Idli: The Anytime Snack
March 30 has been celebrated as World Idli Day every year since 2015. It was spearheaded by a Chennai-based caterer “Eniyavan”.
The soft fluffy idli is a popular breakfast deal on the dining table. Though popular in all the food joints in South India with its culinary South Indian roots, at present it’s spreading across India.
Idli is a steam cake, a product from fermented rice and urad dal batter. With time it has taken various forms and fusion starting with batter that is prepared from millets, oats and other gluten-free cereals to make it healthy. The variants have gone to be idli chaat, idli Manchurian, other than idli Sāmbhar and chutney.
The batter is basically a lacto fermented made of urad dal and especially parboiled rice. The batter is grounded very coarsely but if the batter is grounded to a fine batter then it is perfect for dosa. The fermentation helps in trapping the carbon dioxide of making it lighter and air filled when it goes through the steaming process.
The ratio of rice and urad dal is very tricky. At any food joint the price tells it all. The pavement ones will use it in a ratio of 4:1, normal household at 3:1. But the premium ones are in the ratio of 1:1 – the Kanchipuram idli. The rice used is normally the parboiled one – the high amylase rice gives the best soft idlis.
The soaking has to be done for more than five hours separately, while grinding the rice and urad dal adding a bit of fenugreek helps in adding that extra bit of bacteria which are good for the fermentation process.
While experimenting with other bases such as millets, oats be careful to have a ratio of 75-25 mixture. Make it a little bit healthier by using soya beans or chunks, rajma (kidneybeans). Though normally we serve idli with chutney and sambar, but try it out with other gravies of mutton and chicken – as the bublles which trap the gravies giving a yummy finish and mouthful. Don’t be disheartened if the idli turns out to be hard; slice it and fry it with ginger, garlic, chillies and onion. This is a meal in itself else add the Chinese condiments and sauces – you have it chilli idli, ginger idli or Manchurian idli.
In all my travels, the best and different idli has been the Ramaserri idli – the king of idlis from the kitchen of Kerala. While the ingredients for this recipe remain the same, a completely different cooking style makes this idli super soft.
The unique cooking technique of making Ramasseri idli is generally passed on from one generation to the next within the families. Thus the chefs & cooks preparing these idli’s come with a price. Ramasseri idli is made in a special type of earthen pot. The idli batter is spread on a muslin cloth and is covered with an earthen lid for steaming.
For making Ramasseri Idli:
– Boil water in a bowl and put a steamer plate on top.
– Place a muslin cloth on the plate and pour idli batter on it.
– Close the lid and let it cook.
– Once steamed, serve it hot with chutney and podi masala.
The Ramassery idli is thinner, softer and wider.
In Classical Tamil literature, it is termed as “ittally”. It is believed that idli, as we know it today, took shape from the journeys made by the kings of Indonesia to the south of India to find suitable brides.
It seems Indians did not understand steaming vessels until the Indonesians brought the kedli (fermented rice cake) to India. The kedli was modified by adding more fermented rice to speed up fermentation, and thereby resulted in producing soft and fluffy idlis which were rich in carbs, proteins and good bacteria.