Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Orotti/Rotti & Poruthal Ada – Flat rustic breads from Kerala..

Warning: Long one…Continuing from my previous post….

Till the day I left home and homeland, Kerala food was what my mother cooked at home, what I ate from my relatives and friends’ houses and those roadside eateries, Thattukada and small scale restaurants. Even before I realised, I lost count of the large chunk of women and a small bunch of men out there who fired up the stove for me and spread out a sumptuous array of palate tickling home cooked meals, sautéed with warmth and sprinkled with love ….. never did I bother to find out the recipe nor did I care to understand how it tasted different from my mother’s preparation. For me, the only thing that mattered was the taste...the taste that delighted my taste buds and made me a slave to their dining tables…….the taste that made me go for one more round of Parippu Pradhaman, the taste that forced me to go for one more slice of Meen Varuthathu….the taste that coaxed me to go for that last piece of cake which compelled my lecturer to baptise me with the name aakrantham.com aka gluttony.com …………

After I got married and gained the courage to cook or discuss food with friends hailing from other parts of Kerala, I started having genuine doubts on the culinary legacy left behind by grandmas and great grandmas in my family mainly because there was always someone or the other to point out that “onion is never used in Avial” ……. “Kaalan has to be cooked with raw plantain and not ripe one or the consistency has to be thick and not the medium pouring consistency”…….”Paalappam has to be made from ground rice and coconut batter and not by mixing rice flour and coconut milk”…….the list was endless. Those people who maintained such claims seemed to be having their own perceptions (or misperceptions?) about how a particular Kerala dish should be. We, CJJ & I , were not saints either! As products with solid roots in the central part of Kerala, we had a disdain for all those who made Fish curry with Vaalan Puli/Sambar tamarind instead of Kudam Puli/gamboge. We considered it a sacrilege to add Vaalan Puli/Sambar tamarind in a fish curry, not realising that it is widely used in kitchens from the northern part of Kerala to make a fish curry.

This type of insistence on the actual list of ingredients or what is perceived to be the ‘authentic’ method of cooking left the rookie in me baffled each time doubting the culinary traditions of my family and questioning my mother whenever she passed me recipes as followed in her kitchen. For most of my “Are you sure that’s how it is generally done ‘coz they said they don’t add that for this preparation” type of questions , my mother tried to throw in some light into my head saying that “…I do it this way…but some people don’t…especially those from this area….” Without really using heavy jargons like regional variations in Kerala cuisine or local food habits or food preferences of an individual or a community, my family kept repeating that they follow a particular technique and at the same, the method followed at some of their friends’ places, coming from a different region in Kerala, was slightly different or fully unique.

Days and years passed by, regularly coming across such claims and arguments over professed way of cooking and I was almost at the brink of losing my sanity over what constitutes an ‘authentic’ preparation. Though I have traveled from one tip of Kerala to the other, it was never a culinary travel learning about the existing regional variations in cooking or food habits or exploring the virgin and undiscovered culinary pockets of Kerala. Yet a certain level of enlightenment and awareness came through some well written articles and blogs out there that helped me sort out some of my confusions about the subtle variations in cooking; they also helped me empty the brain clogged up with some of my own as well as forced upon set of assumptions and presumptions, and inevitably drew up my own conclusion that the word authentic is more like a cosmetic term marketed and glorified by a group of restaurant owners abroad to lure the expats and domestic resort owners that mushroomed during the tourism era to attract the tourists flocking to Kerala and it did confuse some of us atleast at some point in time and complicated things for us.

Along with that realization, I was slowly getting some explanation as to why a certain dish is cooked in a particular way in my household and why it is cooked differently in our friend’s place and why it is paired differently by individuals or communities. The day I read Mallugirl’s post on how her family devour Puttu with fish curry for breakfast, I was thrilled to prove to CJJ that I am not a weirdo as he could never swallow the sight of me relishing a plate of puttu mixed with fiery red fish curry!! On another occasion, I found immense joy when his maternal grandma scoffed at her own daughter and family who enjoyed Kappa Puzhukku and Meen Curry for lunch as the old woman could not digest the idea of serving this ever popular combo as lunch; for her it was a tea time special though she personally preferred to pair kappa with Mulaku Chammanthi. It was a perfect opportunity for me to point out to CJJ that it was not strange on my part to get surprised when I heard their lunch menu on one of my first visits to their place. The idiosyncrasies in terms of food habits that I found in CJJ’s family did not stop with that. They named my favourite evening snack Poruthal Ada - a flat rustic bread made of rice flour and grated coconut, wrapped in banana leaf parcels and roasted on a clay pot and served with sweetened coconut milk – as Orotti. Not only did I find the name weird but also found their habit of pairing it with a savory side dish, as a breakfast item, a bit crazy until I read Annita’ s post on Orotti and learnt that such a combo exists and is again a classic example of variations in food habits and preferences. What is strange and awkward for some could be normal and comfort to others !

