Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fish Stew

  • Being the fish fanatic that he is, my husband goes absolutely crazy over this bowl of fish stew. He is notorious for sneaking heaped ladles straight from the pot into his mouth, hot or cold, be it any random time of day or night. Such is his love for this tomato based chowder. 
  • The hearty broth combines tomato paste with crushed tomatoes hosting a bright, fresh flavor as well as a chunky texture.
  • In this recipe, I roast the fish under a quick burst of heat before nestling the pieces into this perfect bed of sauced tomatoes. A healthy abundance of vegetables make it an even, well rounded dish. 
  • Have your ingredients set out and ready to go. The swift preparation and final 30 minute simmer will lead to a deliciously bowled meal in less than an hour.
  • I must add that this wholesome, super simple stew makes not only for happy hubster, but a very happy me, as well. 
  • Loosely adapted from the tomato based, clam- laced  Manhattan Chowder. 
  • Ingredients:
  •  For the stew base
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste 
  • 11/2 cup dry cooking wine(white) or dry white wine
  • (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 8 oz. bottle clam juice
  • 2- 3 tsp salt, depending on taste
  • 1 tsp black pepper 
  • bay leaf
To roast fish
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 lbs tilapia fillets, skinned and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • Over medium high heat, melt butter in a dutch oven or heavy deep sided pot.
  • Add onion, carrot, celery, saute 7 minutes or until lightly browned.
  • Add garlic/ginger/paprika, saute a couple of minutes. 
  • Put in potatoes, tomato paste, and cook 1 minute. 
  • Pour in wine, bring to a boil and simmer 1-2 minutes.
  • Add next 6 ingredients (crushed tomatoes to bay leaf); bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium- low, simmer 30 minutes.
  • In the meantime, preheat oven to 450°F. On a foil- lined baking tray combine oil, salt, pepper, chili flakes. Add fish pieces and coat with the mixture.
  • Bake for 5 minutes until edges lightly browned. Take out of oven.
  • Add fish to stew, cover and simmer for an additional 5-7 minutes, until fish is cooked through. 
  • Take off heat.
*optional *lightly fry some sliced garlic cloves and use as a garnish

Notes:  Same stew base serves really well with roast shrimp, dungeness crab, even combined varieties of seafood.

     Thick, crusty bread is the best accompaniment and ultimate stew mopper. 

  •  I felt the need to share some awe with you, though
    these pictures don't do justice to the astonishing wonder and...

    the majestic work of God's hands.
    Beautiful Grand Canyon, our family retreat last weekend

     Psalm 68:4   
    1.                                                  Hermit's Rest on the south rim of the Canyon. 

                Thursday, March 22, 2012


                On some days, when my sweet tooth takes stronghold of my every sense, I end up making dessert before dinner. My argument is that it might help in guiding the flavor menu for the preceding meal.
                A few days ago, I was in that similar quandary. I didn't quite know what dinner would be, but absolutely knew what was for dessert - pavlova... drenched in a tart, fruit sauce.

                The first time I had this delicacy was right after my marriage in  the beautiful beach state of Goa( India). Known for its global food vibe and laid back lifestyle, this idyllic land was our beloved residence for over a year after wedlock.
                Yes, there it was that I tried pavlova for the first time, sharing this wondrous delight with my brand new husband. Life was good.

                Often referred to as a meringue cake, pavlova has a crunchy outer shell housing a chewy, marshmallow-like center. Made by beating egg whites stiff, the whole texture comes together quite easily with the help of a few other ingredients. A long, slow bake ensures the shell to be perfectly cooked, yet maintaining the soft interior.

                The well- known history wrapped in this afterdinner treat features a Russian ballerina who toured Australia and New Zealand resulting in both a name- honoring dessert and a longstanding  debate. The controversy still holds strong to date as to which nation originally came up with this sweet dish. 

                The pavlova's sweetness is offset by generous toppings of tangy fruits and fruit-based sauces. Further complemented with whipped cream, the end flavor is deliciously balanced and surprisingly light. 

