Paniyaram or Uppappam is a savoury rice and lentil dumpling from Tamilnadu. It is cooked in a special pan with depression, like the sweet version of this called Neiyappam/ Unniyappam. Cooking fat is heated in these depressions, then batter is poured in and cooked into to crisp and spongy dumplings. This special pan is called an Appakaaral or Paniyaram Kallu, and is similar to an Aebelskiver pan. Traditionally, Paniyaram or Uppappam pans were made from either bell metal, cast iron or soapstone.
The Aebelskiver pan brings to mind that these dumplings are a global food. One wonders where they might have originated. Of course they’re made with different ingredients in different countries. Within South India, where it is made from rice, there are sweet and savoury versions. Savoury Paniyaram is Paddu or Guliyappa in Kannada and Gundaponganalu in Telugu. Food history says that Paniyarams of millet flour and jaggery were popular food for kings of the Sangam period.
In Indonesia, they make Kue Piniyaram. Perhaps the trading Chettiars from Tamilnadu took it across with them, or vice versa. The Burmese make Mont Lin Maya, the Thai make Khanom Khrok, and it is Takoyaki in Japan. Across Europe they’re generally sweet and made with all-purpose or other flours. So the Dutch have Aebelskivers, and the Danes have Poffertjes.
I first met the Paniyaram as a young adult visiting my maternal grandmother’s sister. She lived in Tirupur in Tamilnadu, and cooked these dumplings for a snack with coffee. I have since eaten and cooked Paniyaram countless times. We call Paniyaram Uppappam in my home. Uppappam loosely translates as salty dumplings as different from the Neiyappam which is sweet.There are many ways of making the batter which is essentially a sour and tangy Idli batter. I never grind batter specifically to make Paniyaram. I always use Idli batter that’s too sour to make Idlis or Dosa. This is one way of repurposing or kind of cooking with leftover Idi batter. You can find the recipe for Idli batter here if you need it.
Mustard seeds, finely chopped ginger, chopped green chillies, curry leaves and asafoetida are tempered in hot oil and mixed into sour Idli batter. The Appakaaral or Paniyaram Kallu is placed on the stove and each depression is filled just about filled with sesame oil or other cooking oil. Batter is poured in to fill the depressions, once the oil is hot. Once it cooks it will leave the sides. At this point it is turned over to cook on the other side. Once the Paniyaram turn golden brown and crisp on the edges, they’re take out.
The Paniyaram batter can be further flavoured with finely chopped onions, grated carrot, very finely sliced green beans, etc. Serve Paniyaram or Uppappam with coconut chutney or Sambhar. I like them best as they are, warm and crisp from the pan.