Monday, 15 August 2011

The Daring Kitchen - Daring Cooks #1: Appam and Curry

Well! This is my first ever Daring Cooks challenge on Daring Kitchen and I'm still trying to figure out how it all works. I know that I'm already a day late in posting, but you can get in a lot of trouble for posting early, and considering I'm half a day ahead of the majority of people, that would be unwise.

The idea is you join up, and every month you participate in cooking a new and challenging food. This month it was appam and curry. Appam is a southern Indian/Sri Lankan leavened rice pancake. Think pancakes, but grainier (because of the rice), and with a different flavour (because of the yeast and coconut milk). They're ever so slightly crumbly but when you're using them to soak up curry juice that's no biggie.

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.

I chose to make the appam, along with the Sri Lankan Beef Curry and an accompaniment of Carrots with Tropical Flavours. The appam was the compulsory item, and you could choose one or more other dishes. One of them was a prawn one and another was a fish one, but I went with beef because it was on special!

Note that you should read the recipes very carefully, especially the appam one. I made a couple of assumptions because I am unfamiliar with Indian cuisine or even with just the recipes themselves, and I made a couple of errors that could have been fatal to my attempts. Note also that I used a total of one can of coconut milk for these three recipes. I don't know why it was important for me to say that, but I just had to get it out there!

Mistake #1 was adding extra liquid to the blended rice before adding the yeast mixture, which meant that it was far too sloppy. Luckily, mum was on hand to suggest that I add rice flour - which is just ground rice, which is basically what I already had in the blender - to make up for the extra fluid I had added. It worked a treat. Phew! Crisis averted!

Mistake #2 was attempting to fry flip the appam as though they were pancakes. Nope. You pour the batter in, swirl it so it is thinly and evenly distributed in the pan, then you put a lid on it and leave it to cook/steam for a couple of minutes. It should come out of the pan quite easily. If you try and flip them, Western style, they'll just fall to pieces and be uncooked on one side and ugh *shudders*

So with no further ado, here are the recipes. I'll post a photo of my completed product at the end. Good luck!

Servings: Makes about 15. I found 2 were enough for a serving when served with curry and carrots.

Preparation time: Soaking the rice: 3 hours

Fermenting the batter: 8-12 hours (8 hours if it’s hot in your kitchen, longer if it’s cooler)
Mixing the batter: a few minutes
Cooking the appam: 2-3 minutes each

Equipment required:
● large bowl for soaking rice and fermenting batter
● blender or wet/dry grinder or mortar and pestle
● sieve
● small ladle <-- I tipped it straight in from the bowl but if you're not confident in the kitchen use a ladle!
● small frying pan/skillet (preferably non-stick) with a lid <-- I used a pizza tray, balanced precariously atop a frypan that was rather a lot smaller than the tray. Precarious balancing in the kitchen is how I roll!
● small heatproof spatula

I also used a glass measuring cup for initially getting the yeast going.

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. You can soak it overnight, although I did not try that. <-- I did because of the 8-12 hours of fermentation time required of the batter
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, but I did not. <-- I got excited and added the water to make it smooth before adding the yeast mixture... fail! I then realised my error and added a whole bunch of rice flour to compensate for the liquid Add the cooked rice, and grind/blend to combine well. It is not completely smooth, but very thick—think porridge-ish, inasmuch as if you swirl it about with a spatula it sort of holds a little shape. Actually, more like a dip does..
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. Don’t worry--they are mild tasting when cooked!
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. <-- I added a bit of water here cos I guess the rice flour I added to rescue it earlier was a bit **too** much Notice how it bubbles after you add the coconut milk. I recommend test-cooking one before thinning the batter.
6. 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(s) 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 <-- not like me at first! 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... Here you can see some that were made in regular skillets.
9. I have found that the leftover batter can be refrigerated for a day or 2.

