Saturday, September 6, 2008
IDLI - Steamed rice and lentil cake
Idli is omnipresent in South India. Some find it difficult to understand the craze behind this unassuming white cake made of rice and lentil. But nothing like good soft white steaming idlis with a little sambar, chutney, or molagai podi with a little ghee or sesame oil, anytime, anywhere! Idli finds itself easily fitting into grand breakfast menus at festivals and weddings, as well as in the diets during convalescence. It is steam cooked, easily digestible, rich in B vitamins, and fat free (when eaten without accompaniments, of course!). Idlis are a boon to travelers carrying their meals, and have a long way to go. Its easy to handle and not at all messy!
Idli brings back some memories of our travels in the 1950s. Once, after a hectic South India tour we landed unannounced at our relative’s place in the middle of the night, as it was not safe to cross over the Dimbam ghats in the dark. Our hospitable and generous grand uncle made the neighbouring shopkeeper open the stores, and bought bread and bananas to satiate our hunger. At the crack of dawn, the ladies of the house were very glad to pack idlis for the last lap of our journey towards home. Luckily, they had ground the batter the previous day! The idlis were packed in banana leaves, which were greased and lightly heated over flame to make them pliable. The banana leaf parcel was then packed with a layer or two of newspaper, and tied with white thread. After driving for a couple of hours, father stopped by a mountain stream for breakfast. Mother opened the efficiently packed green parcel, and served the idlis on cut banana leaves that were thoughtfully kept in our basket. We hopped on to the rocks that popped out of the stream, and dangled our feet in the freezing cold water as we tucked in the luscious idlis soaked in molaga podi and gingili (seasame) oil. Those were the days when dacoits and forest brigands were unheard of. Father assured our worried mother that the pachyderms and wild animals which she was scared of, would attack only when provoked, or only when they were attacked. Father had taught us how to behave in a forest, and we quietly enjoyed Mother Nature’s bounty listening to the sounds of the forest opening our mouths only for idlis!
Decades later, idlis continued to be a staple, and we discovered the the joy of Tattae Idli. Tattae means plate in Kannada. Idlis that are steamed in plates, rather than the traditional idli stands are known as Tattae Idlis.
My husband, came across an eatery that even calls itself “Tattae Idli Hotel"at Kyatasandra near Tumkur, Karnataka, during one of his work tours. He became an instant fan of the steaming soft white discs served with a simple watery potato curry seasoned with whole green chillies.
Once, realizing his work in Tumkur was almost complete, and not wanting to miss out on these idlis, he purchased a tattae idli stand. Since then I have also started preparing tattae idly at home. I usually serve it with two varieties of chutneys, sambar and a dollop of fresh melting butter on top. One Tattae idly is equivalent to three normal sized idlis and hence two of them are more than sufficient for the two of us for a wholesome meal.
The highway eateries that serve idlis are a boon to weary travelers. It is not only filling, but can be safely eaten without any fear of harm to health, as it is steamed and served piping hot.
Rice – 3 cups
Black gram dal -3/4 cup
Beaten rice or rice flakes – ¼ cup
Fenugreek seeds – ¼ tsp
Salt -1/2 tsp
1. Soak rice, dal, beaten rice and fenugreek seeds together for half an hour.
2. Grind all ingredients into a smooth and thick batter. Add salt and blend.
3. Fill ¾ of a large vessel with the batter, cover it and leave it to rise for 12 hours.
4. When the batter has risen up to the brim of the vessel, it is ready to use.
5. Grease each Tattae or Plate of the idly stand with a drop of ghee.
6. Fill the plate up to half its height allowing the remaining space for the idly to rise.
7. Place the stand in a pressure cooker and steam without the weight for 15 minutes.
8. Allow the steam to settle down then open the cooker. Remove the idlies from the plates using a knife or a spoon.
9. Enjoy with varieties of chutneys and sambar not forgetting to top it with a dollop of fresh butter or ghee.