Kerala Kitchen: Idiyappam, Noolappam, String hoppers

If you have been to Kerala you would have most likely come across String hoppers or Idiyappam, which  is a noodle like dish eaten mostly at breakfast. It is made from steamed rice flour forced through a special mold. The beautiful brass mold or "kozhal" in the pictures belongs to my mother-in-law and so does this recipe.

Strangely I didn't like noolappam very much as a kid and I noticed my little nephews didn't take to them too much either, preferring their PBJ's to this weird looking dish that seemed like a cross between noodles and idlis! You can try serving them soaked in coconut milk and sprinkled with sugar, the way my grandmother tried to entice us to eat them. But don't be too disappointed if they don't like them- more for the rest of us!

These idiyappams made me very kerala-sick and I dug up some pictures of  the river next to my grandmother's house in Kerala. Isn't she beautiful?Perfect for little girls to stare into her depths from the vangi or canoe cut out of the bark of a coconut tree, perfect to go swimming in with a bunch of cousins and their dogs. We would stretch out a towel under the water, drop a few grains of rice and catch the little fish that greedily attacked the rice. I still love to skittle pebbles off it's surface, watch buffaloes being bathed, watch long snakelike onam boat racers pass by leaving behind floating garlands. These Noolappams are just meant to be eaten while you sit at the water's edge and listen to your grandmothers stories. 

Picture 137

Picture 150

Stringhoppers/Idiyappam/ Noolappam
Recipe source: My mother in law

  • Idiyappam mold
  • Idli steamer
  • Large covered pot or pressure cooker which will fit the idli steamer
  • Mixing bowl & spoon / stand mixer
  • Stove 
  • Rice flour- 2 cups ( I recommend the double horse brand available at most Indian grocery stores.It yields very soft and delicate results!)
  • Water- 2 cups ( you might need upto 2 cups more depending on the type of rice flour you use) 
  • Salt- 1/4 tsp

  • Roast the rice flour in a wok over the stove. Stir it occasionally so that the flour at the bottom does not burn and turn brown. You will know that its done when the rice flour no longer clings to the side of the vessel but comes off easily. Also if you take a pinch between your fingers you will see that its much coarser texture now.
  • Boil water until bubbling
  • Take the roasted rice flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and attach dough hooks and mix on slow setting. You could also use a bowl and a wooden spoon.
  • Add the boiling water a little at a time and mix until well combined and the dough starts coming together as a ball. 
  • Take enough of the still warm dough and fill the idiyappam mold
  • Press out the equivalet of an idli size into the greased (with vegetable oil) idli steamer.
  • Continue and stack the idli steamer tiers alternatively so that the depressions don't squish the idiyappams on the tier below.
  • Steam them for about 5-10 mins in a large covered pot with about an inch of water, not touching the dough, until done and cooked through.If using a pressure cooker, don't use the whistle.
Idiyappams are usually served hot with  spicy egg masala or a coconut milk based curry/stew or even with chickpeas. If your prefer your sweet to savoury, you can soak these noolappams in coconut or regular cow's milk and sprinkle sugar on top.

Basics:How to make Mung Dal/Lentil Soup the right way

We love our lentils, and to me a bowl of dal with rice is the perfect comfort food. Maybe because my mom used to pack dal and rice, with just a bit of ghee or pickle to school in my lunch box almost everyday. It is packed with protein and should be on every non-meat eaters meal plan, and is just plain delcious, in a homey non fussy way!
Dal is served in every home in every part of India and makes an appearance daily if not atleast once a week. In Kerala it is more commonly made with toor dar or split pigeon peas, though I prefer mung dal because it is easier to digest, soothing to the stomach and is considered "non-gas making" (Haha:) but mostly because mung dal takes less time to cook I think.
I have always thought that I make a pretty decent dal until I tasted my mom-in-law's dal and that totally blew me away. I had to make sure that I learnt the technique behind her perfect bowls of dal during her stay here. No garlic, no ginger, no bothersome frying of onions- the secret to her recipe is toasting the dal before cooking it. The result is a simple yet wonderfully flavorful, creamy and wholesome dish.

And of course I had to share it with you! This simple  recipe is for the beginners to Indian cooking. Dal is pretty much a staple and this delicately flavorful dish is great served as a soup on it's own, or rice. I found that it is a perfect accompaniment to my loaf of freshly baked healthy bread. So Ms just-moved-out-of-parents-home-into-new-apartment-with-roomies/husband & kitchen this is for you! Also if you like me have been making dal for years but thought there must be something missing, here's how to make dal the right way!

Dal/ Lentil soup
Recipe source: My mother-in-law

  • 2 cups mung dal
  • 4 green chillies
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 whole medium tomatoes (if using a pressure cooker no need to cut) or 3 tbsp tomato paste.
  • 2 tsp salt ( 1 tsp for each cup of dhal)
  • 1/2 tsp chilly powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder 
  • 1/2 tsp oil
For tempering
  • 2 dry red chillies
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 curry leaves

  • Wash the dal quickly (without soaking) and drain the mung dal for about half an hour until the water has drained out completely. 
  • Put a pressure cooker/ heavy bottom pan or saucepan  on medium heat and add the dal, stirring occasionally to toast it. 
  • (This step while it may take up an extra 10-15v mins is important and adds greatly to the flavour so skip only if you are in a hurry. You can also toast your dal ahead and store in an air tight container to save time later)
  • Lower heat to low and continue to toast the dhal until it is crisp, crunchy and a light brown colour.
  • Final test- when chewed the toasted dal should make a "krr krr" sound, indicating that it is well toasted.
  • Make sure you don't over toast. Also make sure to stir occasionally so that the dhal at the bottom does not get burnt.
  • While the dal is toasting, chop the onions finely and slit green chillies lengthwise.
  • Add the onions, green chillies, salt, chilly powder and turmeric and 1/2 tsp oil and mix well, until the masalas are well mixed with the dal.
  • Add 6-7 cups of boiling water, and the tomato paste/ tomatoes (If using a pressure cooker, no need to chop as they will explode and break into tiny pieces while the dal cooks )
  • Cover and cook until the dal is soft. ( if using a pressure cooker, just until the steam begins to build- just about 5 mins. Do not wait for a whistle else it will be overcooked and pasty)
Prepare the tempering:
  • Take a small saucepan and heat 1 tsp oil.
  • Add the mustard seeds and wait until they sputter. Turn off the heat and add the cumin seeds, curry leaves, and red chillies. 
  • Add the tempering to the cooked dal and mix well.
  • Let it simmer for about 5 mins.
This delicious bowl of simple fragrant dal is going over to Legume love affair.

    Chocolate Nutella Macarons

    It's been a while since my macaron making classes and I have been dying to try making them all by my self at home. I just assumed that since we made such beauties at the class, making them at home would be a breeze as well. How wrong I was!
    First I had trouble finding almond meal so I ground up some almonds in my blender and had some delicious flat free form almond cookies, but no macarons since grinding nuts makes them oily and hence makes the batter too liquid-y. Note: if you are grinding the almonds yourself, check frequently to ensure you don't grind them so much they start releasing oils.
    After T finally found almond meal at our local Trader Joe's (They are in the nut section in case you're looking-not in the baking section and ask for almond meal and not almond flour!)  I set about aging the eggwhites for a long 24 hours on my kitchen counter and had just a little more success. They weren't smooth and shiny on top, nor did they have the characteristic ruffle-like underside "feet", and they do look more like whoopie pies than macarons but sandwiched with a dollop of Nutella, they were delicious. ( Nutella makes anything better :) I think not sifting the rather coarse almond meal enough caused my downfall. Maybe I should have pulsed it in the food processor to make it finer.
    Macaron pundits may have also raised an eyebrow when I eschewed the pastry bag in favour of a spritz cookie gun fitted with the icing tip. I had a mess last time after my overfull pastry bag started leaking from the other end and I must say I think the cookie gun is way easier to handle-using my free hand to guide the gun, making sure I was holding it at 90 degrees.
    I used Namthip's recipe from class. It is very similar to the one posted on her site except halved.

    Chocolate Macarons
    Recipe source: Namthip of Bonbini

    Makes 80 shells (I halved the recipe)

    For the shell

    • 140 g almond flour
    • 10 g cocoa powder, Dutch-processed 
    • 200 g powdered sugar
    • 45 g egg whites, aged
    • 30 g sugar
    • 55 g egg whites, aged

    Method for the shell
    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Sift almond flour, cocoa powder and powdered sugar together in a big bowl, discard the solids.
    (If the almond flour or meal is too coarse, pulse in your food processor until fine and powdery- but careful! don't over grind or you'll make it oily)
    3. Create “Mass” by folding almond flour, cocoa powder, powdered sugar and 45 g of egg whites together with a big spoon. The mass will look lumpy. That's ok
    4. To make French meringue: whip egg whites in a mixer on medium speed to soft peaks. Slowly pour sugar in three additions, continue whipping to medium peaks. Basically the peak should stand up at 90 degrees. Another way to test us to carefully turn the bowl upside down. If the whites stay in the bowl without falling out that mean's they're done.
    5. Fold in 25% of meringue into “Mass” to lighten the mixture.
    6. Fold in the rest of meringue carefully in circular motions, cutting the batter to incorporate the whites well, until the batter has a "magma' like consistency- basically if you put a drop of the batter on a plate, it should sink into itself and not have a peak. If it has a peak, fold a little more. Don't overfold or it'll be too runny.
    7. Place into a piping bag with plain tip # 3, pipe 1" diameter circles on sheet pan lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. ( I used a spritz cookie gun fitted with the icing tip since I haven't quite mastered double ended squirty icing bags)
    8. Rap the tray on the counter to get rid of air bubbles.Rest for an hour to form skins.
    9. Place another baking tray under the tray with the batter (doubling the tray-this helps to ensure the underside of the macs don't get overbaked) Lower the oven temperature to 320 degrees, bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the trays half way through.
    10. Let them cool on a silicone baking mat, then remove and sandwich them with the filling.
    ( If you are having trouble removing the parchment paper from the tray, keep it in the freezer for a few mins and then you should be able to peel the parchment paper off easily)

    I was thinking of making a Nutella ganache but then decided I couldn't wait so just spooned a dab of Nutella and sandwiched my macs. Although this kind of overpowered the delicate flavour of the almond flour shells, I can't say I regret it. Who can resist the chocolate-hazelnut combination and creamy texture of Nutella?It's a firm favourite right through from childhood. We didn't bother to spread it on anything but licked spoonfuls with sheer delight. Well not much has changed! I have been wanting to make a Nutella filled macaron for ages. I would like to try a hazelnut macaron the next time though, after I have had a little more success with the basic recipe!

    Although a failure, I'm sending my feetless, pockmarked macs to this month's Macattack hosted by the amazing Deeba and Jamie at the Mactweets blog.

    Mad about macarons? Meet others who are obsessed and hear what they have to say about Technique and Macronnage and those blasted feet!

    Helen's inspiring recipes
    David Lebowitz's recipes and links for further reading
    Coco's tips and pics
    Duncan's exhaustive notes and step by step photos
    Meeta's quick notes and tips
    Deeba's macaron adventures

    Step by step photos from my macaron making class with tips!

    For some time now the blogosphere has been abuzz with talk of feet, aging egg whites and perfect shells. Everyone seems to have been bitten  by the macaron bug- "the dessert sensation that swept the nation and indeed the world". 
    I got a chance to share in the macaron madness before it disappears for good- and that would be a pity for with a crunchy exterior and chewy interior filled with ganaches and creams these delicate delights that come in a myriad flavour combinations are definitely worthy of all the fuss surrounding them.
    There are many stories about the origin of the macaron (Not to be confused by the coconutty macaroons) my favourite is the story of two nuns seeking asylum during the French revolution, who baked and sold macarons to support themselves. Today almost every bakery worth it's sugar from Delhi to Dallas stocks macarons (priced here at about $2 a pop)
    If I could make a trip to Paris just to taste the macarons at Laudree I would.
    Meanwhile I'll just bake them myself! I got signed on to  macaron making class as a birthday present from T and am sharing with you some tips I learnt to conquer these moody creatures. Let me warn you though! They are addictive!
    If you are interested in the classes or the recipe you can contact the wonderful Namthip of Bonbini. Under her guidance all of us who attended the class including one self professed cake-mix fan turned out dainty little macarons, with perfect feet - the elusive almost ruffle-like looking underside of the macaron.
    We made chocolate, matcha green tea, coffee and raspberry shells and also learnt how to make coffee chocolate ganache, raspberry, matcha green tea, raspberry and banana ganache.

    For the Macaron Recipe:

    Since the class I have made several batches and the recipe that I have found most success with is this one from Helene of  so you can check her site out for the recipe, but below are the critical steps to follow:

    Step 1: 
    The key to good macarons with the ruffle like underside is to use aged egg whites. The reason is that aging them reduces the moisture in them and also breaks up the protein strands. You can age them by leaving the egg whites in a clean bowl on the counter for atleast 24 hours or covered in the fridge for up to 5 days. Else if you are in a hurry, simply microwave them for 10 seconds at a time dipping your finger to check that the thick texture of the whites has become more liquidy. Careful! Don't cook them! two short 10 second bursts in the microwave should do. 

    Almond meal ( powdered almonds) is available here in the US in several stores including Trader Joe's ( best price) or online from Bob's Red Mill Else you can grind blanched almonds ( without the skin) in your foodprocessor/ mixie along with the sugar until powdery but careful, not too much or else it will become oily and wet and not suitable for macaron making. 

    Also make sure you use powder ( confectioner's ) sugar which contains corn starch. If using granulated sugar, make sure you use this method to substitute:

    For 1 cup powdered sugar: Measure 1 cup granulated sugar. Add 2 tbsp corn starch. Pulse in grinder until fine and powdery. Do not use straight granulated sugar in place of powdered sugar. You will get a grainer texture. Plus the cornstarch helps to manage the moisture and without it, your macarons will flop.

    Yyou can also grind your store bought almond meal along with the icing sugar quickly for about two 30 second pulses to ensure that the almond meal is fine and so you get smooth tops. Also sift, sift sift! 

    Step 2:

    Mixing the dry ingredients with a little egg white, holding on to the mixing bowl and rotating a wooden spoon until it just starts to come together. It's OK if its a little lumpy at this stage. ( The photo below is for a chocolate macaron which is why it is such a dark brown- if trying for the first time, use a plain macaron recipe) Note this step is optional many recipes do not call for it and I have recently stopped doing it too. 

    Step 3:
    Whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks that stand up at 90 degrees.

    Step 4:
    Folding whipped egg whites into the dry mass, very carefully in circular motions, splitting the mass and rotating in different directions to ensure the whites are well incorporated and mixture is not streaky. Careful! don't deflate the mixture or over mix! You just want the mixture to be able to move slightly, not be too runny, or else it's done for! Its always better to under mix than over mix, because once your batter becomes too runny you won't be able to pipe them.

    Step 5
    Pipe the batter on a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper kept on a baking tray, into a little larger than coin sized circles, by holding the bag at 90 degrees, lightly pressing down and using a finger to hold the bag steady. When all most done, quickly release the bag so that you don't end up with a long pointy tail. The idea is to have uniform smooth shells as far as possible. If you want you can print out this template here and place it under the baking sheet to make it easier to pipe out neater circles. However make sure you remove the template before popping them in the oven else it will burn!

    How to hold the bag: Hold and apply gentle pressure to the top of the bag
    and use your  other hand as a guide so the tip is steady

    Step 6:
    Pick up and drop/rap the tray on the counter to get rid of air bubbles, sprinkle with coffee powder, chocolate sprinkles, cinnamon, grated nuts zest or other unmeltable topping and lay to rest for about an hour to form a skin on the surface. You can speed up this step by using a hair dryer. Drying the shells is important in getting the ruffle like underside and a smooth un-cracked top so make sure you do this!

    Step 7:
    Then take the baking tray and put another one underneath it (doubling the tray) and bake after lowering the preheated oven temperature from 350 to 325 F for 9 mins. Remember to rotate the pan half way so that they bake evenly. After baking make sure that if using a dark coloured tray that you remove the parchment paper containing the macarons to the counter within 3 mins else they will get overbaked. Remember each oven is different and you may have to play around with the oven settings to make sure it works for you. I found that 325 F was fine for me but that I had to bake them for about 15 mins. So test with a small batch for the first few times. 

    See my babies straight from the oven with their perfect "feet"- the ruffle like underside which is the subject of much contemplation amongst the macaron pundits. According to Namthip, aging the egg whites and doubling the pan, along with the dry tops helps to ensure that the foot develops

    Step 8:
    Once cool, peel off the parchment paper to release the shells. Sometimes they may stick to the paper. If this happens it migh tbe a sign that it is underbaked, especially if the inside seems too sticky. In that case quicky put them back in the oven and bake for a few more minutes. To make it easier to release, you can try putting the whole sheet when it is still warm, into the freezer for about a minute and it will be much easier to peel off the paper/mat

    Next, hold the shell steady to pipe some filling onto it. Then top with a similar sized shell and "twist into place so that a little of the filling is seen sandwiched between the shells

    For more info check out this wonderful document by Helene of called Demystifying Macarons

    Here are some more tips from Namthip's site
    Before piping, check for:
    - Shine
    - The folded batter should slowly spread
    - Put a drop of batter and see if it holds its shape
    -Check for doneness after baking– Lightly jiggle the shell
    - It should not slide off
    - It should move slightly
    - It should spring back
    If under baked, you can put it in the freezer for a few minutes so that it hardens. Remember under baked is better than over baked!
    Other tips:
    -- Use flavorings with low moisture content; oil, extract, powder, zests, coconut flakes
    - Bake on two sheet pans (Keeps the heat away from the bottom longer allowing the foot to develop)

    Here is Namthip's cute dog Yindi joining in on the fun. he was pretty involved in the class too and seemed to know exactly when the macarons in the oven were done!

    The classes were at San francisco and here are some pics from the rest of the day :)

    Ommm nom nom.. the hungry cable car can't have enough!

    There was also a little store called Chocolate Covered where the floor to ceiling is covered in little sweet boxes printed with famous SFO landmarks, signage and people, made by the owner. He can also custom make one with your pictures. Pretty cool.

    Because my colourful assortment of macarons reminded me of my colourful festival memories I am sending them to this month's Mactweets Mac Attack  with the theme of Childhood summer memories this month.

    I have always wanted to take part in macattack, and with my very first batch now I can!
    I am so proud of my lovelies I am also sending them to Sugar High Fridays: Bite sized desserts,  hosted this month by the amazing Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen.
    Thank you T for an awesome day and for fueling my macaron madness!