International cooking for the youthful malcontent.

Ethakka Appam

There are actually dozens of recipes for this snack online, with few variations from one to another. I suppose, then, it’s not essential to write my own, but damn it if these aren’t one of the tastiest mid-day snacks ever. I have to write about them. More importantly, I have some information to add about plantains.

You see, plantains look a lot like bananas. They should – they’re the same species. There’s one major difference, though, and that is bananas usually aren’t cooked, and plantains usually aren’t eaten raw. In fact, raw plantains are only truly edible when very ripe (whereas some people even prefer green bananas, which is weird). That brings me to the other key difference – bananas are considered to be overripe when heavily blackened, whereas plantains are just entering ripeness when they start to blacken. Before plantains blacken, the fruit inside is not sweet or soft, but very starchy and hard, requiring lengthy cooking to become edible (like a potato, in some respects). The plantains pictured below are the ones I used to make ethakka appam, and they were decently ripe, requiring little added sugar to be enjoyable.

Conventional banana wisdom might have you throwing these plantains out, or reserving them for banana bread only. Nope, they are just getting tasty at this point. You’ll also notice that black plantains are still fairly firm to the touch, whereas black bananas often fall apart completely under mild pressure. Suffice to say, you absolutely cannot think about plantains the way you do about bananas.

I bought these plantains about 2 weeks prior to using them, and they were greenish at the time. They take a while to ripen. You will have to wait for plantains, because stores mostly stock unripe fruit (because it travels better). In fact, the only stores I’ve seen stocking black-ish plantains (ie. plantains you can actually use right away) are Indian stores.

Anyway. Ethakka appam. Appam roughly means bread, ethakka for plantain. What it is, however, is basically battered and deep-fried plantain pieces. My future father-in-law (who hails from Kerala) served these to me last year, and they’re an object of high esteem in my fiancée’s heart. It’s a Keralite snack; we ate these in the afternoon, before dinner. We ate so many that dinner seemed inconsequential, truth be told.

They are amazing when made with ripe plantains and fried to perfection. Crispy on the outside, soft and sweet plantain flesh on the inside, melting in your mouth. The batter is scented with cumin seeds, coloured with turmeric, and lightly sweetened. So simple, yet so good. I’ve cut the flour with a bit of rice flour for crispiness, but if all you have is regular flour, use a full cup of it and get frying.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ripe plantains
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup rice flour
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • vegetable oil

What you will need: deep frying pan, slotted spoon, knife and cutting board, mixing bowl, whisk, measuring cups and spoons, paper towels, serving plate

Directions:

  1. Put the deep frying pan on a burner. Add enough oil to fill the pan about 1.5 inches deep. Turn the heat on to medium (5 on my dial) and wait for it to get hot. Maybe check my notes on deep-frying while you wait. It will take 10-15 minutes, probably. Put a shirt on, too. Seriously.
  2. While you’re waiting for the oil, prepare the batter. In the mixing bowl, measure and add the flours, sugar, spices, and salt. Whisk them to evenly blend the ingredients. Add to the flour mixture 1 cup of water. Whisk this to form a smooth batter. Use the whisk to break up any flour clumps. If it needs more or less water, adjust the thickness by adding water or flour to the mix. You want it about medium-thick. Thin enough that it runs and drips easily, but thick enough that it will hold to the plantain.
  3. Once you have batter ready and oil that’s hot, you’re ready to cut the plantains. I find the plantains much easier to peel once I’ve already sliced them. Cut the ends off, then cut each plantain in half length-wise. Then cut each half-piece in half width-wise. The result is that each plantain produces 4 pieces, each about 3 inches long with a half-circle cross-section. Grab an edge of the peel and pull it off around the piece of plantain.
  4. Your oil’s gotta be hot by now. In batches of 4 pieces (1 plantain’s worth at a time) dip the pieces fully into the batter, and quickly slide them into the oil. Use the slotted spoon to move and rotate the pieces in the oil. They will need to be cooked approximately 2-4 minutes on each side, until the batter turns golden. A trick that I’ve noticed is that once the ripe plantain flesh inside gets cooked, it softens and releases some moisture. This moisture will hit the oil and make a distinct sizzling sound (different from the general frying noises of the batter itself). Once you hear that, you’ll know the fruit inside is probably cooked, and will be nice and soft. Don’t wait for that to happen, though, if the batter is burning.
  5. Once the pieces are cooked, remove them to a plate lined with a few layers of paper towels. Repeat the process with the next batch, and so on.

Eat these things when they’re still hot and fresh, they’re amazing! If you have leftovers, they reheat nicely in the oven, but really, you’re not going to eat every last one? C’mon. Stop kidding yourself.

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