Tuesday, December 19, 2006

neyyappam — cochini indian hanukkah fritters

kerala. literally, land of the coconut.

according to cookery author, copeland marks from his book, sephardic cooking, sweet fritters called neyyappam were served at both hanukkah and on the day before yom kippur by the south indian jews of cochin.

the "black jews" of cochin [kochi] (kerala jews) are but one of three jewish groups known in india. the use of the word "black", while not politically correct these days, has often been used to describe them as they resemble the dark skinned local population and to distinguish them from another group called the "white jews". this particular group of jews has been in the south of india for many, many centuries and speak the local language, malayalam but a jewish version of it is spoken amongst themselves. how they got to india is a matter of speculation but there are some theories. their diet resembles that of the community around them, however the dietary laws are strictly observed. the food is quite spicy and very little meat is consumed. their diet is more or less vegetarian.

to date, there are few cochini families left. how many exactly, i do not know. most have now taken up residence in israel. according to this site,
In 1948, most of the 2,500 Jews that lived in Cochin emigrated to (Eretz) Israel leaving less than 100 there. The magnificent 16th century Paradesi synagogue in Cochin still exists.
their presence though is not forgotten and significant in world jewish history. for a final glimpse into their world (with beautiful pictures), look here.

our ingredients, cooked dishes, and recipes for them, reflect the areas in which we live. one of the examples of the cochini jews' existence in this part of the world are these sweet, deep-fried pillows of dough. the base of the batter for these fritters is both semolina and white flour. there are a variety of kinds of these appams, many made with rice (flour). as with several south indian foods like this, the batter ages (ferments) overnight to add a mildly sour balance to the final product. i imagine the fermentation also allows for the batter to lighten as is the case with the south indian bread called dosa.

neyyappam —
south indian hanukkah fritters

it should be noted that this dessert/tea snack is eaten by the non jewish population also. it is not by any means unique to the jews of the area. the recipe is fabulously easy and almost all the ingredients are readily available in your kitchen.

this fritter is part of a group of snacks of the same sort, called appams. they are traditionally cooked in a vessel which is round and has several semi-circular depressions in it, much like the aebelskiver pan. the pan is heated and then is partially filled with oil and the batter added. after cooking on one side, it is turned and cooked on the other. seeing as not everybody commonly has such a pan, frying the batter in oil is the next alternative. i wonder however if it was done this way with the jewish community as frying things in oil is symbolic of the holiday of hanukkah. additionally, the use of an appam (or aebelskiver) pan would ensure their even shape unlike the odd and uncontrolled shapes obtained when frying in oil as done here. [interestingly enough, greek jews also had such a pan they used to cook their bimuelos (loukoumades) for hanukkah].

i urge you to try this, it is amazingly scrumptious! they are like little beignets and soft and spongy inside with small little surprises here and there, all contained by a nice outer somewhat crunchy coating. best enjoyed warm with a nice cup of tea or coffee, i assure you, there will be no leftovers. [as a note, when i make these i usually cut the recipe in half which makes approximately one dozen plus a few extra. for a crowd, make the whole recipe].


2 c water
1/2 c sugar
1/8 tsp salt

1 c AP flour
1 c semolina / sooji (not pasta flour!)

1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp chopped almonds (coarsely)
1 tbsp chopped cashews (coarsely)
1 tbsp golden raisins [i used dried cranberries]
2 dates, pitted and chopped
2 dried apricots, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp dried coconut

1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cardamom



prepare all the ingredients by chopping them and measuring the flours, etc.

boil water and measure out 2 cups of water and put it in a bowl. add the sugar and the salt and stir. makes sure it dissolves and let it come to room temperature.

add the semolina, flour, fruit and nuts and mix together well.

cover this and let it stand overnight to ferment. i put it in the oven with the pilot light on. you will notice that there will be some liquid gathered on the surface. that is normal and a reaction of the fermentation process.

the next day, heat several cups of oil for frying over medium heat. just before you fry the fritters, add the baking powder and cardamom.

drop by tablespoon into the oil and cook until browned about 4 to 5 minutes. remove and place on paper towels.

let the fritters cool a bit before serving; the paper towel will absorb the excess oil.

these can be served with powdered sugar sprinkled over them.



