Monday, October 12, 2009

Kuzhalappam – An old world crispy treat from Kerala….A rookie attempt…..Hits n misses…..

For me the thought of Kuzhalappam takes me back to those days when I sneaked a peek into my grandma’s built in snack cabinet and reached out for those crispy tubular shaped snacks during those afternoons, when she was enjoying a nap after lunch and I had a craving to munch on something……it also takes me back to those days when my father took me to the bakery in our city to get our quota of pastries and sweets and me grabbing a packet of Kuzhalappam, at times dusted with sugar or lightly coated with sugar syrup. I also have vague memories of women selling stacks of Kuzhalappam packets wrapped neatly in clear plastic, at those densely crowded Ulsava Parambu/ festival grounds………

But when it comes to my mother’s generation, I learn that they associate this snack with a different set of memories. My mother’s recollections about this snack does not include a bakery or those stacks of crispy tubes wrapped neatly in plastic…….for her, it was part of festival fare- like Onam or Christmas ,when women in the family fry up a huge batch of Kuzhalappam or Achappam or some other traditional snacks, so they could feed their guests, distribute as gifts and also fill up large boxes to send it over, on their daughter’s return to her husband’s place…… was also part of functions like Kalyanam/marriages where such homemade treats were served to guests on the eve of marriage/Kalyana Thalennu…………these crispy treats also made regular appearances at special occasions like ‘Vayaru Kaanal Chadangu’ , when a woman was pregnant and as the custom goes, her family visited on the seventh month of her pregnancy to bring her back to her house, from her husband’s place; on such occasions, an array of traditional snacks were prepared at the girl’s side, either by women folks in the family or by a specially appointed pachakakkaran/cook , to carry them along on their visit, and Kuzhalappam was one of the main items.

On one of those days when nostalgia hit the shores and craving for the taste and smell of home was at its high, I ventured out to try my hands on this old time favorite, without realizing that it requires certain skill, expertise and patience. Did I get the desired result? Well………

Well, you might notice some differences in terms of thickness and size between the fried ones and the ones in the pictorial below. The ones in the pictorial are from my first attempt last year around Christmas time and the fried ones are from our recent second attempt. I had my lucky stars smiling at me pleasantly on my first attempt, till the shaping part but everything took a sudden U –turn when I started frying them up. Not only did the fried ones failed to crisp up well, but they got browned quickly, forcing me to remove them from spitting hot oil. As always, , my mother ,my 911 for kitchen mishaps shared her words of wisdom listing out the causes for all mishaps, and Lesson No: 1 Learnt was: Heat needs to be adjusted often, allowing it to cook on its own and crisp up well; it is not as easy or quick as frying Pappadam !

Another challenge was that the tubular shaped ones started flattening out as though a flying saucer fell on it as soon as I dropped them in hot oil, giving me an end product that can be called Kuzhalappam without its typical ‘Kuzhal” or that tubular look. Lesson Learnt: There needs to be enough oil for the prepared dough tubes to get fully drenched in oil and as soon as you drop one. No skimping on oil.

The ones that showed resistance to flatten out and maintained a not-so-pathetic shape did not crisp up enough and had sogginess to it. Lesson Learnt: When the two edges of the circle are pulled together and folded to seal tightly, overlapping should not be more than ¼ inch as that part takes more time to cook and crisp up to perfection, compared to rest of the thinnest parts of the tube.

With the realisation that it was the shaping part and frying part that led to the catastrophe on my first attempt, conscious effort was made to take care of those areas but over confidence on the dough part forced me to blindly follow the same measurements for the rice flour- coconut milk proportion and the result was a bit disturbing; as the dough was rolled out and folded and shaped, it started tearing up a bit here and there and at that point , the bulb of enlightenment lit and Lesson 4 & 5 learnt: A very soft and smooth dough is mandatory to roll out thin flat discs and to get such a perfect consistency, it is best to know your rice flour well and depending on the nature/quality of flour, quantity of coconut milk should be adjusted ( increased or decreased); also it is to be made sure that dough does not dry up quickly, so always keep it covered, locking in the moisture coming from warm dough.

So, here’s how it finally turned out for us with all the above mentioned hits n misses and I am sharing the recipe we followed.

Recipe Source: Aunt S from my paternal side.
  • ¾ cup rice flour, lightly roasted and cooled
  • ¾ to 1 cup coconut milk, medium consistency ( varies with rice flour quality)
  • 1 tsp black sesame seeds/ellu
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds/jeerakam
  • 2 tsp small red pearl onion/Kunjulli, minced
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for frying
  • Heat medium consistency coconut milk and bring to a boil. To this add, salt and minced small onion and stir well; then add rice flour and mix everything with a wooden spoon and when everything is wet enough , add cumin seeds and sesame seeds, turn off the heat, cover with a lid and let it rest for about 10 minutes. When the dough is warm enough to touch, knead the dough gently until it gives a smooth and soft texture.
  • Divide the dough into small balls and start rolling out one at a time, into flat thin rounds and using a cookie cutter or lid of a jar, cut them into a perfect circle. As shown in the picture, pull the edge from two sides, folding to place one on another (overlapping only about ¼ inch or so) and press down with your fingers and seal them tightly. Sprinkle some all purpose flour/ Maida while rolling out the dough to make the process easier. (Note: Back home, this is done on a cassava or banana stem ( kappa kuzhal/Vaazha-thandu), to get the tubular shape. You can use anything in a tubular shape but I find my alternative method easier, atleast it works well for me.)
  • When you are done rolling out and making about 5-6 tubes, heat oil in a small wok/cheenachatti; when it is really hot, slide in one at a time, making sure that there is enough oil for the prepared dough tubes to get fully drenched in oil and as soon as you drop one, you see the oil bubbles multiplying . Adjust the heat to make sure that it doesn’t burn or brown immediately and has enough time and heat, to crisp up perfectly. Keep flipping the sides, until it is cooked well and when crisp, remove with a slotted spoon, drain on a paper towel; fry rest of them and when it is completely cooled, store in an airtight container. Repeat this process till you finish rolling out, shaping and frying the entire batch. (Note: You can fry 2-3 at a time, depending on the size of your wok and your expertise)
  • Serve as a crispy treat with tea or coffee or just munch on them whenever you feel like.
Variation: If you want the sweeter version of it, you may coat it with sugar syrup, after frying, as diamond cuts are coated with sugar syrup. You may also dust it with some superfine sugar (after frying) to lend a mild sweetness to Kuzhalappam. I feel this sweetened version is a bakery innovation and not an old world discovery.

Hope you read through the mishaps mentioned in the introduction and take tips before venturing out to fry up a batch of these crispy treats. It takes practice and time to perfect these crispy tubes, so don’t be disheartened if it turns out flattened or burnt or soggy. Know your ingredients, polish your skills and master the technique, you are sure to get a taste of the old world.

For more snack recipes, check complete recipe index.


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