I hadn't tasted paniyarams till I moved to Chennai - growing up in Mumbai, I never had an opportunityto taste this snack/breakfast preparation. Not only is this a regional speciality, even in Tamil Nadu itself it comes from the Chettinad region and was not something my own family made at home. The first time I had it, was in Grand Sweets - that landmark institution of Chennai which has been around, for ever it seems, making fresh sweets and savoury preparations of the best quality. In the evenings (atleast on the weekends when we went) there would be a huge queue to purchase and while we waited we often had a bite of the freshly made snacks being made outside of the main store - adai, paniyaram, vadais - it was absolutely, lip smackingly delicious.
Following an old tradition, this store provides opportunities to women in an initiative I haven't seen in many places. Right from the cashier to the staff who pack the orders and the ones who make the snacks outsides (and the sweets inside the main kitchen I imagine) are all women. And despite the immense pressure of handling the huge crowds and impatient customers, I haven't ever seen a rude word or a frown from any of them nor any mistakes in the orders themselves. They would go about their work efficiently and without much of a fuss - the token system here works beautifully and with a little patience, you know you will be served. Compare this to your average mobile provider's customer service and you will know what I mean.
Kuzhi paniyarams (kuzhi means hollow in Tamil) are steam cooked (or shallow fried depending on how you look at it) dumplings made by pouring batter into a cast iron pan with hollows and cooking them till they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The batter itself can be made in different ways - the most common one is to use left over idli or dosai batter (adding chopped green chillies, onions etc). Semolina and rice flour is a combination which works well to make an instant snack. There is a sweet version of this called Vella Paniyaram which uses jaggery (vellam). Other regional variations of the same dish include Gundappa (Karnataka), Paddu/Appe (Konkani), Unniappam (Kerala), Ponganalu (Andhra).......
Once I entered the food blogging world, I saw a lot of these around but never even thought of making it since I didn't have the pan to make it - its called appe chatti, paniyaram maker (and in the West the aebleskiver has turned out to be a perfect replacement). A couple of weekends back I had accompanied a friend on her hunt for a futon - we didn't find it but as soon as I spotted this in the utensils section of the store (who by the way had labelled it as an idli maker!) I knew I had to buy it! And the very next day decided to make these for breakfast - didn't have leftover idli batter, so just went ahead and mixed up a batch of semolina and rice flour batter (pretty much like the one I use sometimes for instant dosais). The sweet batter I didn't have a clue - so I looked it up and used this recipe for unniappams. I also had some leftover adai batter which I used. All three versions turned out really well; its a non stick pan so didn't have to contend with it sticking to the pan. Just a few drops of oil for the first round and then it was smooth going after that -I loved the unniappams with the taste of banana and jaggery but my daughter for whom I made them in the first place, preferred the other two savoury versions.
Below is a look at how I made these - make sure the first side cooks on a medium low flame for atleast 5 minutes (covered with a lid) before you try turning them over. If they stick, wait a bit more, once they are cooked and a little brown, they will turn over quite easily. Cook the other side for another 3-4 minutes and then remove. I served these with a tomato chutney - coconut chutney goes well too.
Semolina (sooji/rava) - 1/2 cup
Rice flour - 1/2 cup
Yoghurt - 2 tbsp
1 small onion - chopped
3 green chillies - chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1/4 tsp baking soda
salt to taste
Water - 1 to 1.5 cups
Semolina - 1 cup
Rice flour - 1/2 cup
Jaggery - 1/2 cup
1/4 cup water
salt a pinch
1.Mix all the ingredients for the two batters, adding just enough water to make it a little thicker than pancake batter or dosai batter.
2. Heat the griddle and drizzle a few drops of oil in each hollow.
3. Pour about a tbsp of batter in each hollow, filling it up to about 3/4 of the way.
4. Reduce the flame to medium low, cover with a lid and cook for about 5 minutes.
5. With the wooden turner (it comes with the griddle), gently check that it has been cooked and brown and then turn over. Cook for another 3-4 minutes covered.
6. Remove from flame and serve warm with chutney.