                Aah, pavlova- easy to prepare and spectacular in presentation and taste, how can you not see yourself making dessert before dinner today?

                (Pavlova recipe adapted from Joy of Baking. Fruit sauce recipe is my own.)
                • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
                • pinch of salt
                • *1 cup superfine sugar
                • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
                • ½ tsp cornstarch
                • 1 teaspoon  vinegar
                • Method:
                • **Preheat the oven to 250 °F. (please read notes)
                • Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Draw a 9-inch circle on the paper, using a 9-inch plate or baking pan as a guide, then turn the paper over so the circle is on the reverse side.
                • Put the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites, starting out on a medium, then to high, until soft peaks form. 
                • With the mixer still on high, gradually add the sugar, in parts and beat until it makes firm, stiff, yet glossy peaks. Do not overbeat as this will result in dry meringue.
                • Beat in vanilla. Test with your fingers to see if the meringue is smooth with no reside of sugar.
                • Sprinkle cornstarch, vinegar over the top of the beaten egg whites, slowly fold in with a rubber spatula. 
                • Pile mixture into the middle of the drawn circle  smooth, building a slightly higher edge than the center, so as to form a well (use a piping bag with a decorative tip to get pretty edges).
                •  Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, checking to see if the outside turns a pale yellow. Turn off the oven, keeping oven door slightly open and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven. 
                          Piped meringue before it meets the heat.
                Sweetened Whipped Cream:
                • cup heavy cream
                • 1 tablespoon sugar
                • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
                • Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until firm. It helps to chill the bowl and the whisk in the refrigerator before beating.
                 Berry Sauce:
                • 1/2 cup fresh strawberries
                • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
                • 1/2 cup fresh blackberries
                • 3/4 cup sugar
                • 1/4 cup water
                • 1/4 cup orange marmalade or any fruit jam
                • *1 tablespoon rum/rum extract
                Place the fruit, sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the fruit mixture along with the remaining ingredients and run in a food processor  until smooth. Chill in fridge.
                Fruit Topping:
                1/2 cup each of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.
                Toss the fruits in a bowl and toss with about 1/4 cup of the fruit sauce.

                To serve, turn the meringue onto a serving plate and top with the whipped cream. Spoon the berries carefully into the middle of the Pavlova, leaving outer border alone. Pour extra sauce onto individual servings.

                ** Update 9/1/2014: I have baked this recipe at a slow and sure 180° F upto 200° F, actually,  for a good couple hours. I have received questions and comments as to the temp not being quite enough. For sure you can go upto 250°, but it all depends on the way your oven bakes and how hot your kitchen is. I still like a low temperature, but Joy Of Baking, the very trusty online baking source says 250. So please, err on the side of more heat, less time if you had to end up with an undercooked runny meringue in a previous attempt. I apologize if this especially happened on reading my earlier directions. 
                And take it down by at least 25° if you see your meringue cracking and becoming dry on outsides, even turn pan around. Thanks very much for the feedback- I do appreciate.

                For superfine sugar, process sugar in a food processor until fine, so you won't have the grit of large crystals in the meringue. If using regular sugar, process in meringue until dissolved (it usually doesn't).

                Replace rum/ extract with orange juice if you don't like the flavor or when serving kids. Or don't use at all.
                Cream, fruits, topping should be added only at the time of serving as the pavlova will start to soften and break down.

                Experiment with fruits and sauces that please you. I've made peaches and a pureed peach/apricot preserve sauce which is wonderful when peaches are in season.

                Save that leftover sauce- they make especially tasty toppers on ice cream and yogurt.

                Alternate serving idea: serve crushed in dessert glasses with repeating layers of  pavlova, cream, sauce, fruits, with the crushed pavlova being the base or first layer.

                I often save these online wallpapers for inspiration on mornings when I need that extra boost in a somewhat creative form. Today was one of those mornings. 

