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Puttu: A South Indian Breakfast

Passport & Plate - Ammachi's Kerala Puttu

USA | Sunday, 9 February 2014 | 5 photos

Puttu, meaning 'portioned' is a popular breakfast recipe from my father's homeland of Kerala in South India.

How to make Puttu:
1. Add 3 cups of rice flour in a large bowl. Add 1 tsp. salt, 1/2cup coconut flakes + 1cup water. Mix well with a spoon, then use hands to break up clumps. Break down until it is a light, fluffy consistency.

2. Place bottom puttu maker piece on low heat and spray the longer piece with cooking spray. Now you are ready to prepare the puttu!

3. Fill the longer piece in this order: 1/4cup coconut flakes; 1/2cup puttu (should be filled halfway); 1/4cup coconut flakes; 1/3cup puttu (filled to very top, leaving enough room for coconut); top off with about 2 tbs. coconut flakes. DO NOT PUSH DOWN. Place lid ontop.

4. Wait for bottom piece to steam from sprout, then place longer piece ontop. When steam comes up through holes on lid, wait about 4 more minutes to be sure the steam has gone all the way through the puttu.

5. Remove longer piece from base; remove lid and then place at a a 90-degree angle on plate. Take the metal rod and insert in bottom of piece. Make sure it's placed in middle of puttu! Very slowly push the putto out. It should be a thick log and stay together. It's okay if it's broken in the middle where the coconut meets the puttu.

6. Slice up the bananas then use your RIGHT hand to mix the bananas into the puttu. Add sugar, if desired.

7. When eating, only use your RIGHT hand (this is the traditional way to eat) and clump the puttu together with your fingers, mushing with a banana to create a lump. Then, eat!

The story behind the recipe:

When my father was 21, he left India, against his parent's wishes, to study medicine in America. Before leaving, he asked his mother, my Amma (meaning 'grandmother') to write down her recipes so he could take his favorite part of India with him: the food. Growing up as half-Indian, my siblings and I would often spend our Sunday mornings waking up to the smell of my father's freshly made Puttu or egg curry. Puttu, meaning 'portioned' is a popular Indian breakfast from my father's home state of Kerala, India. Though my father used to eat it with a Kadala (chickpea) curry, I remember him slicing bananas for us as children, to mix in with the puttu. My mother (who is American) and father also cook curry, but having an Indian breakfast is the stronger memory of my childhood. I don't believe many people have tried or have heard of many Indian breakfast recipes, as the culture is mostly known for its flavorful curries. But, growing up as a half-Indian American, my only real tie to my father's culture was in these tradition breakfast foods. In fact, I'm not the biggest fan of coconut, but I find myself craving and loving every coconut flake steamed into my puttu. There was one year where my Amma lived here in America with us and though I was young and don't remember much, I do remember the smell of the food. I remember waking up to fresh appam (an Indian pancake), curries and of course, puttu! My Amma would wake up in the early hours of the morning and start cooking, a memory which still stands with my siblings and I, as we wake up early on Sundays to learn the recipe from our father. When we cook her food, I can still remember the colors of her red-orange Sari; the smell of her egg curry against the steaming coconut puttu mixed with the scent of her sandalwood skin.Though my Amma passed away, her cookbook still remains in our kitchen, holding the recipes my father once asked her to write for him when he left, over 40 years ago.

I believe all people should keep that child-like wonder we have when we are young: where nothing seems impossible and the world is a vast, brilliant landscape existing for us to discover. As a traveler, I am one who is drawn by a primitive curiosity. I am applying as The Pilgrim traveler and I have a feeling the Cinque Terre National Park will be my jungle. I have a strong passion for getting my hands deep and dirty in the food and plants of a culture and maintain a childlike curiosity that keeps me wondering about the places I immerse myself. In America, I am a vegetarian because I've grown up with American food and ate one too many steaks as a teenager. But when I am on the road, traveling backwards through the mountains, eating fresh fish cooked on the streets or trying reindeer meat in Finland, I am a full fledge foodie. As I discovered my Indian heritage through the food that connects me with my Amma, I yearn to understand my mother's Italian roots. I spent a month living with my grandmother (on my mother's side) in Germany, learning her Italian recipes. It has always been both her and my mothers' dream to track down their ancestry and learn more about the foods they grew up with. My father had those answers, my mother doesn't. I should win because this opportunity would give me the chance to live out that dream for my mother and my grandmother; to learn the Italian culture and bring back recipes that provide new insight into the Italian side of my heritage.

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