Appam and Ishtu is a very popular breakfast combination in Kerala. Appam (pronounced “Aappam”) is also known as Paalappam, Vellayappam or Lace Appam. It is a thin lacy savoury shallow bowl shaped crepe that is soft and pillow-like in the centre with crisp edges. It is made from a leavened thin smooth rice and coconut milk batter. The accompanying Ishtu is a mildly spiced potato and coconut milk stew. Ishtu is local corruption of the English word stew. The combination of Appam and Ishtu is absolutely delicious, a match made in heaven and not one to be broken.
This is also one of our favourite breakfasts. It doesn’t take much time to put together, if you plan ahead. It is a wonderful combination to serve up for a weekend or Sunday brunch. The batter for Appam batter is traditionally leavened/ fermented with toddy that is tapped from the coconut trees. This is what gives the Appam it’s unique taste. Fresh toddy isn’t easy to come by these days and we don’t use alcohol so yeast is a good substitute for it. Raw rice (nor steamed or par boiled) is used to make the batter. You can use any medium grained raw rice but not Basmathi to make Appam. Try using aromatic South Indian rices like Gandhkashala or Kazhama/ Kaima for an extra special flavour.
These lacy crepes are made in a special pan called an Appachatti. The pan is a slightly small concave wok-like pan which gives the Appam its shape. You can find non-stick pans but earthen ware or cast iron appachattis are the best, in my opinion. Appams are made by pouring a small ladle full of batter into the appachatti. The appachati is then swirled in such a way that the batter spreads out almost to the edges forming a lacy edge. The excess batter settles in the centre and cooks into a soft spongy texture. My daughter, as a toddler, used to call these “dosas with idlis in the middle”.
Though Appam and Ishtu is very much associated with Kerala you can find it made in the neighbouring state of Tamilnadu. In fact, it probably originated in Tamilnadu as the Appam is mentioned in the Perumpanarrupattai of Sangam literature from the 4th/ 5th century. It is also made in Sri Lanka where they’re called Hoppers! A variation on these is Egg Appam or Egg Hoppers where an egg is broken in the middle of the Appam as it cooks. My version is a plain yeast fermented Appam, the way we eat it.
The Ishtu is typically made by adding boiled, peeled and broken potatoes with sliced shallots or and spices in coconut milk. This can be made without the onions as well. You can also convert the potato stew to a vegetable version as I have here. If you prefer to make a only potato Ishtu, then substitute the other vegetables with potatoes.
Please note that this post was originally published in August 2008, and has since been updated.
Appam and Ishtu
For the Appam:
- 1 1/2 cups raw rice
- 1 tsp dry active yeast
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 cup of coconut water or plain water
- 1 1/2 tbsp cooked rice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup thick coconut milk or packed freshly grated coconut
For the Mixed Vegetable Ishtu
- 2 1/2 cups diced mixed vegetables potatoes, green peas, French beans, carrots and sweet corn
- 2 medium onions thinly sliced
- 2 tsp oil
- 1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 tsp minced ginger
- 2 or 3 green chillies slit lengthwise
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 4 cloves
- 3 pods cardamom
- 1 1/2 inch cinnamon piece
- 3/4 cup coconut
- 1 tsp rice flour
- salt to taste
For the Appam
- If you are preparing these pancakes for breakfast, the preparation has to be done the previous night. Soak the raw rice in water for about 3 hours. Drain and keep aside. Then dissolve the yeast and sugar in the coconut water or plain water (at room temperature) and allow the mixture to froth (about 10 to 15 minutes). Now grind drained rice to a smooth batter using the yeast mixture. If you are using freshly grated coconut instead of coconut milk, then add to the batter and grind well. Add enough water to make grinding comfortable but ensure the batter is on the thicker side, consistency-wise. When the batter is almost done, add the cooked rice and grind well so everything is blended.
- Pour the batter into a vessel, cover, and allow it to ferment overnight. Next morning, add the coconut milk (if using this, otherwise use water or a mixture of water and milk), salt and some water, if necessary, to dilute the batter to a somewhat thin batter (a little thicker than milk).
- Heat the “aappachatti” (mine is non-stick), put a few drops of oil into it and wipe using paper towel so that a thin film of oil remains in the vessel. Turn the heat down to low and pour a small ladle of the batter (about 3 to 4 tbsp in quantity) in the middle of the pan. Now hold the pan by its ears/ handles, lift it off the stovetop and tilt the “aappachatti” in a cicular motion so that the batter is spread all over the pan, just short of the edges. Put the pan back on the stovetop. The excess batter will settle back in the centre of the pan creating a thick middle and thin lacy edges to the pancake. Now cover the pan and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. All this has to be done very quickly as the batter cooks very fast.
- After a couple of minutes lift the lid. The centre should have cooked and puffed up a bit. If not, cover and cook for another minute taking care that the edges do not brown. Using a thin spatula, dislodge the pancake and remove. Repeat with the remaining batter and use it up.
- Serve these Vellayaappams hot with the stew. They don’t taste too good cold. This batter should make about 15.
For the Mixed Vegetable Stew:
- I usually cook the vegetables in the microwave. I MW them at 100% for about 8 minutes. Otherwise, cook them as below.
- Heat the oil, and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter add the cardamom (split the pod open and add whole), cloves and cinnamon (broken smaller). Stir twice and then add the ginger, chillies and onions and sauté till the onions are translucent. Add the vegetables and curry leaves and a cup of water and the salt. Bring to boil. If using uncooked vegetables, turn down the heat and allow them to cook till soft but not mushy. Otherwise, simmer for about five minutes.
- Mix the rice flour in the coconut milk and add to the vegetables mixing quickly. The rice flour thickens the gravy and ensures the coconut milk does not split. Turn down the heat and once it starts boiling, take it off the heat. The stew should now be a slightly thick coconut milk gravy with vegetables in it.