                Amen to Proverbs 31.

                Thursday, March 15, 2012

                Easy Tandoori Chicken

                We have such good weather here in the State we presently reside in. It's grilling season all year long,  but for a few months of extreme heat where I could actually grill on a sidewalk. So, yesterday that's what we did, no, not the sidewalk part, the grill part : tandoori chicken on a grill.

                This spice- cloaked chicken is one of the most popular foods in the world.  Inherently Indian, it has some impressionable Pakistani and Afghani roots. And with global fame, this South Asian original became a  universally appealing delightNot only is it a feast for the eyes, beautiful- orange/ red, charred skin, but it is probably one of the most taste- filled chicken preparations your palate will ever know.
                Tandoori, the Eastern version of the barbecue, is a method of open fire cooking traditionally done in a  tandoor or clay oven. Tandoori chicken is marinaded chicken cooked over this high flame tandoor. Since the majority of us have not in our possession clay domes as home cooking appliances, you can get similar high temperature results using either a grill or your kitchen oven.
                The marinade is key in getting the spices to permeate throughout the meat, so every bite ensures good and even flavor. Tandoori masala is the master ingredient in making that marinade. Balanced with yogurt and combined with a few other ingredients, the masala is the ideal combination of spice powders for flavor coating. It can range heat-wise from mildly moderate to fire breathing intensity, depending on  the audience you're cooking for or the tastes of the person cooking it. 
                Many good, pre-made tandoori masalas can be bought at Indian specialty grocers or even local groceries now, but nothing beats a good homemade mix. 

                If you have never tried your hand at tandoori chicken, I urge you to just do it. And if you're already familiar with a recipe, try this one, you might find you like it better.

                • 2 tsp vegetable oil
                • 3- 4 (depending on your level of spice) tbsp tandoori masala (recipe below)
                • 1 cup thick plain yogurt (drain or blot out excess moisture using doubled paper towels)
                • juice of half a lemon
                • 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
                • 4 garlic cloves
                • 2 tbsp chopped  ginger
                • 2 tsp salt
                • 1 1/2 lbs bone- in skinless chicken legs( mix of drumstick and/or thighs), scored lightly on each side with a few 1 inch shallow cuts 
                • Blend or process all the ingredients from oil to salt, till smooth.
                • Combine marinade mixture in a large bowl with chicken. 
                • Cover and refrigerate marinaded pieces for at least 2 hours upto to 12.

                Tandoor masala:
                • 3 tbsp coriander powder
                • 2 tbsp cumin
                • 1-2 tbsp red chili powder or cayenne ( adjust this for heat)
                • 1  tsp turmeric
                • 1 tbsp black pepper
                • *1/2 tsp methi powder 
                • *1 tsp garam masala
                Sift together or shake in a closed container. Excess masala can be stored and reused.
                Grill Option:
                • Using  cooking spray, lightly coat the grill grates or brush with oil.
                • Heat your grill, having the flames/ more heat on one side and less on the other.
                • Remove the chicken out of marinade (shaking off excess marinade).
                • Cook pieces on high heat side, 8-10 minutes per side or until charred.
                • Put pieces onto less heated side and cover, cook for 25-45 minutes, until juices run clear when chicken is pierced.
                 Oven Option:
                • Preheat oven to 370°F 
                • Place marinaded chicken pieces on lined baking tray, coated with cooking spray or oil.
                • Bake for 20- 25 minutes, or until until juices are clear when meat is pierced.
                • Turn oven to broil (You might want to take out chicken until oven gets heated)
                • Put chicken pieces on where the unexposed side is now facing upwards.
                • Broil till lightly charred, 5- 10 minutes (be careful not to overdo, "charred" does not mean burnt)
                Methi powder is dried fenugreek powder.

                McCormick's gourmet collection carries garam masala.

                Random fact -Tandoori chicken was served to both Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy during State visits to New Delhi.

                The pictures were taken after dinner, bad choice, since I didn't have as many pretty pieces to shoot.