Servings: 4 as a side dish

This is a simple and tasty way to serve carrots. It is creamy and with a bit of chili heat. Serve as a side with one of the saucy curries.

1 pound (½ kg) carrots, about 5 medium, peeled
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
about 8 fresh curry leaves <-- nowhere to be found in my town! Google tells me you can substitute bay leaves or basil leaves for curry leaves but it's never quite the same. CURRY LEAVES DO NOT EQUATE TO CURRY POWDER. THEY ARE A TOTALLY DIFFERENT THING!!! You can also substitute the zest of 1 lime for 8 curry leaves. I used bay leaves for this recipe, and the zest of 1 lime and 2 curry leaves for the curry recipe
2 tablespoons (30 ml/15 gm) minced seeded green cayenne chilies  <-- note that I omitted about half the chili for this and for the below curry because mum had a suspected stomach ulcer at the time. It tasted fine
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 chilies 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. Mine took about 5 minutes. 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, if desired, and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves.
6. Transfer to a plate and serve hot or at room temperature

Servings: 4 <-- 3 of us polished it off quite easily

This curry has an amazing depth of flavor from the spices, coconut milk and tamarind. It may look like a lot of sauce, but you will just want more.

1 pound (½ kg) boneless beef (such as round steak or roast), or about 1 ½ pounds (¾ kg) short ribs or cross ribs (or boneless lamb shoulder)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
10 fresh or frozen curry leaves <-- see above notes on potential curry leaf substitutes
1 green cayenne chili, finely chopped <-- see above notes on how much chili I used
generous 1 cup (250ml/250 gm/9 oz) finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon (5 ml/3 gm) turmeric
1 teaspoon (5 ml/6 gm) salt
½ cup (120 ml) coconut milk
1 tablespoon (15 ml/15 gm) tamarind pulp <-- note that I could only find tamarind puree at my local shops. This appears to be free of seeds, which is what I take the whole soaking and straining steps in this recipe to be about. Because I didn't need to remove the seeds I omitted the soaking/straining and only added 1/2 to 2/3 the quantity of what was required because I presumed that if you were straining it, you would be removing about that volume. Sometimes you gotta roll with it!
¼ cup (60 ml) hot water <-- for the tamarind pulp (as opposed to puree) straining hoo-ha
3 cups (720 ml) water

Dry Spice Mixture:
1 tablespoon (15 ml/13 gm) raw white rice
1 tablespoon (15 ml/10 gm) coriander seeds
1 teaspoon (5 ml/4 gm) cumin seeds
one 1-inch piece (2½ cm) cinnamon or cassia stick
seeds from 2 pods of green cardamom

1. Cut the beef into ½ inch (13 mm) cubes or separate the ribs. Set aside.
2. 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.
3. 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
4. In a large, wide pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the curry leaves, green chili, 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.

So here are my photos - nothing to write home about, because I took them on full Auto with a flash, due to the fact that the light in mum's kitchen is appalling at the best of times, but at night-time...!

And of course, I had to get artistic...

If you have a little time up your sleeve, take yourself on a culinary adventure and have a crack at these. I think that once you are familiar with the recipe it would be a piece of cake, but because I was a novice it was a bit messy. But all consumers were suitably impressed - the flavours of the curry are incredible, particularly in contrast with the rubbish curry paste you get ready-made in jars. Go on - be daring!


  1. So glad this was a success for you in the end! It looks fabulous--thanks for participating!

  2. Great first challenge - part of being a good cook is how you manage to get past your mistakes - lucky you had some rice flour on hand.

  3. @Mary - thanks for the great recipe!

    @Todd - mum has been telling me that for years, and, true to form, I have only started appreciating my mother's wisdom quite recently! Since I moved out I have stocked the same sort of kitchen as my mum's - full of raw ingredients that you can make a million things out of, all from your imagination, and which you can also use to rescue recipes gone awry.

  4. Great job on your first challenge! It looks wonderful. I can't wait to see what the next challenge is!


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