Bollyviewer once commented that all my recipes revolve around eggs and milk. That made me giggle because that’s exactly right. With those two magical ingredients in my fridge, I can whip up anything from a drink to a dessert to main course to pakoras (up next!). The day I have less than four eggs and at least a quart of whole fat milk in my fridge is a dark day at Chez Amrita. Starvation is practically leering in my face as I stumble out the door and run for the grocery store. Okay, amble. A diet of eggs and milk isn’t really conducive to running.
Anyway, I thought I’d offer something that didn’t revolve around eggs and milk for once – just to prove that I know other ways to get a heart attack before I turn forty. It’s a family recipe and as far as I know nobody else makes this thing. I’ve certainly never seen it on a restaurant menu nor have I ever been offered any at anybody’s home. According to family lore, my Auntie S invented the amazing dish we know simply as “Fried Round Things”.
She was puttering around the kitchen one day with a couple of my other aunts and they were debating what to do with the remains of two bunches of bananas and plantains sent over from the family estate. We were a large household and most of it had vanished but there were still a few left and they were on the verge of going bad. So thrifty Auntie S threw together a few ingredients and voila! An enduring family favorite was born.
The South Americans make something similar with green plantains but their version is savory and usually involves meat, delicious in an entirely different way. Fried Round Things only uses ingredients approved by my grandmother’s kitchen and is thus thoroughly vegetarian and pretty sweet. It is also very rich and if you pig out on it, you should know that consumed in large quantities, Fried Round Things can act as a laxative. You have been warned.
Note: This recipe uses two items that the general public (that’s you!) might not be familiar with – plantains and freshly shredded/dessicated coconut.
1. Plantains. For this recipe you need ripe plantain. Green plantains will not work. Local supermarkets in most places tend to carry these nowadays but if yours doesn’t, then check out the grocery stores that cater to people of Caribbean descent. Or South Indians if you live in India.
If you don’t know your plantain from your banana, then ask someone at the store to help you choose one that’s ripe / closest to ripening. If it’s ripe, then use it by the next day latest; if it needs some more time, stick it in a paper bag if you have one and leave it out for a day or two but not more than that. I like my plantains really ripe (it turns black) but don’t go that route unless you’re familiar with them and can tell ripe from rotten. Fried Round Things are delicious but nothing is worth food poisoning.
2. Dessicated Coconut. This is optional – in the sense that I’ve made Fried Round Things without it and I didn’t miss it all that much. But it’s undeniable that it really does add a certain something to the taste so if you can get your hands on it, that’d be good. Again, this is available at most supermarkets and if not, check your local Thai / Caribbean / South Indian grocery store. I used to get my supply from China Town when I lived around the corner from it, so it’s really everywhere.
At home, my mother and aunts use freshly shredded coconut. Which is nice and possible when you have a coconut tree in your garden and a maid willing and able to crack open a coconut with a wicked machete and then grate the whole thing out. I, on the other hand, once tore open a Bounty bar, nibbled off the chocolate layer and then crumbled in the coconut insides to my batch of Fried Round Things. I do not recommend my method. Better by far to find a maid adept in the art of machete-wielding and a house with a coconut tree growing outside it.
All this is to tell you that when you buy your dessicated coconut, taste it first to see if it’s been sweetened. It took me a while to find unsweetened dessicated coconut, which is what I’m using in this recipe, so if yours is sweetened, you’ll have to adjust the amount of sugar used.
Okay, so –
Fried Round Things
Plantain (ripe) – 1
Banana (any banana, smaller in size to the plantain, ripe) – 1
Plain Flour – 3 to 4 tbsps, level.
Granulated sugar – 1 to 2 tbsps, heaped.
Dessicated coconut (unsweetened) – 3 tbsps (use a big handful if its freshly grated unsweetened coconut)
Ghee – 1 tbsp
Salt – a generous pinch, one level tsp at most.
Vegetable Oil – for deep frying
Bananas, especially when combined with sugar, will stick. Save yourself from a nervous breakdown and use a non-stick wok and wooden slotted spoon. A mixing bowl and a tablespoon. Maybe a masher.
Peel and cube the plantains and bananas. Tumble them into a mixing bowl. Use your hands if you’re all down-home like my mom or a potato masher if you’re all fancy like me, and roughly mash the two together. You don’t want to thoroughly mash them to an uniform consistency – it’s good to have little chunks left intact.
Add coconut and salt and fold them in. Add the sugar; adjust upwards or downwards depending on the sweetness of the plantain, banana and coconut as well as your own tastes but make sure you add in at least half a tbsp of sugar as this will help caramelize the final product.
Add the flour. This basically acts as a binding agent so your goal is to only add enough flour to make sure it all sticks together like really thick, goopy batter. When you’ve added three tbsps, it ought to look kind of pasty and all sorts of wrong. This is when you add the ghee. The batter will immediately loosen up and resemble really thick cake batter.
If it’s at all runny, then add a little more flour. The ideal batter should be thick and goopy.
Heat oil and drop in tablespoons of the batter. I’m afraid this is the kind of thing that requires surveillance because it’s really easy to have it caramelized black on the outside while still raw on the inside. The trick is to drop in the batter in amounts no greater than a tablespoon and keep the heat steady at medium low. Try not to touch it too much while frying. Just turn it over once.
When it turns a fine golden brown, it’s ready to come out. Don’t be dismayed if it’s darker than that. We cousins personally think it’s better when it’s a little charred but my mother disagrees. Make sure you give the Fried Round Things a gentle squeeze as you fish them out because bananas and plantains drink oil like sailors drink liquor on shore leave. If you want to be extra conscientious you can cool them on a wire rack and blot them with paper napkins but look – you’re eating a thing called Fried Round Things. Let’s not kid ourselves here.
Makes 12. Serves 4. Enjoy!
(And if you plan on being greedy, make sure you’re stocked up on toilet paper.)