When I lived in Sydney, eating Indian food was not an option when we went out for a meal. Unless of course, we were entertaining someone from India and they didn’t want to experiment or I was out with my gora, Aussie friends who loved Indian food. When I went out with a friend, it was usually Vietnamese, Sri Lankan, Lebanese, Thai or cafe style Aussie grub we opted for.
Luckily, the Sri Lankan places – especially Janani in Homebush Bay – was even open for breakfast. Very much like our Indian Udipi restaurants in decor and ambience, the food there was delicious and each time I went there I tried something new. Sodhi, sambal, fish curry that was just divine and one that I am yet to recreate; appams, idiappams etc.
That is where I heard about the community meals that were arranged by the Sri Lankan community in a school compound across the road from Janani. Every second Sunday of the month, these genteel people from that beautiful island country would meet, their women and hired help would set up stalls and cook up some delicious Sri Lankan food.
At home, my Mallu friend and I had tried to make appams with the readymade mixes and failed. So when I saw the appams being made here, I quickly asked the organiser, I still remember it was a guy named Sanjay if I could see how they were being made. He took me to the kitchen where a cook explained the process to me in Sinhalese and I didn’t understand a word. Then, she very kindly showed me how to make the appam in the chatti. And voila, I had learnt how appams were made. But, having learnt how to make them, and not being able to get the batter to ferment properly in the cold Sydney weather, appams went on to my ‘I will make them someday’ list. Though we would get appams from Janani and make stew at home and have an appam and stew breakfast.
On returning to India, appams went on the backburner as the monotony of everyday life took over. But I continued to love appams and stew and would ensure I had this deliciously bland breakfast item every time I went to Kerala. But, like I always say, though not as creatively as Paulo Coelho does, that if you really want something, the universe will make it happen.
Since my desires are limited to simple things, I got hold of the recipe for appam batter from a lady who was half Mallu and half Parsi. I got the appam chatti [the typical pan used to make appams] and sure enough, that stayed in its pristine, packed condition for a few months. Then, thanks to the electric grinder my mother got me, and an enterprising maid who shares my enthusiasm about trying new things, I got around to finally making appams with stew.
The appam batter fermented well in the Andhra heat and I finally did make this traditional South Indian pancake in Hyderabad, years after I learnt how to make it in Australia.
I have written out the recipe for the appams and the stew along with a picture. The best part about this appam batter is that it doesn’t need yeast – you can manage with two slices of bread. Plus, neither the appam nor the stew needs any oil or ghee except the little you need for frying the spices while making the stew.
2 cups rice [any variety]
1 and 1/2 cups poha [rice flakes]
2 slices bread, soaked in water
Half a coconut, ground to a paste
10-12 methi seeds [fenugreek]
1 pinch of cooking soad
Salt to taste
1 tsp sugar
Soak poha and rice separately, grind and mix well. Add the coconut, bread, salt and sugar. Ferment overnight. Add water and a pinch of soda to make the batter thinner than that of dosa batter consistency.
Heat the appam chatti. Pour a ladle full of batter into it. Hold the handles of the chatti and gently rotate the chatti so the batter spreads and coats the sides of the pan. Then place on the gas and cover with a lid. After a few minutes, check to see if it is done. The appam will start to come off the sides of the non-stick pan on its own. If the centre of the appam which is usually thicker than the sides looks like it is done, take it out of the chatti with a pair of plastic tongs. Repeat the process for the rest of the appams.
1 cup vegetables [carrots, beans, peas, potatoes]
1 cup sliced onions
1 cup second extract of coconut milk**
1/2 cup first extract of coconut milk
1 inch piece cinnamon
2-3 cloves and cardamom
A few peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs curry leaves
2-3 green chillies, slit lengthwise
Salt to taste.
** I usually take the ready made coconut milk and dilute half of it and use that as the second extract and leave the rest as the first extract. The 200 ml tetrapack one gets at super markets is enough to make stew to serve 2-3 people.
Parboil the vegetables in salt and water and keep aside. In a little oil, fry the spices including the peppercorns and when they release a fragrance, throw in the onions, chillies and curry leaves. Saute till the onions are soft and add salt to taste. When the onions are starting to turn brown, add the vegetables and the second extract of coconut milk. Boil for a few minutes and then add the first extract of coconut milk. Adjust the salt, bring to a boil and remove from heat.
The stew is ready to be served with appams.
PS: People make the stew with chicken or meat or fish too. I cannot stomach the thought of eating meat or fish for breakfast so I stick with just potato stew or a vegetable one depending on what is in my fridge.