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Monday, March 21, 2011

Idli - Steamed Rice and Urad Dal Cakes

This is probably the easiest recipe to start off with to make your foray into the world of batter, idli and dosa. Another advantage -  possessing a high wattage blender is not a requirement to make this recipe. Urad dal, one of the components, can be easily ground in regular blenders. The other main component is idli rava. This can be easily found in your local Indian grocery store or online. This is my mother-in-law's recipe and results in delicious idlis. You can also use the dosa batter to make idli (see tips below). The main difference between idli and dosa batters is the consistency of the batter, before it is used to make the end product. For dosa, the batter needs to be thinned out, like crepe batter. For idlis the batter needs to be thicker, the consistency should be similar to cake batter. This idli batter can also be used to make uttapas, which are rice pancakes with vegetables, but that's another post.

1 cup urad dal
2 cups idli rava

Idli stand

Soak the urad dal with enough water to cover the dal and with about 1 inch of water above the urad dal. This needs to be soaked for about 6-8 hours or overnight. Then grind the urad dal to a very fine paste. As you grind it fine, it will become fluffy and will have a soft texture. You need to grind it fine enough, so that it resembles whipped up eggs or whipped cream. Then take the idli rava and add enough water to it so that it is wet. I generally add water to the bowl with the idli rava, mix the two together and drain excess water using a strainer. Then add this idli rava to the urad dal. Mix them well together. If the mixture is very thick, add some water so that it is easy to mix the two ingredients together. Take care when you add water to make sure that you don't make the batter too watery. Then place this batter in a warm place for 6-8 hours/overnight to ferment.

When the batter has fermented, mix it well. Add some water if it's thickened. The consistency should be thick but the batter should easily fall when you use a spoon to scoop it up and let it fall back into the bowl. Add salt to the batter before you begin cooking your idlis. A very important piece of equipment to make idlis is an "Idli Stand". This is used to shape the batter into individual idlis. Grease the idli stand moulds with a little oil. Then add a scoop of batter to each mould. Steam this for about 15 minutes. I time it for 15 minutes once I see the water boiling and steam coming out of the steamer. I generally use a pressure cooker and steam the idlis in it (see tips).

The idlis will rise as they cook and will become light and fluffy.  To check if the idli is cooked, prick the center of one idli with a knife and it will come out fairly clean. Generally, a little idli may get stuck, but it should not be raw batter. Once cooked, unmould using a spoon or knife. Serve with chutney and sambar.

If you decide to use the dosa batter, make idlis when the batter is fresh. As the batter ages, the idlis will not rise that well and will start becoming denser. To steam idlis in the pressure cooker, follow the instructions on your cooker. If you have a cooker with a whistle, remove the whistle. Make sure that you add enough water, so that it doesn't evaporate completely during the cooking process. If you don't have an idli stand, an alternate is to use small steel bowls which are safe to use for steaming.


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