                " But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. 
                 They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." Is. 40:31


                Tuesday, March 13, 2012

                Mango Custard

                Ripe, juicy mangoes pureed into a custard base can be a decadent treat with very little effort. Mango custard figures way up there for me on the dessert scale, not only is it awesomely yummy, but also refreshingly easy.

                In season and contingent upon the area you inhabit, many good varieties of mangoes can be found. Look for soft and squishy, colored from deep red to bright yellow when buying ripe mangoes, which will lend the sweetest results in the custard. The whole flavor structure comes together with the quality of mangoes.

                The fresh fruit option is the more flavorful, but if mangoes aren't in season, canned mango puree serves to be the best alternative. The puree makes it sweeter, so adjust the sugar to your liking,

                For the pudding- like texture, custard powder is used, a combination of cornstarch-based thickener and flavorings.

                Though it may seem overbearingly rich, this custard is not, balanced only with a tad fold of whipped cream and sugar. 

                Not mentioning (I know I am) the added bonus of taking all of 15 minutes to prepare.

                • 4 c milk
                • *5 tbsp custard powder (Bird's)
                • 1/2 cup sugar
                • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
                • *1 cup pureed mango 
                • *1/2 c heavy cream, whipped until stiff 
                • 1/4 cup chopped mangoes 
                • 1/ 2 cup chopped almonds, pistachios or cashews
                • 1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)

                • In a small bowl combine 1/2 cup of milk with the custard powder and mix with fork until custard is full dissolved.
                • In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the remaining 3 1/2 cups milk to a boil, stirring constantly.
                • Take off heat  to add 1 cup of the hot milk to the custard powder mixture, whisking until blended and smooth. Pour the custard mixture back into the hot milk and on to burner. Turn heat to medium- low and whisk constantly until the custard is thick and coats the back of a spoon. Add the sugar and vanilla and cook for an additional 1 minute.
                • Remove from heat, stir in the puree and let cool. Fold the whipped cream into the mango mixture and gently add in mango pieces and spoon into individual glasses/bowls. Alternatively, top  with mangoes along with the nuts, coconut.
                • Serve well chilled.
                This can also be the perfect vehicle for some chopped fruits, an enhanced fruit salad . 

                Whip cream first and keep aside, so it will be ready to add into the mango mixture.

                For the  puree, combine 1-2 ripe mangoes, peeled, and cut into chunks, 2-3 tbsp water and 1/3 c sugar, puree till smooth.

                Custard powder can be found in the British specialty foods aisle at some local grocers, also at Cost Plus World Market.

                "Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible."- Corrie Ten Boom

                Friday, March 9, 2012

                Aval Vilayichathu

                 It is a jaggery syrup-encoated, beaten rice dish known as aval vilayichathu. Sound confusing? Let me explain.

                Aval, also known as poha, is beaten, dried flakes of rice.

                Rice is the main grain crop in India. And being one of the largest rice producers helps in conjuring up interesting and easily digestible ways to consume this chief crop. Among the different manifestations are rice powder, rice flour, puffed rice and beaten rice - our focus today. Taking on the flavor of the other ingredients, and depending on the recipe, beaten rice or aval can be made either savory or sweet.

                Used mainly in Asian recipes, jaggery is unrefined, whole cane sugar, ranging in color, from dark to light brown. You can buy them in blocks, chunks, even paste.  Being a more wholesome and healthier alternative to its white cousin, it is  still an addictively sweet piece of sugar.
                Add the aval to the jaggery syrup and your end result will be one blissfully satisfying concoction. This overall preparation is known as vilayichathu.

                 Known as a convenience snack in India (yeah, right), I first fell in love with aval vilayichathu at my Aunt's house. A wonderful cook herself, she'd make this on occasion in a very large, traditional chatti ( pan). Just seeing the pan come out would drive me to hyper-salivation mode. I knew what was coming.

