|Category:||Fermented food recipes|
|Time:||soak: 8-12 hours
prep: 10 minutes
ferment: 12-24 hours
cook: 20 minutes
Idli is a round, fluffy bread roughly eight centimetres in diameter. Idli is made from ground rice or rice flour mixed with ground urad dal, salt, methi (fenugreek seeds) and water. The mixture is allowed to ferment prior to being steamed in an idli steamer. They are traditional to Southern India and are most often eaten with sambar.
- 1½ cups rice
- 1 cup white urad dal (black gram, skinless)
- 2 teaspoons non-iodised salt
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi)
- 4 cups water for soaking rice and urad dal
- 2 cups chlorine-free water for fermenting (see note)
- optional: fermentation starter (see note)
Making the Batter
- Soak the rice and urad dal in separate bowls for eight hours. You will need about twice as much water in the bowl as urad dal, as it expands as it soaks up water.
- Drain the rice and urad dal, discard water (good for watering plants).
- Grind the urad dal to a fine paste with about 1 cup of chlorine-free water.
- Grind the rice to a paste with about 1 cup of chlorine-free water, less if you can. Grind coarsely if the batter will only be used for idli, but grind finely if it will later be used for dosa.
- Mix the rice and urad dal pastes together well, with salt and methi.
- Optional: add fermentation starter and mix well (see note).
- Set aside somewhere warm to ferment for 12-24 hours (see note).
Making the Idli
- Grease one or more idli pans well with ghee or vegetable oil.
- Spoon the batter into the round indentations of the idli pans.
- Steam for 10 minutes in a steamer, 20 minutes if using brown rice.
- Remove idli from pans with a sharp knife or thin spatula.
Notes, tips, and variations
Idli is a very temperamental creature: it is not easy to get soft fluffy idlis. These tips may help.
- A traditional stone grinder is recommended for making idlis. The modern high speed mixer with metal blades won't work as well, but a blender will do a reasonable job.
- Idli is made of black lentil and rice. The southern parts of India use boiled rice, while the rest uses raw rice. It depends on your taste. The black lentil should be the full, round variety. Avoid broken dal.
- The ratio of black lentil to rice should not exceed 1:2 by volume. If you have good quality dal, you can stretch this ratio by increasing the quantity of rice.
- Soak dal and rice separately for at least three hours, preferably eight. You can add half a teaspoon of fenugreek (methi) seeds to the dal for a good twist.
- The rice is typically long grain white rice, but brown rice works well also and adds flavour, colour, and more nutrition. Brown rice needs to be soaked at least eight hours.
- Use plenty of water for grinding the dal and make it a very smooth paste. But grind the rice coarse and granular.
- Add salt. Don't be afraid of salt - idli needs a lot of it.
- Mix the dal and rice batters thoroughly. It takes more time and energy than you might think. Uneven mixing causes many failures. Mixing them by hand works best!
- A warm temperature is essential for fermentation. 25 to 28 °C (77 - 82.4 °F) will be ideal. If the weather is cold, keep some warm water in a large bowl and immerse the vessel containing the dough. To help maintain the temperature of the warm water bath, cover it with a blanket, or better, use a regulated heater, like a heating pad or aquarium heater. Even easier, turn on the light in the oven, and use that to keep the batter warm.
- Allow at least 8 hours to ferment. If you don't see tiny bubbles the next morning, the dough will not rise and you have to start all over again.
- If you can't get it to ferment by itself, try adding a fermentation starter like a spoonful of commercially prepared idli batter (commercial idli batters sold under refrigeration may have live culture), or a teaspoonful of kefir. Just bread yeast will not make for good flavour, as bacteria are needed also.
- Use chlorine-free water when grinding, as this will be the water that the batter will have in it when fermenting. Tap water will work, but will inhibit the ferment a little. Most modern water filters remove both chlorine and chloramine.
- In the morning, gently scoop the top layer of the batter and steam it. DO NOT stir or otherwise break the batter. The trapped bubbles should not escape; they are necessary for sponginess.
- Steam the idlis in the idli pan. An open stove is preferable over microwave. The vessel should steam like an old locomotive.
- Steam it for 10 minutes. You know it is done from the characteristic smell. If you are not sure, poke it gently with a spoon and make sure the batter does not stick to the spoon.
- Allow it to cool for a minute. Sprinkle the idlis liberally with sesame oil and eat them with suitable side dishes, such as chutni, sambaar and idli powder.
- Leftover batter that has lost its froth can still be used to make dosa.
Ready-made idli batter
Some Indian groceries in the USA (and elsewhere, presumably) may stock fresh ready-to-cook idli batter. Balaji Idli Mix by Sri Sai Foods of Somerville, NJ is a fresh batter marked with a freshness date that is found in the refrigerated section. Simply spoon the batter into idli pans well brushed with ghee, and steam. This produces a very good idli, light and fluffy with a characteristic tangy flavor. However, some of these products are fermented using citric acid and chemical leavening (i.e., baking powder) and may not be as beneficial. Recent studies indicate that fermented foods are more healthful.
Idli pans are inexpensive and available in the same Indian grocery stores.
- A Sampling of South Indian Breads, pictorial instructions (see bottom of page)
- South Indian (Idli/Dosa) Homepage