25 January 2008

Kerala Vegetable Stew / Ishtew and Aapam

Whenever I visit a new city in our out of the country, I make it a point to visit the local supermarkets. Nothing reflects the local culture, food habits and buying preferences of people in that city as much as the local supermarket. You might find that crazy but major of my shopping ends up being from the food section of these stores, be it in London, or my trip to Kuala Lumpur last year...I even enjoyed doing the same during my week's stay in Hyderabad end of last year.

In Mumbai, although I regular shop in a couple of stores closer to home, sometimes it is just convenient to stop by a large store if you are on the way from somewhere to save time and fuel. That's how I chanced upon this really huge store that carries almost everything under the sun. It was fun to see them carry a whole range of south Indian 'bhakshanam' (snacks), papads and even interesting mixes like aapam mixes, puttu mixes, instant sevai etc. Being located close to south Indian localities, we find regional variations in what is stocked by these stores.

Since I had never tried making aapam before, I decided to try out this pack of Rice Paalaapam mix, which required not much effort to get it right. This packet has been lying in my 'extra groceries' shelf for over 4 months and last night I realised it is high time I brought it out, also since I had run out of aata (doesn't speak much for my housekeeping skills does it?) the aapams were a good substitute for rotis.

Kerala cuisine has a variety of aapams, all made with nearly the same basic ingredients - ground rice, coconut, yeast or toddy for fermenting, salt and sugar. The fermentation gives the final product a soft spongy texture that is perfect for mopping up gravies or liquids such as the stew. Although I used a ready mix this time over, I will most surely give the homemade aapam batter a try next time, especially since this combination received a double thumbs up from the husband. He loved every bit of the stew aapam combo and I have another quick dinner idea to cheer him after a hard day at work!

The stew took hardly 15 minutes of effort (I use either powdered or packaged coconut milk, that explains it) and the aapams are made walking around between the dining and kitchen, amidst conversations and TV and it is no effort at all. We both eat as they are getting made, hot off the pan, so this can never be a sit-down dinner for us!

This is the first time I tried something proper Keralite in my kitchen, if you minus the kootans, avials, araicha sambars we make as a part of our Iyer recipes. After going through a few stew recipes online and on the food forum, on a whim I decided to omit the shallots / onions, and use a pinch of turmeric and sambar powder. The sambar powder added a nice flavour without making the stew taste 'sambary' at all. Turmeric was just to turn the stew to a light golden yellow as I am not a big fan of milky white curries. And while we were nearly 3/4 of the way to finishing the stew I remembered reading about RCI Kerala, so managed to take a quick pic of the quickly diminishing stew :)

Vegetable Stew - Kerala style with Aapam
Category - Quick dinner, Stew, Regional Cuisine of India
Time Taken - Under 20 minutes for stew and over a minute per aapam
Stew serves 2-3 people generously

2 potatoes, boiled, peeled and cubed
2 cups small cauliflower florets
1/2 cup fresh / frozen green peas

1 tsp oil
3-4 cloves
2 green cardamoms
1" stick cinnamon
1 - 2 green chillies, sliced
1/2 tsp ginger shredded
2 sprigs curry leaves

a pinch of turmeric powder
1/2 tsp sambar powder (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup coconut milk


In a pan, place over 1/2 cup water with the cauliflower florets and green peas. Cover with tight fitting lid and boil for 4-5 minutes, until both veggies are tender yet crisp. Keep aside.

In a wok, heat the oil. Stir in the whole spices and then the chillies, ginger and curry leaves. After 30 seconds, add the cubed potatoes, peas and cauliflower along with the water used for boiling. Season with salt, turmeric powder and sambar powder. Stir well. Once this comes to a simmer, add a cup of coconut milk. Let this come to a gentle simmer and then remove from flame.

For Aapams - I used the ready Rice Palaapam mix (Fine rice flour with yeast) to be reconstituted with water, salt and a pinch of sugar.

Keep this covered for over an hour.

Grease a tsp of oil on a rounded aapam pan or any non stick pan. Wipe with a tissue to spread the oil all over the surface. On a moderately hot pan, pour a ladle of the batter, and rotate the pan around to spread the batter into a circle. Cover and cook on medium flame. Aapams are cooked only on one side unlike dosas that are flipped over and cooked on both sides. Remove and serve hot with stew.

Variation: You can also break an egg in the center portion of the aapam while its cooking and cover for over 1-2 minutes. The white gets cooked fully and the yellow is slightly jiggly. Crack some pepper and salt into this and you can dip the edges of the lacy aapam into the soft egg before taking a dig into the stew.

