Idlis (Steamed rice and lentil breakfast cakes)

Srilatha Snacks And Light meals, South Indian Leave a Comment

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Idlis (Steamed rice and lentil breakfast cakes)
Idlis are made by steaming batter in round molds called idli plates available in most Indian grocery stores. The batter is made with rice and black (dehusked) gram lentil, soaked and ground into a batter, and fermented. It takes planning and preparation to make traditional idlis, so you can't have them the day you want them. But they are absolutely worth it. They are healthy, balanced and great for breakfast. Or anytime, really.
Prep Time 1-2 hours
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 10 hours
Servings
idlis
Ingredients
  • 3 cups Idli rice This rice is specially made for idlis, sold in Indian grocery stores, and comes in brown or white. It is short grained.
  • 1 cup Whole, white urad/black gram dhal The black gram dhal is skinned so it's white. Very important to use the whole variety and not the split kind
  • 1 tsp Fenugreek/methi seeds
  • 4 tsp Salt
Prep Time 1-2 hours
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 10 hours
Servings
idlis
Ingredients
  • 3 cups Idli rice This rice is specially made for idlis, sold in Indian grocery stores, and comes in brown or white. It is short grained.
  • 1 cup Whole, white urad/black gram dhal The black gram dhal is skinned so it's white. Very important to use the whole variety and not the split kind
  • 1 tsp Fenugreek/methi seeds
  • 4 tsp Salt
Instructions
  1. Soak the dal with the fenugreek seeds for 4-6 hours in plenty of water
  2. Soak the rice separately for 4-6 hours at the same time in water
  3. To make the batter: I use an Indian stone electric grinder, one of the smaller models. You can also use a powerful blender such as Vitamix. Add the dal to the grinder/blender with a little bit of cold water, and start blending
  4. The urad dhal would fluff up as it gets ground. Blend it, adding very cold water or ice cubes until very fine, and feels buttery/creamy to touch. The quality of the urad determines the fluffiness, and cold water added in small quantities helps
  5. Take it out and put it in a big stainless container. It is important to use a stainless steel container as it helps fermentation. While doing this, add the handful of poha to the soaking rice. The poha definitely helps with the fermenting process.
  6. Now add the rice to the blender and adding water, blend to a slightly coarse, not completely smooth texture. If it's too smooth, the idlis will lack the typical texture.
  7. Add the rice mix to the urad mix. It will be a bit thick at this point
  8. At this point, if you google idli batter, you will see many ways of getting the batter to ferment. The one that has consistently worked for me is this: I add about a cup of very hot water, and use a wire whisk to blend the urad and the rice batters. I do not add salt at this point, as there is a theory that salt inhibits fermentation.
  9. Cover with a lid, and keep it overnight or for about 8 hours in a warm dry place. Make sure there is enough room in the container for the batter to double in size
  10. After it ferments and rises, add the salt, and using a ladle, mix it up.
  11. Heat about 2 inches of water in a wide pan, that is deep enough to hold at least 3 idli plates
  12. Fill the molds of the idli plates with the batter. Once the water starts boiling, stack the idli plates on top of one another, cover the pot, and steam on medium heat for 12-15 minutes.
  13. Turn the heat off, and let it stand for a couple of minutes before opening.
  14. Open the lid very carefully, pointing away from your face so the steam doesn't attack you
  15. Take out the plates carefully using a pair of tongs/idukki or an oven mitt
  16. Using a sharp spoon/knife dipped in cold water, pry the edges of the idlis loose, then go under the center and lift them out. You have hot, steaming idlis!
  17. Serve with chutney, sambar, and/or a special powder called idli podi/milagai podi. Enjoy!
Recipe Notes

Making idlis successfully is more of an art than a science. You can do everything right, and still have a batter that refuses to ferment and/or rise. It depends a lot on the weather, the temperature, the quality of the rice and the lentils. The batter could ferment, but you could end up with hard, rock like idlis if it does not rise.
But with the above method, I have been getting consistently soft and fluffy idlis.

Products That Have Worked For Me:
I use Laxmi brand idli rice, and Laxmi brand whole, skinned urad. But any good quality rice and lentil should work.
This in no way means I am endorsing these products, just sharing what has worked for me.

Tips:
1. It's important to let the urad grind really smooth to a buttery texture and give it enough water to make it airy.
2. The final batter should not be too thick - it needs to be only slightly thicker than pancake batter. This allows the air bubbles to form.
3. It needs to be allowed to ferment in a warm area. I typically keep it in a sunny spot in my lanai. It helps the bacteria that aid fermentation to form quickly.
It's a bit temperamental, but when you see that fermented and doubled batter, it makes you so happy!
4. I use a pressure pan to make my idlis, and find it's enough. You may use any wide, deep stainless steel pot to cook them - any 5 quart pan would work well. There are special idli pots sold in India, but I have never used them. They just need a covered pot to steam in.
5. If the batter has fermented but not risen, you will end up with flat idlis
6. The proportion and quality of the ingredients is important. If the urad is too much, you will end up with flat idlis that have a strong urad flavor

7. I have discovered that adding the poha to the soaked rice for about 10-15 minutes makes the fermenting a sure thing, and also yields super soft idlis. Try not to skip it!

Happy idli making!

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