Papadums are those giant round crackery things that you get at the Indian restaurant. It turns out that you can actually make these at home with a minimal amount of effort, so that you can serve crisp warm papadums alongside dinner at home. And while you're at it, why not improve upon the design a little bit? (Round is too square!)
Step 1: Gather tools and supplies.
Take a trip to your local Indian grocery store. (If you've never been to one, you're really missing out.) If you live in rural Iowa and can't find an Indian grocery in the phone book, you can get what you need online.
Find a package of papadums. At our local Indian grocery stores, we have a choice of what seems like a dozen brands to choose from. The two types shown are ones that we regularly get. The one with the scary looking pink bunny has no added spice whatsoever, and we use it whenever the spice-challenged come over for dinner on a day that we're making Indian food. The other one has added spices including Jeera, aka cumin seed. (You can also get papadums in other flavors including garlic, black pepper, and a number of very spicy varieties.) The wood-grain texture on these is quite tasty looking (up close), and those are the ones that we'll be cooking today.
There are a number of ways to cook papadums. The package with the scary pink bunny says "INSTRUCTION: TO BE FRIED OR ROASTED BEFORE CONSUMING." (Thanks, guys, that helps a lot!) There are actually quite a few ways to do this. One way is to deep fry them, which is a heck of a lot of work, and another is to microwave them. A better method is to cook them directly over an open flame. You can use a charcoal or propane grill, a camping stove, a blow torch, or cook them directly on the burner of your gas stove. Remarkably, this last method is both common and practical.
Finally, you'll need a pair of tongs and quick reflexes-- these cook quickly.
Step 2: Open the package & separate the papads
Raw papadums (or papads) are thin flexible sheets that look and feel like the illegitimate love child of a tortilla and a sheet of notebook paper. They are made mostly of Udad Dal, which is a type of bean that is ground up to make (bean) flour, a process not so different from grinding wheat to make (wheat) flour. Papads keep on your shelf about as well as dried pasta, so it's easy to keep a stock around for when you need them.
Papads come packed something like a dozen to a package, which usually costs around $1.50. Depending on which brand you have and how fresh they are, it's possible for them to stick together slightly, a little bit like tortillas sometimes do. Figure out how many you'll be cooking, and put the rest away. We usually go through a whole pack every time that we make some.
(Can you make your own papads from scratch, rather than buying these pre-made blanks? Well, yes you can. However, it's probably not worth the effort. These are very inexepensive, quick to prepare, and quite good. Even our Indian food cookbooks say that you should do it this way.)
Step 3: Get your stove on.
A high flame works best, but you'll need to be super-vigilant, since ten seconds can make the difference between perfection and a room full of smoke from your burnt papadum.
If you're timid, you might want to start with a medium-low flame to begin with. Don't worry too much about cleaning the grates; that high flame will sterilize them pretty quickly.
Step 4: Put Papadum in Peril.
Take your first victim and place it, centered, on the grill. Keep a close eye on it, and watch for changes. Depending on how high your flame is, it can be anywhere from five to thirty seconds before you'll see anything.
Step 5: First bubbles
As the papadum cooks, it starts to blister like crazy, throughout the part that's over the flame. In the photo here, you can see a few large bubbles that have just popped up.
Step 6: Wait until it's cooked on one side...
Here you can see that the papadum is covered in bubbles except for the parts right above the grill grates. There is a distinct color change in the parts that have already bubbled. In practice, you'll want to move it a little bit with your tongs to avoid this sort of shadowing. The first side is done when the top surface is just barely covered with bubbles.
Step 7: Flip it good.
With your tongs, flip the papadum over to brown it slightly on the back side. I like them to have just a few black spots on each side.
Take the papadum off the stove and put it on a plate for serving or to cool.
Once you've had a little practice and are comfortable turning up the flame, the total cooking time can be under 30 seconds per piece. I budget about five minutes to cook a dozen papadums.
Step 8: Serve and eat
Even when you take the papadums off the stove, they are still quite flexible. It isn't until they've had time to cool down just a little bit (about one minute) that they transition from chewy to the crisp brittle consistency that you expect.
Simply stacking the papadums works well to get them out of the way and let them cool. They're especially nice when they're fresh and still warm, so serve them that way if at all possible.
Step 9: Making it more interesting
Since the raw papads are a lot like paper, you can cut them quite easily with scissors. Let's get crafty!
Step 10: Cooking a reshaped papadum
Cutting and reshaping papadums doesn't substantially affect the cooking procedure; just throw the new shape on the burner.
Step 11: Serving suggestion
Papadums lend themselves to dipping in a number of interesting Indian sauces. We suggest dipping them in (L-R) corriander-mint chutney, tomato relish, mint raita, and tamarind chutney.
Have fun cooking and eating these things, and see some of our other projects at http://www.evilmadscientist.com/