Idli - Rice and Lentil Steamed Dumpling
This is originally a South Indian dish but now popular all over India. This version is made the proper way, by fermenting the rice and lentil batters together. Many ready made mixes are available like Semolina Idli mix and semolina and vermicelli idli mix. They give reasonable results, if you follow the instructions on the packet carefully. Makes 24-30
You can also use Dosa Batter for making Idlies. See picture of making batter on Dosa recipe.
2 cups rice, parboiled or any other variety of Indian rice. Basmati rice is not required, but it will do, if you can't find parboiled rice.
1 cup skinless urad/urd/urid or black gram dal
1 level tsp. methi or fenugreek seeds
Salt to taste
Idli maker*. It is a stand with tiers of idle steamers, see picture
A little oil to grease the idli moulds
Optional for tempering the batter
2-3 tbsp. oil
1 heaped tsp black mustard seeds or rai
Making Idli batter:
Wash and soak rice and dal separately, for 5-6 hours or overnight. Add methi seeds to the dal.
Grind dal and methi seeds mix in a blender to a fine batter. You can use traditional, stone grinder.
Grind the rice to a little coarser batter, like semolina (feels grainy when touched).
Mix both batters, add salt. Be sure to put it in a large bowl, as it rises to almost double and may spill over. Cover and set aside in a warm place to ferment. I use the airing cupboard in winter, and conservatory in summer months. Do not be put off by the smell of fermented batter, it does not come through in cooked idlies. The batter looks frothy when ready. At this stage, it can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge, until you need it.
Optional 'tempering' of the batter before making Idlies
Heat oil in a ladle and add mustard seeds. When they crackle nicely, pour over the batter and stir it in.
Cooking Idlies in a traditional way:
Do not stir the batter too much before cooking as it is the trapped air that makes the idlies fluffy. Just mix it once or twice, gently.
Oil the idli maker/moulds or small bowls (katories).
Put about 2 tbsp. or a small ladle full of idli batter in each mould or bowl.
Steam in a pressure cooker, with the lid closed but without the pressure, for 15 minutes. It is better to cook for less time and check, rather than overcooking them. Microwave cooking makes them hard very quickly, if you are not careful with the time.
Remove from moulds by sliding them off the mould. Usually they come off easily. If not, ease them off gently with a knife.
Serve hot with coconut chutney or sambhar.
Making idlies in a microwave:
Microwave idli makers are available easily these days. They are like microwave poached egg makers, two plates stacked on top of each other, cooking 8 idlies at a time.
Follow 1st three steps of traditional method. Place 1/4th cup of water in the bottom tray of the microwave idli maker.
Cover with the lid and microwave at full power for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes. Powers vary, so try for 3 1/2minutes first and see by pressing gently. They feel springy, like a cake and a skewer inserted through it’s centre, comes out clean.
Slide idlies out of the moulds gently.
To accelerate the fermentation, you can add 1 tsp. of ‘activated’ dry yeast to the batter. Make sure it is fresh yeast. Most yeast packets will tell you how long it will last once opened.
Left over idlies can be made into Uppma, another South Indian dish. Break or cut idlies into small pieces and temper as follows. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a frying pan. Add 1/2 mustard seeds, 1 tsp. chana and urad dal each. Wait until seeds splutter (keep the lid on to avoid mustard jumping all over your kitchen). Add few broken up red chillies and a few curry leaves (not bay leaves). Add idli pieces and stir fry, until heated through. You may need to sprinkle a little water if they are too dry.
Comment from reader Sia; adding 1 tsp. sugar to the batter helps the fermentation.