If you are acquainted with Indian food, like I thought I was then consider this question I pose to you today: Is Indian food countriversal (like universal but for countries)? Is it?Well I certainly thought it was. Sipping on a mug of steaming ginger tea and chatting with friend and neighbor I reeled off all the Indian dishes I loved so – Tikka Masala, Tandoori Chicken and on and on I went. Dishes that my old friends and neighbours had lovingly prepared for me time and time again. S, my neighbour informed me and ever so kindly too that the cuisine I spoke so knowledgeably of was characteristic of North Indian cooking and not typical of the subcontinent. – to my greatest surprise. It had never occurred to me that Indian cuisines were so ‘regional’, defined in geographical space and made peculiar, like embroidery with each region coloured by history and shaped by foreign and influences. Just like it hadn’t crossed my mind that hazelnuts grew on trees. Or most recently, that my friend, a left-handed geologist and passionate hobby artist also drew….with his left hand. Sigh.From north India, where the cuisine is hearty with Muslim and moghul contributions and rich with mutton and goat meat, cooked in ghee and cream , to the south with its Brahmin cuisine, where strict Brahmins will avoid tomatoes and beetroot, being blood-coloured and dishes are based on lentils, chilli and coconut, there is sufficient variety in the Indian foodepedia to please every palate.
Idlis, dosas and appams were as foreign to me as poppadums and chapattis were familiar. Kulfi, Falooda and Sundal were words that were to finally find meaning in the multitude of dishes typical of the south. Thanks to S, my south Indian neighbor and friend who furthered my learning ….especially when that resulted in a South Indian feast at theirs. The introduction began with Kuzhi Paniyaram (the Indian version of poffertjes or silver dollar pancakes) and chicken kebabs, served with a coriander-mint chutney. The main was replete with Idli, Dosais and Pulav rice. In good company were coconut chutney and Sambhar with a sweet Pineapple pachadi (a type of Raita) and some Cabbage-Carrot ‘dry’ vegetable curry. I discovered that the south Indian curries were soupier (not watery) but more liquid compared with the thickened, spiced sauces of the north. The evening ended with a gorgeous sweet semolina pudding, Rava Kesari aka Semolina Halwa.We went home…stuffed! And grateful for another open gateway to India.And then, this month’s Daring Cooks challenge was announced, and I leapt high with joy – an opportunity to broaden the waistline.
Blog-checking lines: 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.Mandatory Items: The appams, and at least one South Indian/Sri Lankan accompaniment, or more, if you like! You must use the appam recipe in the challenge.Variations allowed: I have written or linked to a variety of accompaniments. You may choose one (or more) of these, or make another to go with the appam. However, I ask that the accompaniment be a South Indian or Sri Lankan dish, as that’s where appam are most commonly eaten. If you are not sure what to look for, look for Kerala recipes.While wheat is a north Indian staple, rice is its southern counterpart, employed in numerous dishes from Idlis, steamed rice and lentil cakes that resemble aebleskivers and poffertjes in shape, to dosas, pancakes made from rice and lentils and Appams, lacy/holey pancakes which bear some resemblance to French crepes – where the similarities stop.
Mary describes them as ‘a cross between a crepe and a crumpet, with a thin, lacy, crisp edge and a thicker spongy middle. I should add – quite plain and bland in flavour on its own as plain (boiled) rice would be….but transformed in an instant with some chutney and fish.All began well on a fine summer’s evening when I sat down to rustle up the recipe and its partners. The fresh green chile chutney was a no-brainer – even if I would have to buy ‘expensive’ freshly grated coconut, already hacked to bits and packaged with a mango dipping sauce. Even if I wouldn’t crack the nut myself as I perhaps will do in a few weeks back home in Nigeria. Then I will drink the coconut water, just like I did in Barbados and proceed (unconsciously) to stab my palms as I cup broken coconut parts, in a bid to separate coconut flesh from shell. But those events lie in the future…..still to come!
Coconut flesh is predominantly used by South Indians in preparation of different types of chutneys accompanying rice while coconut milk forms the basis of numerous curries, as well as tamarind, prized for its sourness and in contrast to the use of tomatoes in the North to create the same sour flavour essence.
When it came down to the ‘protein’ of choice, fish won the day. After all, what better way to honour the ‘south’ and its closeness to the sea than to serve up fish. I made it two ways. I began with the baked fish, and then flaked small pieces of the cooked fish, into the leftover coconut milk, with spices to make a sauce.