I may become very unpopular with my fellow Malayalis for saying this, but I’ve long believed that Kerala doesn’t have a very rich tradition of sweets and snacks. That said, I do believe that what few sweets and snacks are made in the state are very, very good. One good example is unniyappam, a sweet fritter made of rice, jaggery and bananas, with a crisp exterior and a spongy interior. It is a popular teatime snack as well as an important ritual food, made during festivals and given in temples as prasadam. In its most basic form, it is flavoured simply with cardamom and banana, but the addition of ingredients like sesame seeds, cumin seeds and dry ginger powder give it a richer, more complex flavour profile. This is one of my favourite snacks from Kerala; I, in fact, prefer it to the more well-known pazhampori (banana fritters).
In the recipe below, I’ve used raw rice, as recommended by my mother. You can make the batter with rice flour too, but the results aren’t as good as when you soak and grind rice. The unniyappams turn out far denser when you use rice flour.
Also, I’ve only rested the batter for 2 hours (my mother says that just one hour is enough). Many people like to let it sit for 4-5 hours, letting it ferment a little, but it’s not necessary. Many also like to add a pinch of baking soda so that the unniyappams are soft, but again, this is not necessary.
Raw rice (any variety) – 1 cup
Jaggery powder – ½ cup
Banana (very ripe) – 1
Coconut pieces – ¼ cup
Ghee – 1 tbsp
Green cardamom – 3-4 pods
Black sesame seeds (optional) – 1 tsp
Cumin seeds (optional) – ½ tsp
Dry ginger powder (optional) – ½ tsp
Oil (any neutral tasting option) – as needed
Wash and rinse the rice thoroughly and then soak it in 2 cups of clean water for 4-5 hours.
Grind the rice, along with the banana, to as fine a paste as possible.
Heat a couple tablespoons of water, add the jaggery powder and make a syrup. Add this to the rice batter.
Heat the ghee and fry the coconut pieces in it till they’re golden brown, then add them to the batter.
Crush the cardamom and put it in the batter, along with the sesame seeds, cumin seeds and dry ginger powder (if using).
Stir the batter so that everything is thoroughly incorporated. The consistency should be that of dosa batter. If it’s too thick, add a little bit of water (or milk) to loosen it. But be careful also not to make it too runny.
The ripe banana and the jaggery should have made the batter sweet enough, but if it’s not, then you can make some more jaggery syrup and add it.
Let the batter rest for a couple of hours.
Heat the paniyaram/appe pan on medium flame and fill each mould to the halfway mark with oil. You can also use ghee or coconut oil.
When the oil is hot, carefully pour batter into each mould, but not all the way to the top. As it cooks, the unniyappam will rise slightly, so leave a little space at the top. Cover and cook on medium to low flame till the underside of each uniyappam is golden-brown and crisp (it will move easily, so you’ll know it’s done). Using a fork, turn each one in its mould, to fry the top till it’s crisp as well.
Remove the unniyappams and drain them on paper towels.
Unniyappams don’t have to be eaten hot – and indeed, you could burn your mouth quite easily if you tried! But do make and eat them fresh, ideally at tea-time. They keep well, for a couple of days in an air-tight box, as long as they’re refrigerated, but they start to dry out, so don’t make too many in one go.
[The Back Burner is a weekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]
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