Madd Puttu (a sweet dish, made out of medicinal leaves) by shalini Nanda

The wet, dark months of the monsoon bring about a mysterious transformation in an otherwise quite unremarkable plant known locally as “maddu thoppu”, lit. medicine leaf (Justicia wynaadensis).

This plant grows wild around Coorg, favouring moist, shady areas. During the month of the most intense monsoon rain*, mid-July to mid-August, a period known as “kakkada”, an extract is made from boiling the stems and leaves in plenty of fresh water. The extract has a peculiarly medicinal fragrance and the colour can range from shades of magenta, through to deep purple and, when at its strongest, indigo.

The extract is used to prepare various dishes like maddu kuul, which is simply rice cooked in the extract, maddu payasa, a sweet rice pudding, or maddu puttu, an unsweetened rice cake that can be eaten with ghee and honey, or a jaggery syrup. It may be an acquired taste, but maddu thoppu certainly has a loyal fan following!

Maddu puttu

An unsweetened rice cake with the texture of blancmange.

  • 1 cup raw rice, soaked for 12 hours
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 5 cups of maddu thoppu extract
  • Making Maddu Thoppu extract
  • •Pack a large, deep saucepan 3/4 full with maddu thoppu stems and and leaves. Cover with cold water and cook on a very gentle simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Make sure the leaves are immersed at all times. Strain and reserve the deeply coloured liquid and discard the stems and leaves.

Drain the soaked rice and grind it to a very smooth paste with 1/2 cup of the maddu thoppu extract. Add the remaining liquid and salt and cook the mixture on gentle heat, as you would a custard.It should begin to thicken in 10-12 minutes (sooner if the extract is freshly made and still hot).

Stir constantly and do not allow lumps to form. When the mixture is very thick and no longer of pourable consistency, (another 5 minutes or so), spoon it very quickly into ungreased thalis or dhokla plates. Thump the plates on the countertop to level the mixture but do not smooth the surface as it disturbs the beautiful sheen.

No access to maddu thoppu?

Try the same recipe with beetroot juice! This is something I came up with in a fit of monsoon nostalgia, with maddu thoppu a very long way away. It’s pretty tasty and, besides, beets are good for you!

Grind 2/3 cup peeled, chopped beets per cup of juice you plan to use and top up the measure with water. Strain and reserve the pulp for beetroot halva or a thoran.

Proceed as for the maddu puttu recipe. I like to add a little sugar and ground cardamom to taste. Sugar present in the beets and any added sugar will affect the way it holds together, so it has a softer set.

Serve the “beetroot puttu” in scoops with thick coconut milk!

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