Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Achappam – Kerala Style Rosettes

As I wrote in my previous post, I fall in love with recipes that comes with a story and history, which gives them a soul and character of its own, no matter how simple the recipe is. Such recipes take me to a bygone era I have not been part of. That’s what happens most of the time when I approach the elderly men and women in our family for recipes and dishes cooked during their childhood……at times, they have a story to accompany the recipe…..memories to share …take pride in the tools and techniques they possess passed down to them by their mothers, grandmas or great grandmas.

By collecting such recipes handed down from generations to generations in our family, I have been making a humble attempt to connect with my roots as well and pass on the baton, pass on that tiny slice of the past to the future generations in our family, if at any point of time they get curious as to what we cooked and ate or what their grand-parents and great grand-parents preferred for breakfast or dinner or how the family traditions associated with certain festivals evolved. Perhaps, it might be my wishful thinking but no harm in staying on the optimistic side, right?

However, it is not just the recipes passed down to us that I love to cherish….there are some other things too…..a few of my favourite things which I have inherited from my family…..those things that come under the category of heirloom, things that speak volumes for itself and the family. Some of those treasures include those flimsy old leaflets of Thaliyola/palm-leaf manuscripts from my grandfather’s collection…….the bell metal vessels used by grandmas from both my paternal and maternal sides……those faded sepia pictures from the family album…..

………and one among those priceless possessions is this Achu/mould my mother gave me recently …….a special mould used particularly for making the crispy, crunchy, deep fried old world snack, Achappam, Kerala style rosettes……a tool and a recipe her mother passed on to her has now come to my collection. As much as I look at it as a treasure, I must admit that one thing she can’t pass on to me that easily is the skill to execute the tool and the recipe. And I realized it a couple of months back as I watched my mother frying up a batch of Achappam, with the deftness and dexterity that made me wonder if I would ever be able attain that level of skill, experience and presence of mind!!

As I wrote for Kuzhalappam, Achappam is also a popular snack that you come across during festival times like Onam or X’mas or stacked neatly and wrapped in clear plastic at bakeries and Ulsava-parambu/fare grounds, or as part of the spread on the eve of marriage/Kalyana Thalennu, or to fill up those huge snack tins carrying variety of snacks and sweets, taken by the newly-weds when they go to their in-laws house etc…..

Making Achappam is a tricky affair, something that comes to perfection only with the use of fine rice flour, right consistency of batter and ofcourse, practice. Achappam you see in my pictures lacks a bit of its finesse as my mother had to work with the ingredients and utensils available in hand, coming up with alternatives and substitutions. Generally, it is made using “ nalla nermayulla varukkatha pachari podi” , a fine raw rice flour which is not roasted. Since that was not available at home, my mother soaked some raw rice grains for an hour in water, drained it and let it dry a bit for around 20-30 minutes and then ground to a fine powder which she sieved using a very fine sieve. The finer the sieve, the finer the rice flour would be and even finer the texture of Achappam. If the batter is too thick like dosa/Indian pancake batter, then it is difficult to separate Achu/mould from the semi cooked , semi crisp fried dough and also it won’t have the right crunchy texture. Am just listing out the ingredients and method my mother followed thinking that someday I would gain the courage and skill to try it on my own!

Ingredients: ( Approx.)
  • 1 cup rice flour/pacha-podi ( Not roasted)
  • About ½ cup coconut milk, medium consistency
  • 2 ½ tsp egg, beaten lightly
  • Sugar, little less than 1/8 cup
  • 1 heaping tsp black sesame seeds/ellu, lightly roasted/heated
  • ¼ tsp cumin seeds/jeerakam
  • Oil for deep frying
  • Mix all the ingredients to the consistency of a batter- not as thick as dosa/Indian pancake batter- and leave it on the kitchen counter for around 20 minutes.
  • Heat oil in a small wok or sauce pot; as soon as you turn on the stove, drop the Achu/mould into the oil, and let it heat up along with the oil. In the meantime, transfer a small batch of batter to a small container; this way, you do not change the consistency of the batter as you keep dropping the oil coated hot Achu/mould every time into the batter.
  • When oil is really hot enough for deep frying - check by pouring a tiny drop of batter into the oil and see if it is coming up to the top immediately and sizzling and spitting in hot oil – lift off the Achu/mould from the hot oil and shake off the excess oil and then slowly dip Achu/mould in the batter (the one in the small container and hearing that “shhhh…shhhhoooo” sound is natural at this stage) for a second only till halfway ( DO NOT dip the Achu/mould fully into the batter) and then immediately drop the batter dipped Achu/mould back into the hot pool. At this point, you will notice numerous bubbles forming around the Achu/mould, as shown in the pictorial. Wait for about 30-40 seconds and gently shake off the Achu/mould and if you got the batter consistency right, you will see the semi-cooked Achappam coming off the Achu/mould easily; if you re having some trouble , try to separate the Achu/mould by gently pushing with a wooden skewer and it will come off easily; then let it cook until crisp and golden brown, by flipping each side. Keep adjusting the heat, otherwise it would get burnt fast. When it is fried enough, remove with a slotted spoon and let it drain on a paper towel. When it is completely cool, it gains more crunch and you can store them in an airtight container.
  • Keep repeating this step for the entire batch of batter and if your wok is big enough, continue to place the Achu/mould, in the hot oil itself after shaking off the semi cooked ones from it. Otherwise, please make sure that Achu/mould is heated properly in oil before dipping into the batter each time.
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