My last visit home has left me wonderful memories. I lived with my parents, spent treasured moments with my family, attended school, made a whole bunch of new friends, and indulged, shamelessly, in my mother’s cooking. Oh yeah.
My mother makes the most gorgeous idlis, ever. Soft, spongy and white. I used to devour them for breakfast, and sometimes for brunch. They tasted even more delicious with her scrumptiously tangy coconut chutney. Oh, how I miss my mom and her cooking!
Idli is the staple breakfast of south Indians. These small cakes are made from a batter of rice and black lentils —fermented and steamed in perforated moulds to yield fluffy, soft savory cakes. Fermentation and consistency of batter are the key factors that influence the texture of idlis. The batter should be thick, like that of cake batter, and not runny. Proper fermentation is also crucial to yield soft, spongy cakes. Of course, you need just one more thing. The right cooking equipment — idli moulds. In addition to the standard size moulds, these days you may come across mini idli trays, for cool canapé sized idlis. I remember the first time I made mini idlis for a potluck dinner with friends — it was a huge hit!
Now, for a bit of history I came across while googling. Unlike dosas or vadas, idlis are believed to have reached the shores of south India from Indonesia. Interesting, huh?
Fluffy rice pancake — Idli
1 cup basmati rice
¼ cup parboiled rice
¼ cup split black gram (urad dal)
water, as required (about ¾ cup)
water, as required (about ¾ cup)
salt, to taste
Place rice and lentils in a sieve and rinse well. Add water and set aside to soak for a minimum of 6 hours; drain. Grind to a fine paste in a blender by adding enough water, little by little, to form a thick consistency batter (almost similar to a cake batter). Take care not to add too much water lest the batter gets runny and you end up with flat idlis.
Pour into a large container that can hold up to three times the volume of the batter; season. Leave to ferment for 12 hours or overnight, covered, in a warm place until the batter has expanded to almost double its volume. Fermentation can be quite a challenge during winter. In this case, the key is to leave the batter in a warm place like the oven, if you have one. Preheat the oven for a few minutes until warm; switch off; allow to cool for 5 minutes; leave the batter inside; close the oven.
Once the batter is well fermented, gently stir to even out the aeration. Remember not to stir too much, or you’ll end up killing the air bubbles.
Meanwhile, fill the pressure cooker with water below the level of the idli stand, and bring it to boil on high heat. Wipe the moulds of the idli trays with a piece of muslin dipped in a bit of oil. Spoon in the batter to fill the moulds and place the stand inside the cooker. Close lid without placing the vent weight. Steam on high for 5-6 minutes or until you have fluffy cakes; remove from heat. Again, don’t leave the batter in steam for long as the idlis tend to lose it’s softness.
Take out the idli stands, allow to cool a bit, and then carefully spoon out the cakes. Enjoy with a bowl of sambar and a variety of chutneys. Or just serve with your favorite chutney (I'll be posting recipes of different chutneys soon).