Spinach Uttapam

Sometimes a recipe comes about because I have a specific idea of what I want to make. But more often than not, what I cook is based at least in part on what item in the fridge needs to be used in the next day or two. That was what happened with a bunch of spinach the other day, which I either had to use or lose. When this happens the result is one of two things –the dish is fine but nothing I’ll ever make again and we may or may not eat the leftovers, or it is amazingly delicious and I forget to write down the recipe and I never make it again.

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This time, I wrote down the recipe. Then I lost it, then I found it again. You’re welcome.

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Uttapam (rhymes with “You da’ bomb” – oooh, sometimes I am so corny I amaze even myself) is a kind of savory pancake that’s common in South Indian cuisine. Never had one? Well most Indian restaurants in the US are Northern Indian but I am lucky enough to live near an excellent South Indian restaurant that specializes in dosa, which are a crepe-style version of the batter used for uttapam. For dosa, the filling is wrapped in the crispy cooked dough but for uttapam, the filling is mixed into the batter, kind of like a savory version of chocolate chip pancakes. Except the uttapam I made used semolina flour which is traditional for rava uttapam, the style I was emulating.

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Please make these. I make no promises to their authenticity but to me they taste similar to the ones I’ve ordered in restaurants. And more importantly, they are delicious. When I was testing them I initially made the batter too thick so my roommate and I ate several before calling them a success. She then graciously offered to eat the rest, “You know, if you need any more help figuring out if they’re good.” What a trooper. But seriously, these are no more difficult to make than pancakes and the end result is well worth it. Don’t limit yourself to spinach – what about leftover curry, some chickpea salad, roasted vegetables – just make sure to get out as much liquid as possible before adding the filling to the batter, otherwise it will end up too thin (and in the case of spinach filling it will also turn greenish; not appetizing). I ate these for lunch, heated a few in the toaster oven for a snack, and then when I came back to look for them, they were gone. Served with some chutney and yogurt, they have a tendency to disappear fast.

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Spinach Uttapam
Makes about a dozen

For the filling:
2 tsp neutral oil
1 tbs fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ lb spinach, fresh or frozen – if frozen make extra sure to squeeze all the liquid out
½ tsp garam masala
1 tsp kosher salt

For the batter:
¾ cup yogurt
½ cup cake flour*
½ tsp each ground cumin, mustard, and coriander
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 ½ cups semolina
2 tsp salt
1 – 1 ½ cups water – depending on what thickness you want

Put the oil, ginger, and garlic in a cold pan and place over medium heat.** Cook for a minute or two, until the garlic is light brown. Add the spinach, salt, and garam masala and cook for three to five minutes, until the spinach is entirely cooked down. If using frozen spinach, cook until some the moisture has evaporated and the ingredients are well mixed.

Remove from heat and move spinach mixture to a small-holed strainer. Press the spinach against the side of the strainer to remove as much liquid as possible. Roughly chop the remaining mixture and set aside.

In a larger bowl, mix yogurt, cake flour, spices, ginger, semolina flour, and salt together until well combined. Add 1 cup of water and spinach mixture and stir to incorporate fully. If needed, add up to ½ cup additional water to reach your desired consistency – I like a thinner pancake so I added the full 1 ½ cups.

Heat a pan over medium heat and pour in a few spoonfuls of oil to coat the pan. Fry pancakes until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes a side. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Uttapam is traditionally made with rice flour, which I didn’t have. Cake flour has a similar gluten content so I used it instead. Feel free to use either
** Using a cold pan and cold oil allows the ginger and garlic to flavor the oil without burning

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