Coconut-black pepper-rice flour pancakes

Coconut and black pepper roti

Coconut and black pepper roti

My favorite word at the moment is “perplex.” I like the sound of it–I think it has just a few more consonants than it needs, in just the right order, to make it perplexing to pronounce. And I like the idea of it, it’s not as dire as confusion or as final as bafflement. I find it pleasant to be perplexed, to puzzle over something that I don’t quite understand. It makes me feel awake and alive, although of course sleep and dreams are perplexing as well. Unpleasant things are confusing, like calculus tests and taxes, but perplexing things can be pleasant or even beautiful, like love or a poem with many layers of meaning. Something perplexing doesn’t need to be solved or fixed, but can linger raising questions, indefinitely. I love this quote from the Hagakure, “There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. By doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to all things.” I love the idea that rain is perplexing, because of course it is. Water falling from the sky! The very smell is unsettling and stirring, because it signals a change. It reminds me of an interview with Tom Waits in which he said he named his album Rain Dogs because he liked to think about how perplexed dogs must be after a rainstorm, when everything smelled different to them. He imagined them saying, “Hey, who moved all the furniture.” I love the perplexing phrase, “I don’t want no woman got hair like drops a-rain.” What does it mean? I like the etymology of the word “perplex,” it means entangled, intricate, or braided. I believe that everything is interwoven, and this is both what makes the world so perplexing, and what makes it worth puzzling over. I believe this to be a beautiful summation of the complicated fact that words will never be adequate to describe our perplexities, but they’re all we have. “I am perplext, and know not what to say.” “What canst thou say, but will perplex thee more?” Indeed. And with that, I’ll wish everybody a pleasantly perplexing day, and get on with my work!

IMG_3666I found these cakes perplexing to name. They’re loosely based on Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe for rice flour dosas, but they’re almost like crepes or just pancakes. They’re sweetish, but I thought of them as part of a savory meal, and we ate them with a curry of pigeon peas and raisins in cashew sauce, which I might tell you about some day. They’re quite easy to make, light and tender, and the boys liked them, too. I actually used plain old sweetened flaked coconut, but they’d probably be better with unsweetened.

Here’s Skip James with Look Down the Road.

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Pigeon peas, saffron and artichoke hearts. W/ jerk-spiced roti

pigeon peas and roti

When I was in college, I used to meet my brother (and best friend) every Thursday night at the Jamaican Delight restaurant. We’d both spent some time away…he’d been in Italy and Minnesota, I’d been at Oxford. We’d both had some rough times, and now we were back in the city across from our home town. It had always seemed like a last resort, but now…it seemed magical! It smelled sweet (turns out there’s a candy factory there!), the people were wonderful, we both had remarkable mentorish teachers, the possibilities were dizzying. So we’d meet every Thursday night, and talk about everything that was important to us, then, in our early twenties…when everything is important. We’d go across the street to Spirit Mart, buy one beer each, and order the same thing every time…vegetarian delight, vegetable roti, plantains (if they had them) and grape nut ice cream.

The other day I bought some plantains, because I remembered loving them, and I thought my boys might like them, too. Then, of course, I had to try to make some roti. And somehow pigeon peas fit into this picture. So I asked my husband what would be nice with pigeon peas. He consulted his inner culinary genius and said, how about saffron and artichoke hearts. Wellawella! What a good idea that turned out to be! So I made a spicy, brothy mix of pigeon peas and art hearts. Some basmati rice. Some fried plantains. And I made some roti, but not the kind you can wrap around vegetables, like we used to have at the old Jamaican Delight. Since I had the oil all heated up for the plantains, I decided to drop the roti in there. Oh, yum! And I had flavored the dough very subtly with jerk seasonings, viz: thyme, allspice and cayenne. Okay, that’s my version of jerk seasonings. Nice though! It was a really fun meal to eat, with lots of little parts that added up to taste well together.

Here’s The Jerk, by the Clarendonians.
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Introducing…the Ooto!


Well, I said I was going to invent my own version of a flat bread/pancake along the lines of injera, tortillas, pita, roti, dosas, moo shu etc, etc. And I HAVE DONE IT!! *THUNDERCLAP* I feel like John Cleese in the brontosaurus sketch. This flat bread, which is mine, belongs to me and I made it.

But let’s start at the beginning… I’ve always loved foods you could eat with your hands. Indian, Ethiopian, middle eastern – any cuisine that involves lots of little delicious dishes you mix and match, and eat with a bit of bread that you tear off, or a big piece of bread that you wrap around. It’s the best, most enjoyable way to eat. I’ve made (or tried to make) injera, pita, roti, crepes, etc, with varying levels of success, but it’s never quite as good as you can get at the restaurant. And yet, I’d like to eat this way more often. And so I decided to try to invent a new type of bread of my very own. Here was my criteria… I wanted it to be crispy on the outside, but softer and chewier on the inside. I wanted it to be smoothish on one side, but have crumpet-like holes on the other. I wanted it to hold together well enough to be a useful utensil, but not be too dense. I wanted it to taste good all on its own, but not be too distracting from other tastes on the plate. I wanted it to be fairly easy to make, and not fall apart frustratingly when you tried to cook it. I wanted it to have little toasty patterns on it.

And here is what I came up with. I’m calling it the ooto (it’s an acroynm!) because I like the sound of the word. But I suppose I might reconsider that in days to come. It’s made with semolina flour and regular flour, which gives it a nice taste & texture. It’s got black pepper in it, but no other distracting herbs or spices. Black pepper goes with everything! The first pancake fell apart, but after that it was a breeze to make. Although it did smoke up my kitchen a little, since I used olive oil, which is tasty but does get smoky. And that’s pretty much the news about that. My family liked it. And it tasted good today toasted and crispy – nice with scrambled eggs.

Here’s The Ethiopians with ONE. Why? Because I love it, that’s why! And this post, which is mine, belongs to me!!
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