My Ode to Malapua – Pancakes reminiscent of my childhood

Last week was super hectic.  As well as cake orders and lots of travelling, I was still determined to experiment in the kitchen!

The week before last I was reminded that Pancake Day was on it’s way and so I got to thinking about all my favourite kinds of pancake combinations, both sweet and savoury.  I have to say, the older I get the more I appreciate and sometimes prefer the savoury kind.  Nothing beats a weekend brunch of freshly made crepes filled with Emmental, some good quality smoked ham and a pinch of black pepper. YUM.

Of course, this led me to think about what I should make this year and it made sense for my mind to wander towards my heritage and remember that pancakes appear in Indian cuisine in a number of forms.  The most commonly known is the thin, crisp, South Indian fermented rice and lentil pancake- the Dosa.  This in itself has many many variations from Plain Dosa which is unfilled and eaten with a soupy spicy lentil and vegetable sambar and coconut chutney, Masala Dosa where the dosa is filled with an aromatic spicy potato and onion filling and served the same way as the plain, Paper Dosa, where the Dosa is made larger, but paper thin, Ragi Dosa where the batter is made with millet flour, Rava Dosa– which is my favourite, where the dosa is made much crisper even crunchy because rather than rice and lentils, the batter is made from semolina.  The Rava dosa also has variations such as Onion Rava (my all time favourite) where onions are added to the batter.  For a thicker pancake there is also Uttapam where the pancake is cooked with the filling in a similar batter to the dosa, resulting in a thicker, softer pancake that also is accompanied by sambar and coconut chutney.  Of course we must not forget the sweet variation of the Dosa- the Vella Dosa, made with Jaggery (unrefined cane sugar).  The choice is endless!

Masala Onion Rava Dosa served with coconut chutney and sambar  @ Sagar.  My favourite South Indian Restaurant in  Defence Colony, New Delhi, India.  

As a child, I had a particularly sweet tooth and thoughts of the Vella Dosa triggered memories of something similar that I would love to eat when I visited my Grandparents in Kenya.  Spending almost all my summers in  Kenya as a child,  it was my second home.  The lifestyle was very different to my life in England, well more for the people around me.  My Grandmother didn’t go to work everyday like my mother did, instead she was involved in a lot of social activities.   Whether it was to go to the Arya Samaj (the temple), coffee mornings or kitty parties, my daily routine would involve attending these gatherings with my Grandmother.  Food was an important part of the culture there.  Everything was homemade, from chutneys and acchars (spicy pickles), to fresh handmade vermicelli and spicy savoury snack like Chevda.  The hot weather was similar to India and so perfect for maturing or drying these kinds of items. Of course, it was much easier because there were kitchen staff to help with the process, especially with the preparation which was somewhat cumbersome.  Nevertheless, everything made was a time consuming labour of love which is why I think it all tasted so good.

My Grandmother’s generation were brilliant cooks.  Being in Kenya and having limited access to some Indian spices and ingredients, they had to be resourceful and creative.  This made the kitchen one of the most exciting places to be as there was always experimentation going on and it was decidedly different to the Indian food my Grandmother would make when she was in England; in fact to my palate it was tastier.  The masala fish and chicken she would make is like not other I have tasted anywhere.   I remember the aromas that would waft though to the lounge as my Grandmother concocted her dishes.  What was also interesting was how there was such a sense of community between the women.  They would share recipes and tips, cook together and of course share the delicious produce between each other.  My family is originally of Hindu Punjabi origin, but when my grandparents moved to East Africa that there was such a small community of Indian people and so there was a great camaraderie between the different Indian communities.   I remember particularly a lot of Gujarati and Sikh friends that my grandparents had.  The influence of the individual cultures between the  friends as well as the influence of the East African ingredients trickled all the way through to the food they all prepared with so much love.  I am so grateful that I have been able to experience and be influenced by all these different flavours.   I think this is what planted the seed for me to be the hedonistic cook that I am today…always searching to experience new flavours.

If there was one thing my grandmother makes, that to this day, I can never get enough of, it’s  her coconut barfi.  I kid you not, it is to die for. I don’t know it’s it’s the Kenyan coconuts or just her hand, (I suspect a combination of both) but one day I need to dedicate an entire post to the greatness of her coconut barfi.

My thoughts on pancakes made me remember one of my all-time favourite desserts.  Malapua.  I must have been about 7 or 8 the first time I had this.  It was in Kenya at a lunch after visiting the temple and it was being served a prashad (a sweet offering).   I remember vividly the shimmering, sugary sweetness of the fried saucers like pancakes ready to be smothered in the comforting creaminess of the accompanying kheer (rice pudding).

Malapua is in-between a dumpling/doughnut and a pancake.  There are no eggs in the batter and is spiced with fennel seeds and sometimes cardamom.  It’s then fried into small saucer like discs and then submerged into a thick sugar syrup.  Once removed it develops a glistening sugary crust and is served warm.  It can be eaten alone, but whenever I have eaten or made it, it has been served with a rich and creamy kheer that may be jewelled with pistachios and golden sultanas.  Utter heaven.  Calorific, but oh so worth it!

It is the flavours of the Malapua that I love so much and I could not think of a better kind of Pancake to concoct for Pancake day!

Caramelised Fennel & Cardamom Pancakes with a Spiced Jaggery Caramel: My Malapua inspired pancakes

8-12 pancakes depending on the size

Ingredients

  • 6 tbsp flour
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp semolina
  • 2 tbsp rice flour (optional- you can substitute for semolina)
  • 3/4 tsp of ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seeds
  • 3/4 cup of milk-adjust to get the right texture
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp of butter melted
  • Butter to fry the pancakes
  • Pistachios sliced to garnish

Method

  1. Blend all the ingredients with a hand held blender or a whisk until smooth.  Add the liquid slowly to avoid lumps in the batter. You want a pourable consistency like thick double/heavy cream.
  2. Leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
  3. Heat a nonstick pan on medium high heat and melt some butter- do not let it burn.  Put a ladle of mixture in and swirl pan to spread.
  4. When bubbles appear and the underside looks golden, turn the pancake.
  5. The reason I have sugar in the mix is to get the pancake to caramelise.  I cook the pancake until a crispy edge is achieved around the outside of the pancake.  Cook according to your preference.
  6. Garnish with sliced pistachios and serve with the Spiced Jaggery Caramel sauce, kheer or with rice pudding. Of course they are also delicious on their own too!

Spiced Jaggery Caramel Sauce

This caramel sauce is delicious with so many things- experiment with sweet and savoury!  It has a distinct depth of a smoky caramel like flavour which is slightly salty and not sickly sweet due to the fact that it unrefined.  Jaggery is my preferred choice over refined sugar to bring balance of taste to a dish.  You can find jaggery in all Indian supermarkets and in some national ones throughout the UK.  It is available in hard solid blocks or softer chunks.  It also varies in colour.  My preference is to buy jaggery (sometimes called goor ) with a darker colour in a rectangular block that is not to hard to cut or the softer chunks, but any kind will work. (Natco sell one that is widely available)

Ingredients

25g butter
75g Jaggery plus a tbsp water
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
4 tbsp cream (Adjust to the thickness you want)

Method

  1. Melt the jaggery over heat with the tbsp of water and bring to the boil and continue to boil for a minute or so.
  2. Add the cream and then the butter and spices and continue to boil until it thickens to a thick pourable consistency.
  3. This makes enough for the pancakes above, but feel free to double or triple the recipe to keep some in the fridge.  It keeps well for 2 weeks.
  4. Serve hot over the Malapua inspired pancakes, icecream, fruit, roast pork, whatever you desire!
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