Sunday, November 17, 2013

Soft Idlis

A lot of people who grow up in southern India take idlis for granted.  I probably did too, but I loved them – especially idlis that have been coated with molagai podi.  My mom used to pack these for lunch and my friends and I would devour them way before lunch time.

It was only when I moved to the U.S., that I appreciated the soft idlis that I used to eat back home.  With only an Oster blender in my kitchen, it was really difficult to get the perfect idli batter.  Also Colorado winters are really cold and getting the batter to ferment was a big deal.  I used to try warming up the oven before putting the batter in, leaving the oven light on, and even wrapping the container with the batter in a shawl to keep it warm.  Who knew that getting the perfect idli batter would be so difficult?


Once we moved into a house, one of my first purchases was a wet grinder.  I still did not have too much space, so bought the smallest Ultra available online, and have been using it ever since.  Apart from making soft idlis, I have also been able to make almost perfect medhu vadas since I bought the grinder.

There are as many idli batter recipes as there are South Indian households.  I know people who use a 3:1 ratio, 2:1 ratio, 5:1 ratio and various other options in between for their rice to urad dal proportion.  I have a friend who will steam the raw rice (without water) to make it into pseudo-parboiled rice before soaking it for the batter.  I know people who add beaten rice or even cooked rice to the batter to make soft idlis.  

Some things to remember - the dal needs to be really smooth and fluffy after grinding.  Also, the amount of water - or the consistency of the batter is important, if it is too watery, the idlis might be flat and if it is too thick, you may end up with hard idlis.  Mix the batter well after fermenting, before making the idlis.

Here is my recipe.

Here is what you need:

 (makes about 40 idlis)
  • 2 cups raw rice (I use Sona Masoori - but any regular rice should do)
  • 2 cups idli rice
  • 1 cup whole urad dal, without skin
  • 1 tsp. methi seeds
  • salt to taste

Here is how I made it:

  1. Wash the two types of rice together in several changes of water.
  2. Wash the dal and methi seeds also in several changes of water.
  3. Soak them separately for at least 4 hours.
  4. I use my Ultra Pride wet grinder to make my batter.  Add a little bit of water (about 1 cup) to the grinder and start it.  Add the urad dal with methi seeds.  Grind it to a smooth, fluffy paste.  You may need to add more water if the batter is getting too thick.
  5. You will also need to keep scraping the batter from the sides of the grinder, to make sure that it is all uniformly smooth and fluffy. It takes about 20 minutes for my dal to grind well.
  6. Remove the urad dal paste into a big bowl.
  7. Now add more water (another cup) to the grinder and add the rice to it.  The rice gets done much faster than the dal (probably 10 - 12 minutes).  When you have a mixture that is not totally smooth, but is not coarse either, stop the grinder.
  8. Remove this and add it to the urad dal batter.
  9. Add a tiny bit of water to the grinder to clean the sides and pour this also into the bowl.
  10. Add salt to the batter and mix it well with your hand.  My mom says that the heat from your hand starts the fermentation process.
  11. Cover the batter and leave it in a warm place overnight.  I leave it in my oven (no heat or light).
  12. Your idli batter will be nice and bubbly and ready for you in the morning.

To make idlis:

  1. Mix the batter thoroughly.
  2. Grease idli molds with either nonstick spray or oil.
  3. Spoon a small ladleful of batter into each mold (so that the mold is 3/4 full).
  4. Add a little bit of water to the bottom of a pressure cooker or steamer.  Place the idli molds in the cooker/steamer and steam for about 15 minutes without the pressure building (with the weight off or in the steam release position).
  5. Remove the lid and let the idlis rest for about 5 minutes.  Remove them from the mold with a wet spatula or spoon.

Serve steaming hot with chutney, molaga podi, or sambar.

Note:  If you are making this for a large party, place a wet cloth or paper towel on the bottom of the serving  bowl, place the idlis in it, and cover them also with a moist paper towel, so that they don't dry out.  When you are ready to serve, warm it up in the microwave, covered with a moist towel.

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