Halapa / Sweet Coconut Steamed Appams

I first encountered a version of this recipe titled “Ooda Appam” in a Jaffna-based cookbook, but had trouble finding other recipes under that name. With the help of one of my cousins and Sri Lankan friends, I realized this was essentially halapa, which made my search for recipes much easier.

To make halapa, you need pani pol, a mix of sweetener (usually jaggery and/or kithul treacle) and coconut. Sometimes, pani pol serves as a filling to the rice flour steamed bun, but in this version, the pani pol is mixed directly in with the toasted rice flour.

In Sri Lanka, the flattened balls would traditionally be steamed in kenda leaves, but those are hard to find in America; you can use banana leaves or parchment paper. These are best right out of the steamer — be careful not to burn your fingers or tongue when devouring them! Delicious with a cup of tea; also commonly served for breakfast with fresh fruit.

1 c. red rice flour
1 c. grated fresh coconut
3/4 c. jaggery or dark brown sugar
1/2 t. salt
hot water
1 banana leaf (or a few sheets of parchment paper)

1 t. vegetable oil

1. In a dry pan, toast rice flour, stirring, until aromatic.

2. In a large bowl, combine rice flour, coconut, jaggery, and salt to a smooth paste; add a little hot water as needed to bring together.

3. Briefly run hot water on the banana leaf to soften it, and cut it into pieces (roughly 2×2 inches); alternately, use squares of parchment paper.

4. Use a paper towel dipped in the vegetable oil to grease each piece of banana leaf (parchment paper).

5. Make small balls from the paste, then place each ball on the center of a leaf. Flatten into a circular shape and fold the leaf over.

6. Steam over simmering water in a covered steamer until cooked, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.

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