Every two weeks my son makes it a point to remind me that I haven’t made idlis in a long time. A long time, being just ten to 15 days. I am not sure why people like idli so much. I myself am not too fond of it. I always loved dosas. These days however, I prefer idlis as they are steamed and do not call for a teaspoon of oil, and I have become conscious that the teaspoons per dosa add up to quite a bit, especially when there is chutney to go with them. My son on the other hand is a thin boy and can afford to eat dosas to his heart’s content without them making handles around his waist, but ironically he seems to prefer idlis. He loves to dunk the soft, fluffy pieces of idli in coconut chutney, let it take all the goodness of the coconut juice. It is quite a sight to see him enjoying a mouthful as he lets his tastebuds take over.
When I wrote the traditional Tamilian idli post for Dawn, the comment section became a ground of discussion as people wised others about types of idlis and some even tried pulling in a bit of politics into the food court. Thankfully idlis ruled and the divisions were stymied as ardent foodies brought the topic back to idli. It however firmly established what I had always believed – that the way to people’s heart is only food! How else does one explain the indignant man who mentioned that my ratio of 3:1 [rice:dal] was totally wrong and that his wife, a wonderful cook made the best idlis by following the ratio of 2:1.
I was intrigued. After-all my ratio had been established by generations of mums and grand mums who lovingly ground ‘ollocks’ [old Indian system of measuring] of rice and dal in their ‘aattukallus’ [manual grinding stones used in India].
Pat (grandma)i would have been flabbergasted at the impudence of the man who suggested a different ratio. But well, times have moved. Though initially distraught I got back her cool and tried the new ratio with the ardent faith of a skeptic.
Since idlis are made ever so often in the TT household the chance came by soon. I first measured 2.5 cups of puzhangal arisi [par boiled rice], rinsed it and soaked. I know, I know it was supposed to be 2 but I could not resist adding the extra half. The skeptic reigned and that is not my fault. When I reached for the ullund [split black gram lentil], I was disappointed to find that I had only 1/2 a cup. Too lazy to go to shop late in the night, I decided to substitute the other 1/2 cup with payatham paruppu [split mung bean lentil].
Next morning the grinding ritual began and as I scraped down the remnants of the batter from the stone I wondered whether the batter would rise as much as the regular one. A teeny weeny bit of my heart wished it wouldn’t. Then I could blame the commentator. To my surprise, I saw that indeed the batter rose. I placed the undisturbed batter in the refrigerator.
This morning I woke up, thawed the batter for an hour and poured ladlefuls into idli moulds, steamed them on high for five minutes and on low for ten minutes, like I usually do. While the steamer cooled I made the cooconut chutney and tomato chutney to go with the idlis. I would have settled for molagapodi some other time but this time I made chutneys just to hide any faults the new ratio might create. The steamer cooled, the plates were laid out. They looked as good as they usually did as they cooled their heels. I took out the small shiny idli removing spoon my daughter had gifted me last year, pushed the spoon round the edges and out plopped the idlis, looking like how they one usually describes them – soft, fluffy, pillowy clouds of white. The mung beans made no difference what-so-ever to the taste, sight or texture. These were indeed as good as pati’s idlis!
The commentator was right in that his wife was a wonderful cook, but happily for me, my ratio is still as good. Besides I decided that the ratio must have been given to his wife by her pati. It is not about the recipe being right or wrong. It is just a matter of preference. Idlis with 2:1 ratio taste as good as idlis with 3:1 ratio. I am assuming that the half cup extra did not make much difference. What is your ratio?
Recipe: Idli made with mung dal and in the ratio of 2:1
Yield: 30-35 idlis
Par-boiled rice (Ukda chaawal) – 2.5 cups
Dehusked, black gram lentil (Urad dal) – 1/2 cup
Dehusked, green gram lentils or mung bean (Moong dal) – 1/2 cup
Fenugreek seeds (Methi dana) – 1 tsp.
Pick, clean and rinse the rice in several changes of water till water runs clear. Soak the rice in water measuring two times the rice measured.
Pick, clean the lentils and fenugreek seeds. Rinse as before and soak the three together in water measuring twice the quantity of lentils measured.
Let the rice and lentils cover and soak for at least six to eight hours till they plump up well.
After the time has lapsed, drain the liquid and grind the lentils in fresh water. Use water just enough to get a fluffy, light batter. Do not add too much water. When the batter becomes as light as whipped cream, remove from the grinder and pour into a large vessel. The batter will rise to twice its quantity as it ferments so choose a vessel large enough to accommodate the fermented batters of rice and dal together. This process may take about 20 minutes.
Drain the liquid from the rice and grind to a soft, slightly grainy consistency. This will take time, about 30 minutes. The water needed to grind rice will be lesser than that needed for lentils. Do not make a runny batter. Pour the rice batter in the same large vessel. Add salt to taste, a teaspoon of til oil.
Beat the batters well to form a homogeneous mix. Cover the vessel and let the batter ferment for about seven to nine hours. This is the time taken in Summers but in Winter it may take the entire day for fermentation.
After the fermentation you can make the idlis immediately or refrigerate for later use.
Grease idli moulds or small steel cups and pour ladlefuls of batter into them. If using cups do not fill to the brim. Leave a little space for rise. Do not mix the batter once fermentation has taken place as this will displace the wild yeast.
Using a steamer or a cooker, steam the cups/moulds for five minutes on high heat and later ten minutes on low.
Let it cool naturally. Open and remove the cups. Let the steamed rice cakes cool for about five to ten minutes before demoulding with a sharp spoon.
You can use any steel cups of any shape to make idlis. Idlis can also be made in a microwave in silicone moulds of your choice.
Recipe: Tomato chutney or Thakkali thogayal
Yield: 1 bowl
Onion – 1/2 cup, diced big
Tomatoes – 1 cup, diced big
Pigeon peas (Tuvar dal) – 1 tbsp.
Bengal gram lentils (Chana dal) – 1 tbsp.
Dried red chillies – 2
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Salt to taste
Oil – 1 tsp.
Warm a pan and heat oil. Add the two lentils and roast till pink. Set aside.
Now roast the dried red chillies till dark and set aside.
Roast curry leaves till crisp but green. Set aside.
Roast the onions till light brown. Remove.
Roast tomatoes with a touch of salt for about ten minutes till wilted.
Grind the above with salt to taste to a grainy consistency or smooth if you like.
Taste, adjust salt, garnish with curry leaves and serve with idli or dosa.