A reader requested a recipe for uthappam and this past weekend I decided to do one better: I tried out a healthier version of this already waist-friendly snack. A Brown Rice Uthappam.
If you’ve never run into an uthappam before, think of it as a chubby, onion-flecked dosa crossed with an idly. The basic ingredients in all three recipes are the same– rice and udad dal– but the technique makes a world of difference to their final textures and even flavor. While a dosa is spread out into a thin crepe on the griddle using the back of a rounded ladle and an idly is steamed, the batter for an uthappam is poured on much as you would pour on a pancake batter and then left alone. The hot griddle browns the outside and steams the inside and what you end up with is a pancake that has a pleasantly chewy mouth feel.
Best of all, you can sprinkle all sorts of veggies and herbs on the uthappam as it’s cooking, the most popular choice being onions and coriander leaves. The veggies sink cozily into the batter and cook up into a deliciously toothy texture.
I don’t make uthappam very often because Desi loves his dosas crepey (I even make my Adais — another kind of thick dosa– paper-thin). But the brown rice was definitely an incentive for him because he’s a bigger health nut than I am, and so was the Sundried Tomato Chutney I served up alongside. I also varied the thickness of the uthappams by making a few of them traditionally fat and then spreading a few others more thinly, as you can see in the picture above.
For my Brown Rice Uthappam I made parboiled brown rice exactly as I did when I created my Brown Rice Dosas. It is a technique that works like a charm and cuts down soaking time by several hours.
An Uthappam batter typically contains udad dal, or black gram dal, but I also added a couple of tablespoons of tuvar dal to my recipe although this is not a traditional ingredient. That’s because even as I was soaking the dal I could hear in my head the voice of my sister-in-law Lalitha Manni, a fabulous cook, reminding me that tuvar dal adds crispness to any kind of dosa. So in it went.
She was right. My Uthappams had a lovely golden finish and crispy edges that were a delicious complement to the chewy middle.
I came up with the Sundried Tomato Chutney out of necessity– I didn’t have any coriander on hand for my chutney. And although I knew I was on to something good I had no idea how good it was until I tasted it. Although sundried tomatoes are not by any means an ingredient used in Indian cooking, their rich, deep, tangy flavor complemented the sweetness of the coconut and the spice of the garlic and chilies just beautifully. This one’s a keeper.
Brown Rice Uthappam
1 cup brown rice. Cover with an inch of water in a microwave-safe bowl and zap for five minutes. Let the rice and water stand for another 30 minutes.
1/2 cup udad dal (black gram dal)
2 tbsp tuvar dal (pigeon peas)
2 dry red chillies
Salt to taste
1 onion, finely minced (you can also add tomatoes, bell peppers, spinach, or green chillies– any vegetable that would taste good when steamed lightly would work fine here).
2 tbsp chopped curry leaves or coriander leaves or both
Mix the parboiled brown rice and the two dals, cover with at least 2 inches of water, and let them soak for 5-6 hours.
Drain the soaked dals and rice and place in a blender along with the remaining ingredients. Add water and blend into a smooth batter that should be about the consistency of a pancake batter.
Heat a cast-iron or nonstick griddle on a medium flame until a drop of water flicked on the surface skitters and evaporates.
Pour about 1/2 cup of the uthappam batter in the center and, if needed, coax a little with the ladle to form a circle about 5-6 inches in diameter. You can make your uthappam thicker if you like. Either use more batter or shape it into a smaller circle.
Sprinkle on some of the chopped onions and any other veggies or herbs you’re using.
Drizzle a few drops of oil along the edges of the uthappam. This makes for a crisper edge and also makes it easier to flip the uthappam.
Place a lid on top of the pan and let the uthappam cook about two minutes. It is important to cover the pan because if you don’t you might end up with semi-cooked batter on the inside and that wouldn’t taste any good. You want the uthappam to steam thoroughly on the inside.
Flip the uthappam once it is golden brown on the bottom and cook for about a minute more.
Serve hot with some Sundried Tomato Chutney (recipe follows) or with a traditional coriander-coconut chutney.
Sundried Tomato Chutney
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
6 sundried tomatoes (I used ones that are packed in olive oil and they are really moist. If you are using dry sundried tomatoes, soak them in a little water for at least half an hour to soften them)
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
2 green chilies (adjust to your taste)
Salt to taste
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend into a smooth paste. Serve with the Brown Rice Uthappam.