Thursday, August 13, 2009

Uthappam, the Vegetable Pancake with a Kick

One of our favorite ways to start a day is with a spicy, ever-so-slightly sour uthappam, the savory pancake of southern India. All sorts of garden vegetables can be tossed on the cooking batter, before flipping the cake over to lightly brown the other side: tomatoes, onions or scallions, and pepper (as hot as you please), all chopped finely so that they'll cook quickly; fresh cilantro; and cumin powder and salt.

Although you can get by with a standard pancake mix, try the traditional method, starting the day before with a batter made of rice and urad dal (otherwise known as black gram). You have a couple of options:

-- Presoak the grains and beans for at least 6 hours, then finely grind them in a processor.
-- More simply, use rice and urad dal flours.

The night before, prepare the batter with 2 cups water to 2 cups ground, presoaked rice (or rice flour) and 1/2 cup ground, presoaked urad dal (or urad dal flour). I usually add a 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast to help initiate fermentation, but if the room temperature is comfortably warm, naturally occurring yeasts should be sufficient.

The next morning, stir the cumin power and 1/2 teaspoon salt into the batter. Prepare the other ingredients and have them close at hand. For each pancake, pour about 1/2 cup of batter onto a large oiled pan over medium heat and spread it evenly with the back of a large spoon. Immediatley sprinkle the prepared vegetables over the top. When the bottom has turned golden brown in places, carefully flip the cake and continue to cook until it too is golden brown. Serve hot off the pan with yogurt.

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