Unnakaaye is a Ramadan specialty made on the fasting days as one of the quick bites to break the fast with. The ladies sat around in the evening assembling it to distract the mind from the last leg of the fasting hours. Well... it's really a quick one to get gobbled up and so is needed in large quantities for a joint family. But now just like any other palaharams/ delicacies, it has become commonplace and is available year round at restaurants and even bakeries.
Unnakaaye with coconut filling......
So what is it? Unnakaaye, despite its exotic name, is just mashed plantains stuffed with a egg filling or a coconut filling, shaped into pods and then deep fried.
The name "unnakaaye" comes from its appearance.. that of a unna meaning "cotton" and kaaye meaning "buds or pods" i.e. the fruit of a cotton tree.
Has anyone seen the pods hanging from a Cotton Tree.? They are tapered at the edges and bulging in the middle and have a smooth skin while green. As they slowly dry up, the outer smooth skin withers to a dry brown and finally splits open, dispersing the cotton inside with a million seeds. You must have caught some stray ones flying and played with them if you had a tree in your neighborhood, making a wish as they fly away. My aunt's house had a cotton tree. And she used to harvest the pods early and dry it and remove the cotton inside. That is used to make stuffing.....for pillows,cushions, beds etc.
Unnakaaye has to be made with plantains which are not fully ripe. For a long time, I couldn't figure out how ripe it should be while buying, so I would buy them when they were hard and yellow, forget about making these pods and then after 3-4 days, when they ripen fully, end up making fritters out of them! Now I think I got it right.. they should be a little soft when pressed, a good bright yellow outside with slight brown dots and then they are good for this recipe.
You Will Need:
Oil for frying.
Filling Ingredients Specified Below.
Steam the bananas using a steamer for 5-10 minutes. It is cooked when the peel separates slightly at the edges.Don't boil it in water. Sometimes for a small quantity, I use the microwave to cook it as per the microwave's instructions. Just wash it, cut it two pieces (with the peel) and then lay it on a plate and microwave it for 2-3 minutes.
After it cools down for 3 minutes, peel it and cut it along the center. Carefully cut out the central spine and seeds. Using a potato masher or the base of a glass, mash it into a smooth dough without adding any water. It should be free of lumps and evenly cooked. Keep covered till the filling is ready.
After the filling has cooled, oil your hands and divide the dough into equal sized balls. Some make it big, some make it bite sized.. so whatever size you are comfortable with. I could make 4 pods with one plantain's dough. So the filling and dough quantities are approximate. Take care not to over fill the plantain or it will collapse while frying.
Knead one of the portions and flatten it on your cupped palm as a small round. Put about 1-2 tsp of filling( depends on your size of dough)in the middle and close the edges to cover it. Take care not to have any holes or tears. Only if the dough is smooth, will you be able to cover it completely. Roll the pods with your hands applying slight pressure, till it becomes smooth and pod shaped.
Heat oil and deep fry it till it turns a nice golden brown. Drain onto paper towels and serve hot. You could shallow fry it in enough oil to cover it halfway, but it needs more care and patience as it has to be turned to ensure even browning.
Unnakaaye with egg filling...
Egg Filling:(for 4 pods) Beat 1 egg with 1 tablespoon milk and 1 1/2 tablespoon sugar till the sugar is melted in. Heat ghee in a pan, scramble the eggs quickly and then add 1 teaspoon of finely chopped cashews/almonds, raisins and a good pinch of cardamom powder. Mix and keep aside. The cardamom masks the eggi-ness of the eggs so its important to add the spice.
Coconut Filling: (for 4 pods) Heat a cast-iron pan and add 1/2 cup of grated fresh coconut and 1-2 tablespoon of sugar. Stir well on medium heat till the sugar melts and sweetens the coconut. Add the nuts, raisins(optional) and cardamom powder and remove from the heat. You may have leftover filling if your pods are too small.