Saturday, September 19, 2015

Umbar or Sweet Plantain Fritters


Ganesh Chathurti in my house is a far cry from the flower-decked idol displays of my childhood. Across the seven seas religious rites languish, traditions morph, but the food remains the same. This day brings a flood of memories for Prassy and me. Recollections unfold in jumbles. Sitting on the floor, eating off bright green banana leaves. Resounding prayers accompanied by cymbals. The heady aroma of mogra flowers. A progression of special foods made once a year on this day. Much too detailed to describe, Pathare Prabhu distinctive cuisine emerges resplendent on this holy occasion. A vegetarian smorgasbord and a panoply of desserts to please all. Every year, I try oh-so hard to recreate these childhood culinary memories devoutly. 

Naivedya is prepared, a thali with chutney, raita, two veggies, bhajias, a coconut curry, varan bhaat( toor dal and rice that takes on another dimension on this day), masale bhaat( pulao ) and of course the desserts. One sweet is rice noodles swimming in coconut kheer. And the second is ripe yellow plantain fritters or as we call them umbar ( phonetically pronounced oomburr ) in Marathi. You need really ripe, blackened plantains. No bananas. I place plantains in a brown bag along with an apple. The bags sits for 4-6 days as they ripen. The apple enhances the ripening process. Mashed and mixed with a tad bit of sugar, a pinch of salt and rice flour, the batter should be mushy and lumpy. A potato masher does the trick. Now for the hard part...frying

Makes 15-20 bite size pieces

2 ripe yellow Plantains 
3 teaspoons Sugar
A pinch of Kosher Salt
3 tablespoons Rice Flour or more as needed
2 cups Canola Oil ( for frying )

Mash plantains with a potato masher in a bowl.

Add sugar, salt and rice flour. Mix well. You shouldn't have any rice flour lumps.

Heat canola oil in a deep saucepan or wok. It should be hot. Drop a small piece of batter into hot oil. It should bounce back to the surface in seconds. 

Test the batter by frying one rounded teaspoon of batter. Let it brown. It should not come apart as it fries. If it does, then add more rice flour to the batter in one teaspoon increments, till batter fries up firm. Drop rounded spoonfuls of batter carefully into oil. You should have 5-6 fritters in each batch. Do not crowd the pan. 

Fry fritters till golden brown, then flip and fry the other side. Watch them like a hawk as they brown fast. What I mean is do not walk away while frying them. Or else you will get petrified crisp black nuggets. I speak from experience.

Drain on paper towels. 

Eat them warm. If you have fried them prior to serving, reheat them in a low oven at 250F for 10 minutes.


The recipe calls for plantains, not bananas. They should be the ripe yellow ones, with black spots and soft to the touch. You could use bananas if you cannot find plantains, by the taste changes. 

You might need to add more rice flour to the batter as it depends on the ripeness of the plantains. Fry one umbar as test to see that it doesn't separate when frying.

Thalis gleam in the evening light. My guests are veterans of the serving process. They anticipate the orders and help me plate this enormous meal. We start the circle with green chutney and tomato raita. Then comes tendli pulao, varan bhaat, eggplant subji, cabbage subji, cauliflower curry, pumpkin bhajias and rice noodles or shev sitting in coconut kheer. Umbar have their own place in the center of the thali, golden sweet nuggets, crispy and crunchy. Roy, Marylou, Colleen and Keith are well versed in thali mannerisms. By that I mean they eat the meal with a fork and spoon.!!! Then I find Keith flexing his fingers!!! Forks or matter...this vegetarian feast religiously pays tribute to the God of good fortune.