Uttapam (Savory Lentil Cakes)

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It’s a family affair in New Orleans, where the Vilkhu family, owners of Saffron Nola, invited Dan Buettner to a dinner of traditional northern and southern Indian cuisine. 

Saffron Nola is a Vilkhu family business that incorporates local New Orleans ingredients and flavors into traditional Indian cuisine. It received a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2018. 

Total Cook Time: 1 hour + 16 hours soaking and resting | Serves 4

Source: The Blue Zones American Kitchen, Photo: David McLain

Ingredients

1 ½ cups basmati rice

½ cup urad dal

2 tablespoons chana dal (split chickpea lentils)

½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon oil

Toppings:

½ cup diced onion

½ cup diced tomatoes

½ cup chopped cilantro

1 or 2 green chilis (such as jalapeños), chopped

Coconut chutney, for serving

Directions

  1. To make the batter, rinse the rice, urad dal, chana dal, and fenugreek seeds in cold running water. Cover them with cold water and soak overnight. 
  2. Drain most of the water, and using a high-speed blender, blend the soaked ingredients with enough water to make a thick, smooth, pourable batter; the rice will make the batter slightly grainy, which is okay, but make sure to process it until the grains are very small.
  3. Add the salt and set the batter aside in a warm place to ferment overnight, or until the batter rises. 
  4. To cook the uttapam, return the batter to a pourable consistency by adding additional water a little at a time—up to 1 cup—stirring after each addition until you reach desired consistency, adding more only if needed.
  5. Heat the oil in a flat-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Pour or ladle about ½ cup of the batter into the skillet, and then tilt and turn the skillet to spread the batter out a bit to a circle about 6 inches in diameter.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and scatter half the toppings over the batter. Add a little oil around the edges if needed to prevent sticking, and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until the top looks dry and has lots of little holes all over. Using a thin spatula, carefully flip the uttapam over and then cook it 1 to 2 minutes more, until the underside is cooked. 
  7. Repeat with the rest of the batter and toppings.
  8. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with the coconut chutney.

Note: For faster fermenting, you can use the yogurt setting on an Instant Pot. Add the batter to the Instant Pot and cover loosely—do not seal the top—and set it on the yogurt preset for 8 hours. You can refrigerate the fermented batter for 2 or 3 days. Bring it to room temperature before cooking.