|Uthappams with Onion, Tomato, and Coriander|
When I was younger, I was a very picky eater. My parents were not okay with this. They wanted to expose me to a variety of foods and to try everything. I remember a couple of nights where my dad would tell me that I could just go hungry if I didn't want to eat what was for dinner. I probably threw a temper tantrum but would inevitably eat dinner because I was hungry.
My parents were right. I might not have liked everything I was fed but it expanded my palate and taught me to try everything at least once. When I found out on Friday that Uncovering Food had made it to round two of Project Food Blog (Thank you to those who voted!), I was excited to find out what the challenge was:
"Ready to tackle a classic dish from another culture? Pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or are not as familiar with. You should include how you arrived at this decision in your post. Do your research then try to pull off successfully creating this challenge. Try to keep the dish as authentic as the real deal, and document your experience through a compelling post."
I am always ready to learn about new cuisines! This was right up my alley! At first I thought I would learn how to make a traditional Hungarian dish since my dad's family is from Hungary and I have never learned how to make any of the dishes he made me. This would be out of my comfort zone but there were three other challenges I faced when selecting my dish. One, I am familiar with Hungarian food. In my mind this challenge was asking me to find a classic dish from a culture that I don't know very well. The second constraint was that I am partaking in the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 21-day vegan challenge which means the dish I would be making would need to be vegan. The third constraint was that I would be at a debate tournament all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday so I would have limited prep and shopping time late in the evenings and early in the mornings.
A number of students I work with are from southern states in India and I knew a couple of them were vegan, so I asked for a restaurant recommendation for lunch on Friday to explore the cuisines of this part of India. My assistant debate coach and I ended up at Madura, a vegetarian restaurant with a number of vegan options. We ordered a variety of items on the menu to try and when I broke out my camera, that's when the education started.
|Madura Dishes (clockwise from left): Medhu Vada & Rava Kichadi; Pea, Onion, and Mushroom Uthappam; Spring Dosa|
What I failed to learn at the restaurant was how much time goes into preparing the batter. The first step takes 6 to 12 hours, then after a few prep steps you have another 12-48 hours of fermentation before the cooking of the batter. Which meant I would need to buy ingredients on Friday night after the tournament and cook the Uthappam on Sunday morning before leaving for the 8 a.m. tournament.
I also hadn't anticipated that one of the primary ingredients would be difficult to find at a traditional American grocery store. When I was told the dish contained lentils, I wrongly assumed they were the ones I was familiar with. However, Uthappam utilizes Urad Dal which is much smaller than lentils most Americans are familiar with.
|This is a real penny. Split Urad Dal is very small! |
Be careful to not confuse it with larger lentil varieties.
The recipe I ended up making came about from both my conversations at Madura but also with parents at the debate tournament. I learned that many people now buy the flour pre-made for Uthappam but the best are always made from scratch. It reminded me of the difference between Bisquick and homemade hot cakes. However, I never got exact measurements and after doing some online research, I realized there is no exact formula. The ratios of rice to urad dal are between 2:1 and 3:1 and sometimes have the addition of cooked rice and/or flattened rice in the batter. While I would have probably soaked my rice and urad dal a bit longer because it supposedly heightens the flavor of the Uthappam, this recipe got rave reviews from the students and coaches who tried it on National Pancake Day (how appropriate to prepare these Indian pancakes on a day that celebrates it's American cousin!).
|Uthappam is a thick hearty pancake that can be topped with a variety of vegetables, fresh herbs, and spices.|
2 cups long-grain white rice, uncooked
1 cup split urad dal, uncooked
1 tsp sea salt
1 vine-ripened tomato, sliced thin
1 small purple onion, sliced thin
fresh coriander, minced
canola oil, as needed
Rinse rice and urad dal in separate containers and soak for eight to twelve hours.
Drain and grind rice while reserving the liquid. Drain and grind urad dal while reserving the liquid. Mix rice powder, urad dal powder, and salt together. Add small amounts of each liquid until you reach a thick but spreadable consistency. This will vary depending on how long you soaked the rice and urad dal, but I added about a half cup of liquid. You will want the batter to look almost like a thick pancake batter that can be poured but is thick enough for the toppings to stick to. Cover the batter and let sit in a warm place to ferment for 12 to 48 hours.
Warm a large frying pan or griddle to a medium-high heat. I found in my research that the Uthappam is often cooked on a Tawa or Tava which can reduce the amount of oil needed because of the concave shape of the pan/griddle.
Pour the desired amount of batter on the griddle and spread to a thickness of about a quarter to half inch. Sprinkle tomato, onion, and coriander on the uncooked side. You can choose to drizzle oil over the top of the Uthappam or around the edges. Once the bottom is browned, flip over and let the toppings-side cook for about ten seconds. You want the batter to brown lightly to secure the toppings without burning the toppings.
Remove from pan and serve with a tomato chutney or Sambar, a lentil soup that usually contains tamarind, toor dal (yellow lentils), and a blend of spices commonly known as sambar curry powder.
Recipe makes 8 Uthappam approximately six-inches in diameter. Nutritional information does not include the optional oil.
One tomato-onion-coriander Uthappam has 258 calories, .69 grams of fat, 9.14 grams of fiber, 8.68 grams of protein.