Recipe: Swamyji’s Ghee Panyarams
Panyarams or delicately pan-fried mini idlis, stuffed with onions and chillies, are rarely served at your typical dosa-idli joints. And while regular idlis are wonderful, these ghee-laced morsels are a taste of heaven.
I was first introduced to panyarams by Swamyji, 32-33 years ago. A professional cook from Matunga, central Mumbai, who came highly recommended, he could be hired to whip up an elaborate South Indian meal for special occasions at your home for a not very expensive fee. The first time I booked him for an Easter banana leaf lunch, he came to meet me a day before, to check out my kitchen and to guide me on what supplies to buy. The meeting was held in my kitchen, which at the time was our pride. After chatting for few minutes, he asked: “Where’s the kitchen?” :)).
Astoundingly for 30-40 guests he asked me buy hardly ½ to 1 kg kilos of different vegetables and tiny quantities of rice and dal. He kept assuring me that the guests would be more interested in eating the freshly-prepared panyarams, dosas, wadas and idlis. How right he was!
I also asked, given his strict South Indian Brahmin vegetarian sensibilities, if it was okay if we served just one non-vegetarian dish on the side, since my South Indian husband was celebrating Easter and was a non-vegetarian and so were many of the guests. I promised we would keep it, discreetly, far away from his cooking space, outside the kitchen actually and he would not have to even set eyes on it. He was very cool and said he had no problems with that.
He and his crew arrived in a taxi at 7 am amidst a clatter, with all their giant pots, pans, canisters and canisters of dosa batter, chattis and even their own gas ring (my four-burner gas stove did not pass muster). They began cheerfully and enthusiastically cooking up a cyclone – oil and ghee sizzled and literally hit the ceiling and sprayed all the cabinets giving them a sheen. Unbelievable fragrances started wafting out of the kitchen as Swamyji and Co put together, at top jaldi-five speed, 10-12 dishes — sambar, rasam-wada, chutneys, idlis, thorans, avial, dosas, panyarams, mini uttapams, lemon rice and other South Indian rices and more.
The panyarams were, of course, a hit. Swamyji must have made 200-300 of them and would personally come out of the kitchen to persuasively, with a charming smile, offer the hot-hot ghee-seeped balls to people and no one was able to refuse him. The guests were in a food coma after Swamyji’s incredible sappad. Then he and his men sat down to eat. When I came into the kitchen a little while later, I found them tucking into the Chicken 65 with great gusto with their rice and sambar. He told me sheepishly that living in Bombay they had started eating some chicken outside, although their wives were not aware of it.
Not content with getting a chance to eat panyarams only on the rare occasions when Swamyji came swinging by, I tried to make them on my own. They were always a miserable failure and stuck to the pan and umpteen trials late, at different intervals, I was no better at it. A casual chat about my sad panyaram catastrophes with Rediff contributor and friend Rajul Hegde kicked up the solution. She advised me to not bother using the traditional chatti or panyaram pan and go to Matunga and shop for a non-stick pan. And voila, from then on I could produce perfect panyarams batch after batch. So can my daughter. The panyaram pan can be easily purchased, at a reasonable price, online too.
You can choose to make the batter for the panyaram yourself from scratch or buy batter. Either way it will turn out perfect.
Like Swamyji, I stuff my panyarams with onion and chillies. But you can add chopped green coriander, ginger, grated carrots, grated fresh coconut, black pepper, very finely sliced beans or even do a tadka or seasoning of mustard seeds and hing or asafetida with curry leaves.
Swamyji’s Ghee Panyaram
Servings: 50-60 pieces
- 3 cups boiled rice
- ¾ cup white urad dal or white gram
- 1½ to 2 tsp salt or more
- 3 large onions, finely chopped
- 4-5 green chillies, finely chopped
- Ghee to fry the panyarams
- A non-stick panyaram pan
- Coconut chutney and/or mulgapodi (gunpowder or dry chutney) mixed with ghee or sesame oil, to serve
- Soak the boiled rice and the urad dal all day and grind in a mixer with a little water to make a thick batter and allow it to rise overnight outside on the ledge after adding the salt.
- Mix the chopped onions and chillies into the batter and add more salt if required.
- Heat the panyaram pan over low heat.
- Line with a little ghee.
- Pour enough batter in to fill each mould fully (please see the picture below).
- Allow it to cook undisturbed for almost 5-8 minutes over low heat and they will turn light pink.
- Then uncover, dribble more ghee around the edges and flip each panyaram over using a teaspoon.
- After flipping cook the batch of panyarams another few minutes covered.
- Serve with the podi and/or chutney.
Zelda’s Note: Instead of using 3 cups rice and ¾ urad dal to make a batter, substitute with 1 kg prepared dosa batter. ID batter is the best.
MTR’s chutney powder works well as a matching podi. If you would like to make your own gunpowder podi at home, roast on a tawa, separately one by one, over low heat 1 cup white urad dal, 1/3 cup channa dal or Bengal gram, ½ cup til or sesame seeds and ½ cup or more dried red chillies (a spicy variety like bedgi). In a little sesame oil, roast several pinches hing and then add everything in a blender/mixer with ½ tsp salt and grind to a fine powder. Store the powder in a bottle in the fridge.
I make a simple coconut chutney by grinding ½ an onion with 4-5 pods garlic, ½ cup dahi, ½ of a fresh coconut, 2 green chillies or 3-4 dried red chillies, dash lemon juice, salt, ½ inch ginger grated and do a tadka or seasoning with 1 tsp mustard seeds, a pinch hing and 4-5 curry leaves in ½ tbsp oil.
For vegan panyarams, use cashew butter instead of ghee. And for Jain panyarams, skip the onions and use other vegetables instead like grated carrots, ginger.
For more chutney recipes please have a look at Manjula Nair‘s Sutta Kathirikkai or 6 Chutneys That’ll Make Your Mouth Water.
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