother) would order the maid to bring the jackfruit and call all the children to come and remove the ripe fruitlets from the fruit. We would all sit in a big circle, the maid would bring a jackfruit and an axe. She would then cut the jackfruit into bits and remove the stem. We children would sit and remove all the fruitlets and de-seed them. While we did that, we would pop a few into our mouths. Echiyamma and my periappa would cut them into small bits to be made into jackfruit jam or adai or some kootan. during the summers many kilos of jackfruit jam used to be made in our house, for immediate use and to be sent home with all our visitors.
The day on which elai adai was to be made, again my echiyamma used to summon all kids for the preparation. A minimum of 100-150 had to be made so that everybody would be fed, as well as plenty left over for sharing with the neighbours.
Finally, now onto the actual preparation of the elai adai. We'll assume the existence of the jackfruit jam. At a later date, I'll post how this jam is to be prepared.
Jackfruit jam: 250g
Jaggery: ¾ cup
grated fresh coconut: 2 cups
raw rice: ¾ cup
boiled rice: ¾ cup
gingelly oil: 1 tbsp
banana leaves: 1 per elai adai, size of 8"x8"
salt: a pinch
Soak the rice for 5 hours and grind to a thick smooth paste. Add the salt while grinding. It should be of spreading consistency. Add the gingelly oil to this paste and mix well.
To make the filling, melt the jaggery with 1 cup of water, strain to remove dirt and other impurities, boil it, add the jackfruit jam and loosen it. When the jackfruit jam is loose and of spreading consistency, add the grated coconut, mix well and remove from the stove. This should now be of a jam like consistency. This filling can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.
The banana leaves need to be mildly seasoned by steaming for a few seconds or (very) briefly held over a low flame. The point of this is to make the leaf pliable, otherwise the leaf tears when you fold it. Otherwise, just sun the leaf for 10-30 minutes (but watch it carefully, too long and the leaves will wither away). I've never tried microwaving the leaves, maybe that will work also.
Now take each leaf, spread a ladle full of rice flour as a thin layer. Now, spread 2 tbsp of prepared filling on top of this layer, but covering only about ¾
Enjoy the elai adai.