Friday, December 16, 2011

Blinis with Mozzarella and Red Bell Pepper pesto

Blinis are Russian pancakes made with buckwheat flour and leavened with yeast. Sometimes sour cream is added to the batter, instead of as a topping. However, these blinis are made with rice and lentils which are soaked for 6 to 8 hours, ground and then fermented for another 8 hours. They are called Uttapams in India and like blinis are a popular South Indian breakfast. I have made them sized like pancakes, since they are easier to flip and they cook quickly. Red onions and mozzarella cheese make a nice savory topping and a red pepper pesto is a great accompaniment.

Rice and Lentil Blinis with Red pepper pesto
2 cups long grain Carolina rice (any long grain rice will do)
1/2 cup white lentils (skinless split urad dal available in an Indian grocery store or on-line***)
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (grated cheddar is also great)
Canola oil

1. Wash the rice and soak covered with 2 inches of water for 6 to 8 hours. Wash the lentils till the water runs clear and soak covered with 2 inches of water for 6 to 8 hours as well. (Do not mix the rice and lentils, since they require different amounts of time to be ground to a fine paste).

2. Drain the water and grind the rice and lentils separately till they are a fine paste. A heavy duty blender is required to do this. [I use a 14 speed Oster blender.] If required, add a little water during grinding to keep the machine moving. Once the rice and lentils are ground to a fine paste, mix them together, add the salt and beat well with a spatula to incorporate air into the batter. This will help the batter ferment and produce a nice fluffy blini. Keep the batter covered in a warm place. The oven works well - I place it in the oven with the oven turned off, but with the light on inside to provide some warmth to help the fermentation process. After 8 hours check to see if the batter has risen and looks fluffy. If it has, then you are ready to make the blinis.

3. Heat a non-stick griddle over medium high heat. In the meantime, whisk the fermented batter well to incorporate air and for the batter to have the right consistency. The consistency should be thicker than pancake batter - it will be spreadable but not pourable. When the griddle is hot, add a scant 1/4 cup batter and sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of the chopped red onions and cook over medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes till the bubbles appear like in the picture above (very similar to a pancake). Add a few drops of canola oil through the hole and around the blini to crisp the bottom. Flip and cook on the other side for another 2 minutes. Add another few drops of canola oil around the blini to crisp the second side. Flip once again and sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the blini. Cover the griddle to melt the mozzarella.
4. Serve with the red pepper pesto.
Makes about  15, 4 inch blinis

Red Pepper pesto

1 large red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (about 1 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
¼ teaspoon asafetida (optional – if you can get it, it adds an extra dimension)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 ½ teaspoon chana dal
1 teaspoon black gram dal
4 teaspoon canola oil
1 dry red chili or 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
1/3 cup chopped tomato (seeds and pulp removed)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Heat a small saute pan with canola oil. Add the cumin seeds, chana dal, black gram dal and dry red chili and saute for about a minute till the chana dal is golden brown. Then add the onion and saute for a minute till it softens. Add the bell pepper and cook for 3 to 4 minutes till the edges of the bell pepper are slightly brown. Add the chopped tomato and the salt and cook for 2 more minutes. Let the mixture cool. 
  2. Grind the cooled mixture in a food processor to make a coarse paste.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.

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