This is my submission for RCI Kerala hosted by Jyothsana at Curry Bazaar


Rups said...


A nice blog. The blog really shows how much you care and value it.

I am not really a food buff, but because of my extensive travelling I have tested local dishes in many places of India. came to your blogs through a comment in one my post. Keep it up.

Asha said...

N, I LOVE Aapams now. If not for RCI, I would never have tried it at all! Great dishes!:)

Richa said...

stew looks so tempting, Nandita!
i got the cocomilk pwd, time to open the pkt i guess ;)

Mythreyee said...

This is a classic dish. Thanks for sharing.

Suganya said...

Sounds great, Nandita. I was hesitant to buy packaged mix. I know MTR rava idli is the best. Is appam the real deal too?

Cynthia said...

I too love exploring the markets and supermarkets when I visit :) All the way home on the plane I am hoping that I meet a kind customs officer who is not going to check my bags (lol)

Nandita said...

Thank you Rups for your kind words of encouragement. I do love your travel diary, nice to escape away to some place in the middle of a work day...

Asha - yes, the things we try out for these events are incredible, make us discover something new all the time and my husband isn't complaining :)

Richa - coconut powder works perfectly, i used the same small sachet - Nestle brand...I think the end result is a bit oily (see the oil globules in the final picture, even though I've used just a tiny bit of oil to start with)...as compared to using packed milk. May be next time when I make more quantity I shall use the packaged milk itself.

Mythreyee - glad you liked it.

Suganya - Since I haven't tried to make Aapams from scratch, I wont know what the 'real deal' is ;) Me too swears by the MTR rava idli, it is too authentic tasting...but the aapam mix was good enough, worth a try i shall say!

Cynthia - so true, but if at all a customs guy holds me back, I can always tell him i haven't got any precious stuff or a Rolex or electronics, its food after all :D

bee said...

that stew is gorgeousness personified.

Rajitha said...

that stew looks mouthwatering!!

Raaga said...

I've seen this mix in Madras, but never bought it... I'll take it back this time.

And the addition of sambar powder seems nice :-)

khana khazana said...

hi nandhita

a very nice blog and i like the way u present them...i have been a silent observer of your recipes and admire the way u present them....the stew is a treat to the eyes !!

Nandita said...

Bee, Rajitha - thanks for the appreciation :) turmeric makes everything look good :)

Raaga - Yes, it is quite decent, saves times and taste wise I had no complaints.

KK - Thanks for taking time to leave a comment, it's always nice to hear from the audience...i checked the link to your blog - last post in dec 06, is that the one, or do you have another foodblog?

Anita said...

Packaged or powdered coconut milk...ready-mix appam...Nandita, what is going on?! :D

Nandita said...

Desperate times call for desperate measures...and I've never been in favour of tasks like extracting coconut milk at home :)

satya said...

Hi Nandita,
I tried making aapams from the scratch with not sooo good results and gave up.The idea of using the ready mix is tempting me to try again.
Just like you i too visit the local markets to get the real feel of the place and last time i bought
yellow chillies from Manali on an impulse and i have no idea of what can be done with them.
Looking forward to see your posts on the places you have visited and your observations.Thank you.

khana khazana said...

hi nandita

i was indeed motivated by ur reply and posted a recipe tht i enjoy very much in my blog....Thanks yaar !!!


Shilpa said...

Thats a lovely pic of Ishtew Nandita. I love coconut in anything. I have heard of this before and reading a lot abt appam these days. I think it is time I tried making it at home :D

Superchef said...

loove appam and stew...waiting for my appachatti to reach from home!! :))

Poonam said...

Looks delicious!

Diane said...

I always go to supermarkets in strange countries too. And open-air markets. And I always buy things to bring home.

When I went to India for the first time, my friends thought it was really odd that the first thing I wanted to do was to go shopping with their housekeeper! I scored some good stuff though.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The stew looks tempting and to the t, as a purist would say. Vegetables and I would say bring it on. if it is chicken, all the more better - to us carnivores

Appam does not come in the category of Quick Food". If made from scratch . it takes at least 6 hours in warm temperature to ferment the ground rice + coconut milk + sugar + toddy or yeast.

My mother was raised in kerala for the most part of her life and palappam was made for special seasons for the planning and processing that it required.

And to have a readymade mix with added additives definitely does not put in the category of "nutrition" either.

My 2 cents.
Isha Lee McCarthy

Anonymous said...

The stew is " tamilized " with its addition of sambar powder. I don't think any maloo cook does it this way.
Times are changing isn't it ?

Priya Rajan

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