Indian borage leaf, also commonly called carom leaf or ‘ajwain ke patte’ is no novelty to Indians. Like many, I grew up watching my Mum tend this herb in her garden and when the Monsoons hit Indian shores, she’d make these pakoras as our evening snack.
I decided to have a go at growing this herb on my UK kitchen windowsill this year to relive those memories and also to introduce its nutritious leaves to my daughter. According to Ayurveda, carom or ajwain is a powerful cleanser. It stimulates the appetite and enhances digestion.
And as luck would have it, it thrived on the windowsill. So much so that I had to prune it. The pruning job soon led me to make these delicious pakoras. With leaves so lush and beautifully serrated – how could I let them go to waste? So that’s how carom leaf pakoras became an inevitable and welcoming tea-time snack for my mixed heritage family. Tender carom leaves are dunked in light gram flour batter (also known as ‘besan’) and deep-fried, imparting their digestive properties to a plateful of sinful pakoras.
Carom leaf has a mildy bitter, aromatic herbal flavour redolent of thyme with subtle tones of oregano and fennel. The very act of gently wrapping it in a light batter is reminiscent of my Mum’s gentle hug as my five-year-old self clung to her whilst she cooked these. Each bite into its wafer-thin and ever so slightly crispy texture evokes a sense of calm and happiness for me.
Does Indian borage / carom leaf / ‘ajwain patta’ plant produce carom seeds?
Indian borage, carom leaf plant and ‘ajwain patta’ are different names for the same plant, botanically called plectranthus amboinicus. It is often confused with the carom seed or ajwain plant, botanically called trachyspermum ammi, which is a completely different species.
Indian borage is a fleshy, perennial herb with edible aromatic leaves that are covered with hair-like bristles. Though its leaves smell of carom, the plant doesn’t actually produce carom seeds. It does bear a cluster of lilac flowers at the tip from summer through to autumn. When you add the flowers or leaves to tea or any savoury dish, they definitely make their presence felt with a subtle taste and aroma, similar to that of oregano or thyme. Aside from that, the serrated leaves have medicinal properties offering a soothing homemade remedy for sore throats, indigestion and asthma.
The carom seed plant or ajwain plant (trachyspermum ammi), however, does give a cluster of white coloured flowers (much like elderflower) which produce the carom seeds that people use for flavouring.
The only reason the carom leaf plant / Indian borage / ‘ajwain patta’ has the word ‘carom’ or ‘ajwain’ in it, is that the leaves are edible and have a fragrance resembling carom.
I hope that clears up any confusion! It certainly has for me.
How to grow Indian borage / carom leaf / ‘ajwain patta’ plant?
You can propagate Indian borage using a stem cutting or grow it from seed (plectranthus amboinicus). Again, these seeds are not to be confused with carom seeds.
As I couldn’t find the seeds, I had to propagate a cutting from an existing plant. You can either buy these online or rely on a friend. Simply snip off a 10-15cm long tip from a mature plant. Pop it in a glass bottle filled with fresh water, ensuring the stem is left floating with the cut end fully submerged but not touching the bottom of the bottle. Keep the bottle in a sun-lit area for a week and if possible, change the water daily. Soon you’ll notice roots emerging from the bottom of the stem.
Once the roots have grown 2-3cm long, simply transfer to a pot (with holes at the bottom) filled with garden compost. Plant the rooting tip a few inches deep in the soil, taking care not to damage the delicate roots. Water well. Place the pot on a windowsill or a sunny spot indoors if you live in a cooler part of the world like the UK. In summer, you can grow the plant outside in pots but make sure you bring it back inside before the weather turns cold. Water weekly or when the soil feels dry.
I’ve kept the recipe simple with just enough ingredients so as to not overpower the inherent carom flavour. Here’s the quick recipe
Carom Leaf Pakora / Ajwain Leaf Pakoda / ओव्याच्या पानांची भजीCourse: Starter, Snack, AppetiserCuisine: IndianDifficulty: Medium
These crispy, wafer-thin fritters that puff up as you deep-fry them, are made from fresh carom or ajwain leaves. They are aromatic and taste very much like carom seeds, only better due to a seasoned gram flour coating.
12-15 fresh carom or ajwain leaves
5 tbsp besan / gram flour / chickpea flour
1 tsp rice flour
½ tsp turmeric powder
¼ tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp coriander powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder or to taste
½ tsp salt or to taste
10 tbsp water (approx)
Sunflower oil for deep-frying
- Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add water a little at a time and whisk to avoid lumps in the batter. Continue whisking until the batter is ever so slightly runny but still sticks to a spoon or whisk.
- Gently wash the carom leaves in a colander so as to not break them. Pat dry with a paper towel.
- Heat the oil over a medium flame in a kadhai or deep-bottomed pan for 5-8 minutes. Test whether the oil is hot by dropping a very tiny blob of batter into the oil. If the batter rises to the top, the oil is ready for deep-frying.
- Take one leaf at a time and thoroughly coat in the batter (from step 1). Allow the excess to drip back into the mixing bowl.
- Gently drop the battered carom leaf into the hot oil. Using a slotted spoon, gently splash the hot oil over the top to enable puffing. Once puffed, flip the pakora to cook the other side. Continue deep frying over a low to medium flame until the batter is cooked both sides along with the leaf inside.
- Remove onto a kitchen paper-lined plate using a slotted spoon. Repeat steps 4 through 6 until all the leaves are fried. Serve hot with tamarind chutney or ketchup.
- You can also air-fry these pakoras. The preparation steps remain the same.
- Ensure the oil is sufficiently hot before you fry the pakoras. Otherwise, the pakoras will turn out oily and the batter undercooked.
- Deep-fry over a medium flame. Very hot oil may over brown the pakoras before cooking the leaf inside.
- Drop each leaf into the hot oil gently without splashing to avoid scalding your hands.
- You can also fry more than one leaf at a time, depending on the size of your frying pan. But don’t drop them all in the oil at once.