Beenzzz said...

These fritters look fantastic. What could be better than two traditions blended into one. Makes for a more interesting group of people, don't you think? BTW, I never knew about the Kerala Jews. Thanks for the info.

ServesYouRight said...

Way to go, bb! It feels like the holidays are here! Amazing work!!!

aja said...

Hey BB,
Those look absolutely amazing! Are you sending some my way by any chance?

burekaboy — said...

beenzzz - hey there! thanks :) i think you'd like them. you know, india treated its jewish population extremely well apparently. while i'm sure anti semitism existed, it was no where near as rampant as in other countries. so yes, interesting mix of two cultures. you must be SO EXCITED. how many more weeks til you go?? (btw, "flogger" wouldn't let me see pix on your page or comment last time, grrr).

hi smita - thank you muchly! :) i'm sure YOURS would have looked more authentic than mine. i don't have the right pan so i just fry them as shown every time i make them. happy holidays, smita.

aja - of course i am! i just packed them up :-) had i the correct pan, they would have looked more "perfect/proper". you do what you can, i guess. thanks for the compliment.

TopChamp said...

They look amazing - will see if I can get hold of all those ingredients and do them at Christmas.


Beenzzz said...

Hey BB,
Have you tried blogger today? I am really beginning to get sick of blogger beta! I think I have to be signed in or something like that for people to leave comments and I'm currently signed in.:)

Anonymous said...

Bureka Boy - you're blog is truly outstanding. I want to make everything you write about and photograph (beautiful work). Indian-Jewish-Sephardi Foods... what could be better?!
I also actually did an Indian Hannukah this year and last with these spiced latkes and curried yoghurt (I just use tumeric and lime for the yoghurt though): http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/233369

burekaboy — said...

beenzzz - will do so after. i know what u mean. it's quite aggravating and others are having the same problems. hopefully it will be fixed. soon.

topchamp - hey there :) they are super easy to make and worth the effort. hope you enjoy if you try them. thanks for stopping by. hope kandinski is well.

lara - ;p such compliments can make one blush! thank you. i am glad you are enjoying what i am posting. feedback is much appreciated.

i will take a look at those latkes you mention. turmeric and lime sound mighty fine to me. nice combination and colour. i imagine putting lime zest also would be nice.

Krithika said...

Great job ! I am really impressed :-)

burekaboy — said...

krithika - thanks! :) i don't have the right pan like you do but they came out just as tasty this way.

Sandra Le Petrin said...

Hi BB!
Last year, i had the idea of making a new kind of fritter (from all around the world)every day of Hanukkah planing to do the same this year. But I couldn't manage to do it with my newborn baby except for a japonese recipe (!) But i'm keeping your so original recipes for next year (or even sooner: who says fritters are only for Hanukkah??)
And btw, these ones really look like some i made last years: oliebollen from Holland except for the use of semolina!

burekaboy — said...

avital - hey there, welcome! that sounds like fun having them all year round. why wait, right?! :)

the japanese one i saw sounded extremely good. i actually forgot about olliebollen but these ones i made do look like them now that u mention it.

mazal tov on the new baby! i am sure you will be VERY busy. can't imagine that and trying to maintain a blog and cook, too! ישר כוח

Chef Jeena said...

Hi there, I like your blog! Nice recipe it looks yummy your pictures are great :) Feel free to visit my blog too :)

Click here for jeenas food recipe blog :-)

burekaboy — said...

hi jeena - welcome & thanks for dropping by :)

also, thank you for all your compliments and the link. i will drop by and see your blog very soon.

regards to you :D

Jocelyn M. Berger said...

Just came upon your site doing a search for challah cover-Cochin. I bought one when I was there this past June and was hoping to find a way to buy more online. Just wanted to point out that there are more than just Cochini Jews and their various types across India. Bombay has several thousand Bene Israel Jews, there are Baghdadi Jews in Kolkata, and other communities in between. Bombay has several synagogues and an active community including a JCC!

burekaboy — said...

hi jocelyn - thanks for your visit and comment. you are quite right, there are several different indian jewish communities; this was just a single posting about the cochini jews. i hope/plan, in future, to add different dishes from the different communities.

good luck in your search for challah covers.