                It took me quite a while to master aval vilayichathu (for lack of a better word, I use "master").  A good friend who was visiting us from India simplified the "syrup thread form " that is so vital in vilayichathu. A systematic method is involved in getting the jaggery syrup of the right consistency. If it's too thick, the overall product will be hard and candied, too thin leads to a soaked, bland aval.
                Hopefully, the directions will help you strike the right balance. With the first bite, you'll be well on your way to knowing the most delightful snack you've ever had in your life.

                Oh, this does require a trip to an Indian grocer ( have I said that enough?).
                What you'll need~
                • *1 ½c jaggery, cut or shaved into small pieces
                • ¾c -1c water
                • 2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
                • 2 tbsp coconut flakes or slices
                • *¼ c chana gram dal
                • ¼ c cashews
                • 1 c shredded, unsweetened coconut
                • 2 cardamom, powdered or crushed
                • 2 c aval ( poha, as it's seen on labels)
                • Put your jaggery pieces in a saucepan with the water. Bring to boil, until jaggery melts in the water and the whole thing becomes liquid and smooth. Take off heat and keep aside.
                • Over medium flame, heat ghee in a deep sided, heavy bottomed pan.
                •  Add coconut flakes, dal and cashews to the ghee, bring to a light brown.
                • Pour the jaggery liquid into this.
                • Add the grated coconut to the mixture.
                • Bring to a boil reduce heat to medium until the liquid becomes a syrup of single thread consistency (when syrup drops from a spoon, it forms thin threads in water). On a candy thermometer, this reads around 223° F . 
                • Switch off heat.
                • Mix in the powdered cardamom .
                • In intervals, using a wooden spoon, slowly add in the aval, coating each addition fully, till all the aval is glazed and covered. 
                • It makes a large amount, but keeps well, unrefrigerated for a week or two( if you get it to last that long)

                Tuesday, March 6, 2012

                Chilli Chicken and Spicy Vegetable Noodles

                Ranking as favorite cuisine in India, next only to the local fare, is Chinese food. As the saying goes, the Chinese love their rice and noodles, so do Indians- Chinese rice and noodles, done the Indian way. Not always authentic though, it can be called fusion, and even then, not so much fusion as it is adaptation. It is said to have developed from the Chinese community that settled in Eastern India for more than a century. Indo- chinese cooking is an adjustment of Chinese cooking/flavorings suited to Indian tastes. Read lots of flavor, lots of  heat. From five star menus to mobile kitchens and highway dhabas (roadside stalls),  you'll find cooked up creations which include Chicken Manchurian, Hakka Noodles, Chili Fish and the popular "American Chopsuey"( no resemblance to the macaroni and ground beef dish).
                And on those days, in our home, when cravings for Chinese just can't be satisfied with a trip to Little Schezuan down the street, I head to the kitchen to create a couple of our all time favorites. These vegetable laced noodles are served alongside a sauced- up, flavor-coated chicken, otherwise known as chili chicken. Chili chicken originally calls for flour- battered pieces to be fried and added to a piquant, curry-like gravy at the end. Here, I just marinade chicken pieces in minimal ingredients, bake at 400 degrees for 15, maybe 20 minutes, then layer into my already made sauce.
                  So, for those of you who feel a need to hit up  some Chinese take- out, head over here, instead, and hit your dinner menu straight out of the flavor ballpark!
                  Chili Chicken:
                  • 4 tbsp oil
                  • *1/2 tbp cayenne (chili powder)
                  • 1 tsp salt 
                  • 4 tbsp corn starch
                  • 1 lb boneless chicken (cut into1-inch pieces)
                  •  2 tbsp oil 
                  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
                  • 1 celery stalk, chopped small
                  • *1 tsp finely chopped ginger
                  • *1 tsp finely chopped garlic 
                  • 1 chopped serrano pepper (green chili)
                  • 1 chopped bell pepper (capsicum- I use red)
                  •  3 tbsp soy sauce
                  • 1 tbsp ketchup
                  • 1/2- 1 tbsp chili garlic sauce (depending on your need for heat)
                  • 1/4 tsp sugar
                  • 1/4 cup water
                  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
                  •  Mix chicken pieces with cayenne, salt and lightly roll in cornstarch. Marinate  for 30 minutes.
                  • Smear a lined baking tray with 1 tablespoon oil and arrange your chicken pieces.
                  • Evenly pour a second tablespoon of oil over the chicken or coat pieces with cooking spray.
                  • Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes. Take out of oven and keep aside.
                  • In remaining oil, on medium- high heat, saute onions and celery, 1-2 minutes.
                  • Add in the ginger, garlic, serrano pepper and finally bell pepper. Saute quickly.
                  • Pour in soy sauce, ketchup and chili garlic sauce, sugar and water.
                  • Bring to a boil.
                  • Add in chicken and take off the heat.

