You don’t have to have all the proper, culturally specific equipment to make authentic Asian dumplings. For example, I use a Mexican tortilla press as a shortcut to preparing many dumpling wrappers. One late night while watching TV, an infomercial for a cast iron pancake puff pan (round baseball-like pancakes similar to Danish abelskiver/ebelskiver) caught my eye. “That pan is perfect for Indian kuzhi paniyaram, Japanese takoyaki, and Vietnamese banh khot,” I said to myself. The pan’s semi-spherical wells were bout 2 inches wide at the top, so not too big and not too small, versatile enough for many kinds of Asian dumplings. I bought one from Bed Bath and Beyond (one of the “As Seen on TV” pancake puff pans) but later noticed that they’re available online and at shops such as Williams Sonoma, Sur La Table, etc.
My friend Shiyam Sundar, a chef from South India, introduced me to these kuzhi paniyaram -- light, crisp dumplings made from a rice and lentil batter studded with spices and aromatics. Shiyam was sous chef at Amber India in San Jose, CA, but was unable to renew his visa and thus forced to return to India last month. I was feeling sad as he very much wanted to remain in America and cook Indian food with fresh California ingredients. Thinking of him, I took out the pancake puff pan and made kuzhi paniyaram.