On rainy days, I have the classic Indian craving for hot and crisp pakoras and, usually, I honour this Pavlovian response by frying up some kanda bhajjis (onion fritters). Increasingly, though, the thought of a heavy besan batter puts me off, as does the thought of all the oil that gets used up when deep-frying something. So, I’ve been experimenting with paniyaram (also known as appe), those small dumpling-like things made of leftover dosa or idli batter. I almost always have dosa batter in the house, so I’ve been trying out variations of masala paniyarams with grated carrots or chopped spring onions, or a tempering of mustard, asafoetida and curry leaves, or even a drop of whichever chutney happens to be available (always have chutney available).
This morning was dark and stormy and it put me in the mood for something crisp and spicy. So I made paniyarams with a centre of chilli garlic momo dipping sauce (which is thick enough to pass off as a chutney and that is how I generally use it). It’s an odd-seeming combination — one could say it belongs in the much derided category known as “fusion food” – but the slightly smoky taste of good quality momo sauce goes really well with the tang of the fermented batter. Also, as I’ve stated before, authenticity in food is overrated; if you like what you cook, even if you’re combining ingredients that are usually never used together, go for it.
Of course, if you’re making this at home, you can use any other chutney you like; the only thing you need to make sure of is that it’s thick enough to sit in the paniyaram batter without spreading too much.
This is one of the quickest recipes I’ve ever posted here and that’s by design. Lately, I haven’t been in the mood for anything except food that doesn’t require me to do too much prep and paniyarams are perfect in that regard. Sometimes, all I do is mince some green chillies and ginger, tear up a few curry leaves and add these to the batter and make myself some paniyarams. If you have days like this (you know you do), I strongly advise investing in a paniyaram/appe pan (cast iron is the best, but buy what suits your lifestyle and budget).
Leftover dosa/idli batter
Thick chutney of any type
* Heat the paniyaram/appe pan on medium heat and add a couple of drops of oil or ghee in each of the moulds.
* When the oil heats (which will be soon) pour enough batter to fill just about half of each mould. As the paniyaram cooks, it puffs up, so you need to be careful about not pouring in too much batter at this stage.
* Now add a dollop of chutney in the centre. The thicker the chutney, the easier it will be to keep it from spreading, but even if it does, it’s alright.
* Pour some more batter to cover the chutney centre and fill each mould.
* Cover and cook for 5-6 mins. You’ll be able to tell when the bottom of the paniyarams is cooked enough when the top edge turns golden brown.
* Use a spoon to gently turn each one in its mould so that the top cooks as well, for 2-3 minutes.
* Use a spoon to scoop each little paniyaram out of its mould. Serve hot with another, complementary chutney or sambar or even plain.
[The Back Burner is a biweekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines