Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Return to Daring Cooks with Appam and Prawn Curry

I'm finally cooking again after a several month hiatus. We put our house on the market the end of February and I had to limit what I did in the kitchen so when the prospective buyers wanted to see the house with 15 minutes notice (it happened!), I wasn't in the middle of a project. So I suspended my Daring Cook efforts and, of course, missed out on lots of yummy projects.

Fortunately, the house sold in a couple months (yea!) and we found a new house right away. Still couldn't cook because we had to pack and organize closing dates and loans and all the rest. And then we moved in and I had to unpack and organize and bring some order to chaos (movers have very unusual ideas about what to pack together). That took much longer than expected, but now, just over 2 months after we walked through the door, I'm ready to cook again.

Mary, who write the delicious bog, Mary Mary Culinary, was our August Daring Cooks' host. Mary chose to show us how delicious South Indian cuisine is! She challenged us to make Appam and another South Indian/Sri Lankan dish to go with the warm flat bread.

The required recipe was for appam, a rice-based flat bread. Appam is quite a process - not difficult (although I did not have perfect results) but quite time-consuming. First the rice soaks for 3 hours. Then the rice is drained and put in a blender with proofed yeast and a small amount of cooked rice. This is blended until it is a batter and placed in a bowl, covered, and left to rise and ferment for 8-12 hours. Finally, coconut milk is added to the batter and it is fried in a crepe-like manner. Other than the coconut milk, there is not a lot of flavor in these flat breads, which makes them ideal for sopping up the curry sauce from the main course.

The appam batter
There were problems. The time involved in allowing everything to soak and proof for the allotted time meant the project had to be spread over a few days. I'm not sure if the refrigerator time affected the outcome, but it could have. I also think I didn't adequately blend the rice - it looked as if it had been thoroughly pulverized but when I actually made the flat bread, it seemed kind of crunchy and textured. The batter should probably have been thinned periodically as I used it, because the batter at the bottom of the bowl was way too thick and I had to add some water to thin it out.

Mise en place for prawn curry

Making the curry
The prawn curry, on the other hand, was really good. I couldn't use the recipe provided because I couldn't find curry leaves in any form - fresh, frozen or dried. Curry leaves are not the same flavor as curry powders and I could have used an alternative such as kaffir lime leaves, but I ended up creating my own curry base using onions, garlic, ginger, madras curry powder, black pepper and red pepper flakes, plus coconut milk. It turned out really tasty - probably in no way authentic, but quite good to eat.
Prawns cooking in curry sauce

The appam served their purpose in scooping up the sauce and the prawns were succulent and not overcooked. The recipe which was provided suggested cooking the prawns until they were done and then adding more coconut milk and bringing it to a boil. It makes no sense to me to cook a protein to "doneness" and then boil it 5 more minutes, so I added the final coconut milk before the prawns were done. That worked splendidly.

A plate full of goodness!
 It was great to stretch myself a bit. Everything was supposed to be served "immediately" but no way that could happen, so I made the curry, kept it warm and then served it along with a couple appam to Bob while I went back and made more for myself. It wasn't immediate, but it was still a good temperature and Bob lets everything cool to room temperature anyway. (Note: This is a pet peeve of mine - I want hot food hot and cold food cold. Watching someone let good, hot food cool off makes me NUTS!!)

Now I can't wait to see what September brings!