                  Spicy Vegetable Noodles:
                  • 16 oz fresh lomein noodles (1 packet)
                  • pot of boiling water (to soften the lomein)
                  • 1 tbsp oil
                  • 1/2 onion chopped
                  • 1 tsp finely chopped garlic
                  • 1 tsp finely chopped ginger
                  • 1 carrot, cut into small pieces
                  •  1 cup shredded napa cabbage
                  • 2 green onions, slivered, white and green parts
                  • *1/4 cup frozen peas 
                  • 1 tsp sesame oil
                  • 1 tsp chili oil
                  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
                  • 1/2 tbsp Sriracha
                  Soften the lomein in boiling water for 2-3 minutes before cooking.
                  Heat oil, add in onion, garlic, ginger and saute 
                  Keep heat at medium high, throw in the carrots, saute 1- 2 minutes, then cabbage. Don't let the veggies wilt.
                  Stir in your green onions and peas.
                  Mix in the sesame oil to the Sriracha, add lomein and combine ingredients so as the coat the noodles well.
                  Take off heat.
                  Serve with your chili chicken.

                   * update on cayenne/ chili powder* Indian chili powder is just pure ground chili peppers and is what I am referring to or substituting cayenne with, unless mentioned otherwise. It is similar to the heat of cayenne, a red hot chili used in powdered form- so I use both the names in my ingredient list, whichever you have at hand is what you use. It isn't to be confused with the chili that is actually a blend of paprika, oregano, cumin and seasonings, most famously used in the dish known also as "chili".

                  Ginger and garlic pastes can stand in for finely chopped ginger/garlic.

                  Substitute fresh lomein with cooked, dried egg noodles or cooked spaghetti.

                  Peas will thaw once they hit the hot noodles.

                  Always adjust the level of spice/heat suited to your tastes.

                   I freak out when I go to an Asian grocers and usually come back with cartfuls of colorful sauces and oils. As a result, lots of my "Chinese" preparations will contain a medley of seasonings. This combination of flavoring works in these dishes, but feel free to experiment -  heat, tang, sweet, sour- you have it all in these bottles.

                  Ok, I'm hoping you're seeing progressively decent pictures :-))  Since, I'm not much of a photographer, this past weekend saw me through an extensive walk of various blogs/ food photography sites. Thanks to the help of my sister-in- law, Annies who directed my search to numerous online tips and methods helpful in getting good shots.  Also, a much-needed trip to the library got me hooked on learning how to  take better pictures of my food. Can you see the page is visually flooded as a result of my camera experimentation? So as the viewing gets better, I hope you're all the more encouraged to try out a couple of these recipes:-)

                  My daily inspiration wells from my relationship with Jesus Christ. Minus Him, this blog or the motivation behind it would not have existed. So, I will share a slice of encouraging hope each time I end a post. Without which, the post and my life are incomplete. 

