Thursday, December 27, 2012

Making Idli (from batter to finish) - Steamed Rice cakes

I had Ciabata bread (fast becoming my favorite bread) with an omelette, cheese spread and a banana malt smoothie for breakfast today. When I posed the question "What did you have for breakfast yesterday?" in these blog pages a few months ago the many responses suggested that traditional breakfast among Indians who live outside of the country is rare and is made mostly during weekdays. As for people in India of the younger generation I am not sure what their breakfast habits are.

Though when we visit home, in my parents home, in laws home, aunts and uncles' homes the breakfast habits are the same as they were many years ago.

So I can safely guess what my parents had for breakfast. It would have been idli. The soft rice and lentil based rice cakes which are steamed and had with a side dish, be it a chutney or sambhar. The idli batter is prepared once or twice a week and used through out the week. Fresh batter is perfect for idlis. As the batter gets sour idlis do not come out good but are good for making dosais or paniyarams.

I try to make idli batter once a week and they are good thing to have on hand for a quick dinner any day of the week.

Making the batter

The Rice

The most important ingredient in making idli batter is the rice. If you are in India availability of idli rice might not be a problem. If outside of India it is obviously good if you have access to idli rice else ponni par boiled rice or Sona Masuri rice might be the ones that work best. Do not use the long grain parboiled rice, it makes the batter glutenous and that is not the correct texture for making idlis. The rule of thumb duller whiter rice and not the shiny transparent ones.

The Lentil
Urad dal or black gram is the lentil you want to use. Back home a long time ago black gram with the skin on was what was used. Yes that would give the best kind of batter but cleaning and removing the skin before grinding is not a job that many people have time for these days. We conveniently have husked whole or split urad dal which works just fine. Using split or whole is preference as the quantity of batter they produce is comparable.


The ratio
The next important thing is the ratio of the rice to the lentil. If using idli rice the ratio would be 3 3/4 to 1, rice : lentil. If the rice you are using does not make as much batter as you would like increase the quantity of rice for a cup of lentil. Once ground the rice batter should be twice the amount of lentil batter. How do you know the ratio is not correct? The idlis are either flat, hard or mushy.

Fermentation
Once the rice and lentils are ground, add salt and the consistency should be thick pourable and not very watery. Set it in a warm place to ferment. Fermentation is very important without it forget about making idlis. If you live in a warm climate no extra precautions are necessary in about 6-8 hours the batter should rise which is the sign of good fermentation. In colder climes use the oven to good use. Place the ground batter in an oven with the light on. In about 8-10 hours the batter should rise. Once fermented mix it well and put in the refrigerator and it is good for 4 days for making idlis. Soaking the rice overnight also speeds up the fermentation process. While the lentil only requires about 20-30 minutes of soaking the rice should be soaked overnight more for the fermentation than making the rice soft enough for grinding. About 4 hours should make the rice soft enough for grinding.
In the oven with the light onFermented and rising batter


If you have any specific questions regarding the ingredients or the process please do so in the comment section.
Ready to eat?


Idli Batter
Ingredients
  1. 3 3/4 idli rice (quantity of rice will be different if using a different rice)
  2. 1 cup of husked black gram dal (urad dal)
  3. 1 heaping tbsp of fenugreek seeds
  4. 1-2 tsp of salt
Method
  1. Wash the rice and soak it with plenty of water overnight.
  2. Soak the fenugreek with the rice or separately.
  3. About half an hour before starting the grinding process, wash and soak the lentils.
  4. A grinder works great but a blender should work also, grind the lentils first. Usually about 20-25 minutes of grinding is required for the lentil. Once done remove the lentil batter to the container you are going to ferment the batter in. The container should be large enough for the lentil and rice and then some for rising.
  5. Grind the rice next, about 30-40 minutes till the rice has been ground but do not make it completely smooth, stop grinding when there is still some texture to the rice like Cream of rice texture.
  6. Add salt and mix the lentil and rice batter together. Hands work best and they also help in the fermentation process. Clean hands of course.
  7. Place the container in a warm place for 6-10 hours till the batter is fermented.
  8. Once fermented mix the batter with a laddle and store right away in the fridge.
Make Idlis
  1. Grease the idli mould with spray or sesame oil.
  2. Pour the required amount of batter in the idli mold.
  3. Place the idli mould in a pressure cooker or a steaming vessel and steam for 12 minutes.
  4. Let steam subside and cool for about 5 minutes. Remove the idlis from the mold.
Also check Kitchen Utensils 101 - Grinder

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