Enter the appam

I'm 2 weeks late in posting my August Daring Cooks challenge. Same excuses as always - mostly work ones - but this week is vacation - and it still took me until Day 6 of my vacation to get around to blogging. Anyway, this month's Daring Cooks challenge was delightfully exotic. I'll let Mary, of Mary Mary Culinary, explain it (quoted from the DK page):
Hello! I’m Mary, from Mary Mary Culinary. I love Indian food, so I’m challenging you to make a South Indian yeasted bread called appam and a dish to go along with it. Appam is made simply from rice, yeast and coconut milk. The well-fermented batter is cooked, one bread at a time, on the stovetop. Appam come out like a cross between a crepe and a crumpet, with a thin, lacy, crisp edge and a thicker spongy middle. They are often served for breakfast with a stew in Kerala, but I like them for dinner too. They are the perfect thing for soaking up delicious curries. They are also naturally vegan and gluten-free.
Indian restaurants here tend to serve a lot of North Indian cuisine, things like butter chicken, palak paneer and naan bread. While I love all of those things, I wanted to make something you don’t often find in restaurants. I was lucky enough to try appam at a wonderful restaurant in Toronto called Maroli. The restaurant is the only one to serve Malabari cuisine in a city with a lot of Indian restaurants. Appam (which go by many names) are eaten in South India and Sri Lanka, where they are called hoppers. To accompany them, I have chosen a selection of dishes, mostly from Kerala, but also from Goa and Sri Lanka too.
Lots of information about appams as well as a bunch of delightful recipes are available in this pdf. A warning - Explorer kept crashing on me when I tried to open it, but after a little investigation I believe that's because of my silly computer and not a problem with the pdf.

I stuck to the suggested recipes, mostly because they looked so tasty. I had just tried a coconut lemongrass pork recipe from Around My French Table and it was OK, but this beef curry with similar ingredients one was way, way, way good.

Sri Lankan Beef Curry
Servings: 4

1 pound boneless beef (such as round steak or roast)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
10 fresh or frozen curry leaves
1 green cayenne chili, finely chopped
Generous 1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
½ cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp tamarind pulp
¼ cup hot water
3 cups water

Dry Spice Mixture:
1 Tbsp raw white rice
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1-inch piece cinnamon or cassia stick
seeds from 2 pods of green cardamom

Cut the beef into ½ inch cubes. Set aside.
In a small heavy skillet, roast the dry spice mixture over medium to medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring continuously, until it smells amazing! You will be able to see that the rice is a toasted color.
Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and grind/pound to a powder. Set aside.

Chop the tamarind pulp and soak it in the hot water. Set aside.

In a large, wide pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the curry leaves, green chile, onion and turmeric and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add the meat and salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so all surfaces of the meat get browned.

Add the reserved spice mixture and the coconut milk and stir to coat the meat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Press the soaked tamarind through a sieve placed over a bowl. Use a spoon to press all the liquid and pulp out. Discard the seeds and stringy bits. Add the tamarind liquid to the 3 cups of water.

Add the tamarind/water mixture to the pot and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook uncovered at a strong simmer for about an hour, until the meat is tender and the flavors are well blended. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot.

And then there was the baked fish. With the most amazing chile-cilantro chutney. Which, by the way, goes with anything. Wonderful that there was leftover chutney, which we have used on anything and everything.

Baked Goan Fish with Fresh Green Chile Chutney
Servings: 4

One 2-pound firm fish, such as pickerel, trout or red snapper, cleaned and scaled
about ¼ cup vegetable oil, divided
about 8 fresh curry leaves
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp fine sea salt
½ cup Fresh Green Chile Chutney, plus extra to serve as a condiment (recipe follows)

Mr Leaven in action. No, Mr Seafood Purveyor, I don't need you to scale it, thank you. I'll do that myself.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F.

Wash and dry the fish. Cut a slit along each side of the backbone, running the length of the fish. Line a baking sheet with foil and oil with 3 Tbsp of the oil.

Rub the fish inside and out with the lime juice, then with the salt. Stuff some of the chutney into the slits you made, and put the rest in the belly cavity. Place the fish on the oiled foil and rub the remaining oil over it. Wrap the fish tightly, using more foil if necessary.

Bake for about 30 minutes. To test, peel back the foil and flake a bit of the fish with a fork. If it flakes, it is done.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Ours was served warm. Serve with the pan juices and the chutney.

Fresh Green Chile Chutney

2 cups packed cilantro (coriander) leaves and stems
6 green cayenne chiles, coarsely chopped
6-10 medium garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp minced peeled ginger
about 1 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut
1 tsp cumin seeds, coarsely ground
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt, or to taste

In a food processor, combine the cilantro, chiles, garlic and ginger and process to a paste. Add the coconut and process until blended. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the cumin, lime juice, salt and sugar and mix well. Taste for seasoning (it will be hot!). Keeps for about 4 days refrigerated.

And the appams. These were definitely unique. They're not as sour as might be expected, not like injera in Ethiopian cuisine. They're more like mushed, flattened rice, I guess. I liked them. Mr Leaven was not a huge fan, but he tolerated them. We probably won't be making them again, but I had a blast trying out something new.

Servings: Makes about 15. 2-3 were enough for a serving for us.

1 ½ cups raw rice
1 ½ tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
½ cup coconut water or water, room temperature
1 ½ Tbsp cooked rice
½ tsp salt
about ½ cup thick coconut milk (from the top of an unshaken can)

Soak the raw rice in 4 to 5 cups of water for 3 hours. You can soak it overnight.

Dissolve the sugar in the coconut water or plain water and add the yeast. Set aside in a warm area for 10-15 minutes, until very frothy.
Drain the rice and grind it in a blender with the yeast mixture to make a smooth batter. You can add a bit of extra water if needed. Add the cooked rice, and grind/blend to combine well. You can see that it is not completely smooth, but very thick—that’s about right.
Pour into a large bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for 8-12 hours. You not only want the mixture to rise and collapse, but to ferment. When it is ready, it will have a slightly sour and distinctly yeasty smell.

Add the coconut milk and salt and a bit of water if necessary, so that you have a batter that is just a bit thicker than milk. Notice how it bubbles after you add the coconut milk. It's recommended to test-cook one before thinning the batter. I had to add another 1/8c or so of coconut milk.
Heat your pan over medium heat. Wipe a few drops of oil over it using a paper towel. Stir the batter and pour in 3-4 tablespoons, depending on the size of the pan. Working quickly, hold the handle and give the pan a quick swirl so that the batter comes to the top edge. Swirl once only, as you want the edges to be thin and lacy.

Cover the pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Uncover and check. The center should have puffed up a bit and will be shiny but dry to the touch. When ready, loosen the edges with a small spatula and serve immediately. These need to be served hot out of the pan.

Make another, and another...

The leftover batter can be refrigerated for a day or two.

At Mr Leaven's insistence, I include this image of me in action. It's only fair, I suppose.


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