                  "Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart."
                  ~ Psalm 37:4 ~

                  Thursday, March 1, 2012

                  Appam and Beef Mappas

                   Appam and beef mappas. I didn't think that I would add this recipe so early on...just the thought of the steps involved and typing the whole method of appam/ curry making made me get to slacking a few days. Trust me, though, the preparation and number of steps look daunting, the process in itself is not .

                  The  meal and the consequent post are a result of having made this as a special request dinner for my older child's birthday, specially requested by her, of course. She is our baby #1, born with a keen love and inclination towards all foods South Indian.

                  Although, officially tagged a breakfast food in Kerala, appam and beef mappas are deemed fit  to consume any time of day. It is also a celebration dish of sorts. Easter and Christmas mornings are hailed in with feasting on this sumptious breakfast fit for champions, or should I say kings? Kerala breakfasts are usually elaborate affairs, often bordering on extensive menus. Many of us, however, neither have the time, nor the energy to prepare and scarf down a huge, uber- exotic meal at the break of dawn, so this can be a perfect "breakfast for dinner" experience.

                  Appams, also known as hoppers (I have yet to know why... your guess is as good as mine), are made with a fermented ground rice, coconut batter and griddled like pancakes. They were originally made to rise using the fermented alcohol sap, toddy, of the palm tree. But down the line, people realized that rising can happen without inebriation, though toddy is still a favored leavener for this soft rice pancake. Yeast is used as an alternate to bring out the rising and doubling of the batter.

                  Beef curry, mutton curry, egg roast, vegetable stew are some of the well known sides that best complements the hopper. The beef preparation here is known as mappas, a curry native to Kerala involving a slow simmering of spiced ingredients in rich coconut milk.
                  Appams rely on some advanced preparation, but  are so worth it. Here goes: listed in the order it should be done-appam prep, beef curry, finishing the final appam cooking on a griddle. 


                  • 1 tsp yeast
                  • 1/4 cup  warm water
                  • 1 tsp sugar
                  • 1/2 cup cooked rice
                  • *1  cup fresh or frozen shredded coconut (unsweetened)
                  • cups rice flour
                  • 1-2 cups water, maybe more to achieve a "pancake- like" batter
                  • 5 tbsp sugar 
                  • pinch of salt

                   Appam Method: 
                  Step 1:

                  • To proof or test yeast, combine it with 1/4 warm water and 1 tsp sugar in a small bowl, stir and let alone for 10 minutes. A creamy foam should form on top- it's ready to use!
                  •  Put your cooked rice and coconut , along with your yeast mixture in a blender/grinder, to help grind on high for a 2- 3 minutes until well blended, don't allow the coconut to grind to a paste, there should be a light chunkiness to it. .
                  • With the blender on a medium setting, drop in half cupfuls rice flour alternatively with the half cups of water until a smooth, thick batter forms, use a rubber spatula to help you blend the ingredients.
                  •  Add sugar, salt and give the blender a final whir for a minute or so until all ingredients are incorporated well.
                  •  Pour into a bowl, large enough to let it "grow".Cover and keep aside in a closed, warm, dry place, preferably an oven ( turned off) , undisturbed for a minimum of 6 hours or overnight. 
                  Scroll down below and you will see the second part of this recipe.
                  Now you can start on your beef mappas.
                  Beef Mappas:

                  • 3 tbsp oil
                  • *1 cinnamon stick
                  • *2 whole cloves
                  • *1 cardamom pod
                  • *1/2 star anise
                  • 1 medium onion, chopped small
                  • 3 serrano peppers or jalapeno,slit
                  • 2 tsp garlic
                  • 2 tsp ginger
                  • 11/2 tsp cayenne (chili powder) pepper
                  • 3 tsp coriander powder
                  • 1/2 tsp cumin
                  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped small
                  • *1 lb beef, cut into 1 inch cubes
                  • 1/4 cup water
                  • *1 can unsweetened coconut milk
                  • 1 tbsp vinegar
                  • 2 tsp salt or according to taste
                  • curry leaves (optional)

