South Indian Idlis
By DK on Jan 26, 2009
I grew up to the smell of idlis, fresh out of the pressure cooker/steamer, when I woke up in the morning. These Steamed Rice cakes are classic and traditional for breakfast in many South Indian households. Starting out the day munching these soft, fluffy and pillowy cakes dipped in spiced chutney powder and onion chutney (or tomato chutney or coconut chutney or sambar or ALL OF THE THEM(yummo)) was a norm - a regular day to day affair. If you noticed and raised your eyebrows at the word "was", then I have recount the story of how it became "was" to how it has become an "is" currently. After marriage, with full gusto, I tried to make these goodies for breakfast. But it was a total disaster. I was stunned. I had made idlis so many times with my mom (and how can I even forget the cleaning of that huge wet grinder that fell on my list of chores to do!), the recipe is ridiculously simple - so how can it be even messed up!? I wondered if I had a sheer talent of being probably the only one South Indian in the entire universe to have messed up something like Idlis.
A quick internet search and a frantic call home ("Moooom! I am losing it! I made a boo boo with idlis!! Don't disown me plsssssss") revealed astounding details that I never thought twice (or took granted) back home). One word - "Fermentation". The humid and hot Indian climate has always been an strong ally for fermentation and if you were like me, you never thought to associate something like weather and fermentation together before (yeah I am dumb - go on say it!). It was always a methodical process in my mind - Grind Rice + Grind lentils + Mix batter + Add salt + Stir with hands + Close lid and set aside overnight + clean grinder(!!) = "Overflowing, lightly sour smelling batter" ready in the morning. Simple. Right?
In Seattle ( U.S of A) winter or even during summer in fact, my Idli's fell flat thanks to the "winter" fermentation - i.e the lack of it. One year full of various "tips" and "tricks", failures, gooey chewy nonsense in the name of idlis later, things came together and I made what we South Indians take for granted - "THE" idli. Phew! Here are few pointers to save yourself from alien idlis. If one tip does not work, try another. Try them all - separately or together. But don't give up! You will know why when you make "THE" idli :)
- Tips and Tricks for making that quintessential Idli (Thanks to Mom, Experience, Jugalbandits, Cooking With Siri, Hemant Trivedi)
- Clean the Rice in cold, filtered water (chlorine free)
- Do not wash Lentils (Whole Urad dal, skinned (Urad Gota))
- The best ally of Idli batter is the wet grinder. It helps in incorporating more air into the lentil batter. The more you grind, better the result.
- Use as little water as possible to grind the batter to a smooth consistency.
- Use the soaking water (where you soaked the rice and lentils) to grind the batter. Do not throw away the soaking water when you drain rice/lentils.
- For Fermentation (ideal temperature 80-90F)
- Addition of Fenugreek seeds aids in the fermentation process
- If you have Oven: Preheat the over at 200 F for 10- 15 minutes. Turn off and place the loosely covered vessel (with idli batter) in the rack. After 5-6 hours, remove the vessel, pre-heat again for 10 minutes and put back for fermentation. Sometimes placing the container, wrapped in shawl, in the oven with the oven lights switched on during the night also helps.
- In case of Room heater: Before going to sleep, place the container wrapped in a old shawl/ thick blanket, in the room. By morning, you should see the batter has fermented.
- This works for me every single time - I soak some rice flakes in yogurt (with live cultures) and then grind it along with the lentil. The cultures in the yogurt helps in fermentation. I used to do this until I came across this list by Hemant trivedi who recommends NOT doing so
- If none of the above works, you can use Yeast mixed with water and sugar, proof it and add it to the batter. It tends to give yeasty taste to the batter instead of the sour, tangy taste.
- Or use fruit salt just before steaming the idlis.
mom and my kitchen notes
Prep Time: 8 hours to 1 day
Cook Time: Under 15 min
Serves: 8+ people
Yield: Makes around 32-40 idlis depending on the Idli mold
- 3 cups par boiled rice/Idli Rice/puzhungal arisi (see Tips)
- 1 cup Urad dal (whole skinned black lentils)**
- salt to taste
- about a fistful of cooked rice (see Tips)
Soak the lentil and par boiled rice separately for at least 6-8 hrs. I have used Wet grinder to make my batter but you can do the same with your food processor. First add the rice in your grinder and grind it well. The batter will not be smooth but little coarse-grained.
Remove and set aside in a large bowl. In the same grinder ( you don't have to wash/clean) add the lentil along with cooked rice.
Grind it once again. This takes longer and the more you grind, better the idlis. You need to keep adding little water now and then. You will notice that the batter doubles up in volume when ground. When the batter is smooth ( feels like satin), remove and pour it along with rice batter.
Add salt, mix well and set aside
The next day, after fermenting, stir the batter well. I have a non stick Idli plate
You can use small bowls if you don't have these plates to make them too.Pour out the batter in each of the plates.
Place it in a pressure cooker (no weights reqd.) with little water underneath ( take care since lots of water will make the idlis in the last plate soggy and too little water will burn the bottom of the cooker!) or if you dont own a pressure cooker,use a steamer. Cook for 10 in high flame and then lower it to min for last 5.
They are done when a little stick/spoon pricked in the middle comes out clean.
Cool them for 1-2 minutes and then serve warm with suggested accompaniments. have you tried them with some Ghee and sugar? I know its kiddie combo but I still love it :)
- Southwest Quinoa Salad
- Hushpuppy (Cornbread Fritters)
- Methi Dal (Fenugreek Leaves Dal)
- Coriander (Cilantro) Peanut Chutney
- Chow Chow (Chayote Squash) Curry
- Methi Roti (Fenugreek Flatbread)
- Hummus bi Tahini (Chickpea Hummus with Tahini)
- Vegetable Fried Rice (Indo Chinese)
- Cinnamon Chocolate Brownies
- Roasted Chickpeas with Indian spices
Have a favorite recipe?
- Know a family recipe your mom used to make? Or maybe a go to recipe that works everytime? Share it with your fellow foodies!