Before starting to prepare for the greatest Bengali Vaishnava festival of the year, Gaura Purnima, which we celebrate this weekend in Finland, under the full moon, I want to rush off a papadam recipe to you.
Papads are thin, lentil-based wafers or brittle crackers served as digestives, usually in the end of a meal. Sometimes they are offered as appetizers, snacks or croutons over a bowl of rice, soup or wet vegetable dish. Coming with various flavors – hing, black pepper, chilli, jeera or fenugreek – they are either roasted or deep-fried.
Papad making is an old craft still practiced in Indian villages and, if you are lucky, you can see rows of parchment-like flatbreads drying in the sunlight. Because kneading and rolling large quantities of them by hand is a laborious task, the tradition has gradually shifted from families and cottage industries to factories. Today, machine-made papadams are commercially available everywhere; therefore, you may ask, what’s the point of making them at home? Isn’t that a regression rather than a progression?
Not to me. The title of this blog, Pure, refers to the purity of intent along with the skill of cooking and ingredients. The consciousness by which we produce, share and eat food, yields a long lasting effect exceeding the needs of the belly. What we think, feel and will in the kitchen (or at the table, among our family and friends) influence the quality of life. Sattvik actions – deeds in the mode of goodness – that illuminate and open gateways to the higher stages of experience, always include a proper attitude. It is the mood we actually taste when we put something into the mouth; that’s the dynamic, spiritually potent component that either connects us with divinity or binds us to the dualities of temporary reality. Machine-made, industrially processed food carries a heavy karmic load despite of an attractive packaging. Therefore, it is always better, although perhaps more inconvenient, to cook at home instead of buying ready-made items.
There is hardly any information available about the process of making papadams. I have always been under the impression that it’s very difficult (read: impossible) to make them in an imperfect climate and without traditional tools. After a couple of trials and errors, I learnt that the procedure is very easy! All you need is a cup of whole urad dal (skin removed), salt, baking soda, a flavoring agent, water, and ghee or oil for the dough; a little bit of time for twisting and pounding the dough; an oven for roasting the dal and quickly dehydrating the papadams; and, a stove for frying or roasting.
I noticed that split urad dal does not produce a good texture; use whole lentils instead and make sure the expiry date is well ahead! You can mix urad with mung dal, or substitute some of the dal with rice flour.
You can roll the papads as thin as you like. When nearly transparent, tiny air bubbles cover them during frying and roasting; when thicker, they puff like chapatis or pooris. Both kinds are equally crunchy.
These home-made papads don’t expand like the commercial ones. It is likely due to the lack of an alkaline salt, papar-khar, specifically used in India.
An unrelated question to the readers who are using Blogger: During the past year, Blogger has changed some image settings that affect color, contrast, brightness and compression. Is there any way to reverse these effects? It seems they have added some wild enhancement feature while I was away. Grrr!