Saturday, April 12, 2008
This post is part of SADYA VIBHAVANGAL – Learn to make the traditional Kerala Feast- An Artist’s Edible Palette !
Pappadam, Pazham & upperis (Plantain chips) are the first few entries, generally served on the extreme left of the “Thooshan ela”, narrow curved part of plantain/banana leaf. Plantain chips are the signature crispy treats from Kerala and if you travel across the state, you will come across many small specialized shops selling these crispy treats, especially at the main bus stands and junctions. Nenthrakkula ,hanging on ropes in front of such shops and a “lungi-clad” guy with a cotton towel on his shoulder, effortlessly slicing off plantains, using a mandolin, into a big ‘uruli’ , (a wide-mouthed bell metal vessel) filled with hot oil and the sizzling sound when he pours salt water to flavour the sliced bananas, frying up in oil………ohh how I wish I could get a fresh batch of fried chips!!!!!!
I resort to making nenthrakkaaya upperi only when I want to make a traditional feast and serve everything cooked right from scratch. Hence, I usually use only one plantain and here’s how I go about it. Make 4 slits on the plantain and remove the skins. Rub off the surface with a fresh new piece of scrub or back home, my mother uses “chakiri”, the fiber from the husk of the coconut and smoothens giving it a nice glaze. In a deep bowl, fill some water and add ½ tsp turmeric and salt and soak unripe bananas in it for about 20 minutes. After that dry it thoroughly with a kitchen napkin and slice it off very thinly, using a mandoline. Keep the sliced ones on a wax paper. In another small bowl, take ¼ cup water and mix with some ½ tsp salt and keep aside. For one plantain, heat about half cup of coconut oil and when it is hot, add the sliced pieces to hot oil in small batches and fry for few minutes. Using a slotted spoon, adjust the traffic among the frying chips. When the chips are half done, drizzle some salt water to it, keeping one arm distance from the stove as it disturbs hot oil and splashes a bit. When the bubbles settle down, wait for some more time, until the chips beginning to look crispy and at this point, transfer them, using a slotted spoon, to a tray lined with tissues/napkins to absorb the excess oil on the chips. If it is your first time, start with a very small batch and then improvise with the next batches. It all depends on the temperature of the oil. Store it in airtight container only when it is completely cool. I have learnt from my experiences that the slicing should be even to get everything crispy. Also we need to wait till it completely cools before storing it in containers.
There is one more variety of plantain chips called Sarakkavaratti or Sarkkara Upperi which is thick plantain quarters fried in oil, then coated with jaggery syrup, with a dash of powdered dry ginger, cumin and cardamom. I am yet to master this preparation and hence please check out RP’s version.
Sadya is unimaginable without Pappadam…..a crispy fried flat-bread, made of black gram flour……it is crushed with Sambar along with rice or crushed with Payasam/Pradhaman (desserts) or sometimes a “time-pass bite”, along with banana chips or Sarkkaravaratti when one waits for all the items to be served on the banana/plantain leaf. Unlike other Indian wafers, falling into the same category, Kerala Pappadams puffs up so well. In, Kerala, Pappadams are usually deep fried in oil. When oil is hot enough, slide one round Pappadam into the hot oil and deep -fry for 3-4 seconds, until it is crisp and puffed up. Health conscious group can microwave, instead of deep frying. It takes about 1 minute in microwave. Since Kerala Pappadams were/are not available in the area where I reside, the one shown in the picture is Chennai Appalam and not Kerala Pappadam. Will update once I have access to some!
Pazham/banana is another unavoidable item in Sadya. Preferred varieties are Poovan pazham, cheru-pazham, Paalayan-kodan pazham and kadhali pazham and I am partial to Poovam Pazham and cheru-pazham :) One can wrap –up the feast by having a fresh fruit after the dessert or the more traditional, tasty way of enjoying the fruit which is a bit clumsy, to some, is by squishing the banana and crushing the Pappadam onto the hot Payasam/Pradhaman (desserts), on the banana leaf and taking a scoop with your fingers, then right on to your mouth and finish the whole ecstasy with a touch of manga achar or puli inji :D I see some doing “Ewww……” and some saying “Slurrppppppp……” :) :)