Over the years, especially since I started food blogging I have been well aware of the markedly visible regional variations in cooking and food habits and hence it did not surprise me much when some of you commented on my previous post that my aunt’s version of Ottada is what they call Orotti and thought it is a good idea to showcase how Orotti is cooked at CJJ’s place. While discussing this topic with my mother, I was excited to learn that my maternal grandma made the same thing but she called it Rotti and served as a breakfast along with a savory side dish. Only after marrying my father, my mother discovered the pleasures of roasting this Ada/flat bread wrapped in a banana leaf and roasting on a mann-chatti/clay pot, from my paternal side and they soaked the torn pieces of warm Ada in a pool of sweetened coconut milk and relished each spoonful with some of that sweetened coconut milk as an evening snack. Ever since she enjoyed the delights of that combo, she followed the same method and serving style whenever she cooked the same for her kids.

Some subtle variations in cooking method…….some differences in eating habits and pairing of food……..yet multiple names for something that’s made from the same set of ingredients. Interesting and dynamic, isn’t t?

Here’s the recipe for Orotti/Rotti
Ingredients: ( Makes about 3-4 breads )

  • 2 cups roasted rice flour (pachari/raw rice)
  • 1 cup freshly grated coconut
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 ¼ to 2 ½ cup hot boiling water ( varies as per rice flour)
  • Non stick or cast iron griddle
  • Make the dough by first mixing rice flour and salt; to this add the boiling hot water, just enough to make a soft and smooth dough; use a spoon to blend everything well and then add grated coconut and mix with the rice flour dough; when it is warm enough to touch, knead gently and make a smooth dough.
  • Heat a cast iron or non –stick griddle and when it is really hot, pull out a handful of dough – as big as a grapefruit or a big mango – and roughly shape it into a round one; place the dough on the heated griddle and with your fingers, gently spread out the dough into a flat one, with around ¼ inch thickness or as the one in the picture; dipping your finger in little water will make the it easier for you to spread the dough. Now close the griddle with a lid and cook for about 2-3 minutes on high heat and then remove the lid and flip. Continue to close it with lid and keep flipping until both the sides are cooked/roasted well, with tiny golden brown spots here and there. The moisture that gets locked up inside when closed with a lid, help to retain a certain level of softness while roasting/cooking on the griddle.
  • Serve as a breakfast with any savory dish. We served with some Kheema Masala, a delicious ground meat preparation with the perfect blend of spices and herbs.

Poruthal Ada

  • Same as the ones for making Orotti/Rotti
  • Banana/plantain leaves
  • Mann-chatti/Shallow clay pot
  • 1 ½ to 2 cups coconut milk, medium consistency
  • 6-8 tbsp sugar or to taste

  • Follow the same steps and measurements, given above for making Orotti/Rotti, to make the dough with rice flour and grated coconut.
  • Heat the mann-chatti/clay pot .
  • As the clay pot is getting heated, wash the banana leaves and pull out some dough and roughly shape into a round one; place it on the banana/plantain leaf flatten it using your fingers as in the picture; dipping your finger in little water will make the it easier for you to spread the dough. Fold the leaf from all the sides, wrapping and protecting the flattened dough and place it directly on the well heated mann-chatti/clay pot and cover with a lid, let it cook for about 5-10 mts; now flip the parcels, reduce the heat and let the other side cook; you will notice the banana leaves drying up and browning as Ada gets cooked/roasted. Flip both the sides one more time and cook for some more minutes until Ada is cooked/roasted well with charred spots here and there as in the pictures given above.

To Serve: Discard the charred banana/plantain leaves ; remove any leftover burnt pieces of the leaf glued to roasted Ada. ( Note: Personally I am fine with tiny bits and pieces of burnt ones here and there on my Ada as I enjoy that flavor when soaked with coconut milk). When roasted Ada is still hot, tear then into bite size pieces or cut them using a food safe scissors and soak the pieces into coconut milk, sweetened with sugar. There should be enough coconut milk for all the pieces to get drenched and let it soak for about 30 minutes. Take enough individual portions and serve the soaked ones drenching in coconut milk as shown in the picture above.


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