                  •  Take out a heavy bottomed pan, heat oil.
                  •  Crush whole spices and add it to oil.
                  • On medium heat saute in onions till translucent.
                  • Next in order: serranos, garlic, ginger, saute for 3-4 minutes.
                  • Stir in cayenne, coriander, cumin, saute another 3 minutes.
                  • Next, go in the tomatoes.
                  • Stir until tomatoes cook down, 2-3 minutes.
                  • Slowly add beef. Now, using a strong wooden spoon, stir and press beef into the spice onion mixture, sort of massage -incorporating the beef with the spice mixture.
                  • Add in warm water, 1/4 can coconut milk,vinegar and salt.
                  • Bring to a boil and have it cook on medium-low heat for 40 minutes up to an hour
                  • Check the beef occasionally and stir 
                  • Pour in remaining coconut milk, simmer on low for an additional 5 minutes.
                  • When pieces are fork tender, take off heat
                  • Sprinkle in some curry leaves.
                  • The beef can be made in advance and once your batter has leavened, mappas can be reheated up to a slow simmer. 
                  There will be more of a  gravy, I wanted the beef to show through, so I didn't add too much in my plating.

                   Appam Method:
                  yeast proofing, before and after batter, meeting the griddle
                  Step 2
                  • After the wait of 6- 12 hours, the batter should have doubled up in volume .
                  • Stir batter well and season with salt or more sugar, according to individual taste.
                  • Preheat your griddle, nonstick, preferably. I use a large one where I can cook up 3 to 4 appams at once.
                  • Smear a tiny bit of butter onto the griddle's surface (intitially), or a light coat of cooking spray.
                  • Pour in a ladleful of batter  and spread a bit, pancake-likish.
                  • Once bubbles surface on top, about 2-3 minutes per appam, it is time to flip.
                  • Another 2 -3 minutes and it will be cooked through.
                  • Repeat with remaining batter. Makes 25-30 medium sized appams.
                  • Excess batter can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

                  Forget the silverware, now you have your own perfect utensil to sop up that wonderful curry

                  Shredded, unsweetened coconut needed here can also be found in the frozen section of Indian grocers. Another option are the organic supermarkets, where I've purchased the dried variety.

                  Traditionally raw, short grain rice is soaked and then ground for appam batter, but after knowing the ease of rice flour, I have never gone back to tradition.

                   If you like Indian cooking, a visit to your local Indian or Asian grocer will do you good. Or even specialty spice shops... looking at these recipes you''ll see a uniform set of spices, ingredients that carries through in most Indian preparations .

                  Whole spices are optional, but it always lends flavorful punch to the dish.

                  I buy tender stew meat and cut each piece into 1 inch cubes. However, if the meat is not of a tender cut, you can marinade beef in spices,ginger/garlic, tomatoes with the vinegar  and pressure cook for 20-30 minutes and then finish the dish by sauteeing onions with your cooked meat and adding any remaining ingredient.

                  Though, I haven't mentioned it in the recipe, I sometimes add a couple of potatoes ( cooked in the microwave and added to the curry at the end, in addition to coconut slices simmered along with the beef. It is optional, though it gives a flavorful texture to the dish.

                  Hope for leftovers on the beef mappas -it tastes so good the day after and can complement  sweet Hawaiian rolls, white rice or chappatis ( flatbread) .

                  So, like I said earlier, it's not half as difficult as it looks( is, it?) and the end result a tot-ally delicious Indian meal, that you prepared all on your own. So come on, give it a try and let me know how it goes.

                  Be mindful of the climatic conditions in which you live, it contributes a lot to the proofing condition  of your batter. Cooler climates require more a wait time ( and possibly some help) for the batter to rise. I have lived in one of the coldest places in the U.S. and it would take more than 12 hours for the batter to rise, sometimes using the warming option on my oven to coax it.
                  Now, at the extreme end of the weather scale, I'm housed in one of the warmest states, and, as you can see in the pictures the batter needed no coercion, in a mere 4 hours it tripled in volume!