Every month I wait anxiously for the announcement that reveals the Daring Cooks Challenge. I can’t wait to find out how this challenge is going to stretch me as a cook. Inevitably, as I read the challenge, my heart sinks. I think, “How in the world am I going to pull it off this month. I barely succeeded with last month’s challenge.” But I always learn something, whether it’s about a new ingredient, a new cooking technique, or a new cuisine, I learn, and I grow.
This month was no different. In fact, I was so terrified about the challenge that I put it off until the last possible day. You see, Mary, who writes the delicious blog, Mary Mary Culinary was our August Daring Cooks’ host. Mary chose to show us how delicious South Indian cuisine is. She challenged us to make Appam and another South Indian/Sri Lankan dish to go with the warm flat bread. But this flatbread required a soaking and fermenting process that freaked me out enough to put the challenge on the back burner.
The flatbread is called Appam, and it requires soaking rice, blending it with yeast, and letting it ferment for 8-12 hours until the batter is ready. Not a good idea to leave something to the last minute when fermenting is involved. But, thankfully, once the batter was made, the appam itself was incredibly easy to make.
Just swirl the batter in a small skillet,
cover, and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes,
and you have this wonderful yeasty flat bread that is naturally gluten-free.
No flipping like pancakes, just a two minute cook time, and the bread slides out of the pan ready for its Sri Lankan accompaniment.
Servings: Makes about 15.
- 1 ½ cups (360 ml/300 gm/10½ oz) raw rice
- 1 ½ teaspoons (7½ ml/5 gm) active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml/9 gm) sugar
- ½ cup (120 ml) of coconut water or water, room temperature
- 1 ½ tablespoons (22½ ml/18 gm) cooked rice
- ½ teaspoon (2½ ml/3 gm) salt
- about ½ cup (120 ml) thick coconut milk (from the top of an unshaken can)
1. Soak the raw rice in 4 to 5 cups of water for 3 hours.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Heat your pan over medium heat. Wipe a few drops of oil over it with a paper towel. (I used coconut oil.) 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.
7. 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.
8. Make another, and another.
9. Leftover batter can be refrigerated for a day or two.
Mary gave several suggestions for South Indian dishes, and since I’ve been enjoying vegetarian meals lately, I latched on to her suggestion of Carrots with Tropical Flavors. The only problem was that it called for 8 fresh curry leaves. I had curry powder, but I had no idea where to even start looking for curry leaves. I asked a produce worker at Whole Foods who suggested that I look in the dried spice aisle. Then I asked another clerk stocking produce, just because we were making small talk over the tomatoes. I wondered if maybe he knew something that the other clerk didn’t. I had no idea that he would go right to the produce worker that I had already talked to in order to find out if they carried fresh curry leaves. I didn’t get an “evil eye” from the guy, because they don’t do that at our Whole Foods, but I did kind of avoid eye contact and slink away.
I called the Husband, who works in Nashville just miles from the International Market, and I asked him if he could stop and find some fresh curry leaves.
H: What do they look like?
Me: I have no idea.
H: How do you suggest I find them?
Me: Stand in the middle of the market and yell, “Who has some curry leaves?”
Apparently, he didn’t have to do that, because within minutes, a worker stocking shelves told him to ask the man behind the register for fresh curry leaves. The Husband asked the man behind the counter for 8 curry leaves, following his dear wife’s request, and he proceeded to pull out 8 bags of unmarked greens. Thankfully the Husband was able to see that it was entirely too much greenery for any recipe, challenge or not, and he bought one bag.
Then he called me. I was in the midst of prep cooking.
H: You’d better google this, because I’m not so sure I bought what you want. I may have just bought marijuana or a weed that someone found in their backyard.
Me: Open the bag and sniff it. Does it smell like Indian spices?
H: Everything here smells like Indian spices.
Thankfully, the Husband had not purchased anything illegal, but I only needed 8 little leaves, and this is just a portion of what he brought home.
All for a whopping 90 cents.
But it made an incredible carrot side dish.
When it starts with sauteing curry leaves, chiles, and shallots, how could the end result not be amazing?
Carrots with Tropical Flavors
Servings: 4 as a side dish
- 1 pound (½ kg) carrots, about 5 medium, peeled
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
- about 8 fresh curry leaves
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml/15 gm) minced seeded green cayenne chiles
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml/27 gm) minced shallots
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) rice vinegar (I used lime juice)
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml/6 gm) salt
- ¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml/1 gm) sugar
- ½ cup (120 ml) coconut milk
- ¼ cup (50 ml) water
- coarse salt, optional
- cilantro (coriander) leaves to garnish
1. Julienne or coarsely grate the carrots. Set aside.
2. Place a deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then add half of the curry leaves, the chiles and the shallots. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring.
3. Add the carrots, stir, and add the vinegar, salt, sugar and mix well. Increase the heat and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, until they give off a bit of liquid.
4. Add the water and half of the coconut milk and bring to a fast boil. Stir, cover tightly and cook until just tender, 5-10 minutes, depending on size. Check to ensure the liquid has not boiled away, and add a little more water if it is almost dry.
5. Add the remaining coconut milk and curry leaves. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and taste for seasoning. Sprinkle with coarse salt and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves.
6. Transfer to a plate and serve hot or at room temperature.
But I had to make one more dish, and this recipe on Epicurious caught my eye.
South Indian Vegetable Curry
Bon Appetit May 2008
- 1 large onion, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
- 3 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 (2-inch-long 1-inch-diameter) piece peeled fresh ginger (about 2 ounces)
- 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 1 tablespoon garam masala*
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 serrano chile, seeded, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 2 teaspoons (packed) golden brown sugar
- 2 kaffir lime leaves**
- 2 whole green cardamom pods
- 1 pound red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 12 ounces russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 1/4 cups finely grated peeled fresh coconut (about 4 ounces; grated in processor)
- 2 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
- 2 tomatoes, cored, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 ounces baby spinach leaves (optional)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
* An Indian spice mixture; available in the spice section of supermarkets and at Indian markets.
** Leaves of the kaffir lime tree; sold frozen or sometimes fresh at Asian markets. If unavailable, substitute 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel for each lime leaf.
1. Puree the first 7 ingredients in a food processor until a paste forms. Cook in a large pot over medium heat until it’s aromatic, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste. Cook until the mixture starts to darken and brown, stirring often, about 5 minutes longer.
2. Add broth, brown sugar, lime leaves, and cardamom. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring often and scraping up browned bits.
3. Add sweet potatoes, potatoes, coconut, carrots, tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to mixture in pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Add spinach, if desired, and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Discard the lime leaves and cardamom.
4. Transfer curry to a bowl; garnish with cilantro and serve.
But this recipe called for another ingredient that I had never used before.
Shockingly, I forgot to discard the cardamom pods, but thankfully I was the lucky receptor of both of them!
I am now a huge fan of South Indian dishes, I know what curry leaves are, and I also know that leftover appam tastes incredible with almond butter and jelly. So, I’m considering this Daring Cooks’ Challenge to be a complete success. In fact, I do believe that this is my favorite challenge yet!
- What is your favorite South Indian meal?
- Have you ever had appam?
- What is them strangest ingredient you’ve ever used in a recipe?