Now, let us talk about something we eat at least two to three times every week. Did I hear somebody mention idli! Yes, precisely. Humble though it is, the idli holds a special place in most south Indian households. Although the batter is made at least once or twice a week, many people keep worrying about whether they got it right, till the first batch is out of the steamer – white, soft and fluffy. Indeed, making idlis perfectly is a matter of pride for most women.
Frankly, I hated idli – with all my heart – for more than two decades. I thought it was the most boring dish ever – I was prepared to even skip a meal or settle for curd rice rather than have idlis (sigh, hope my son doesn’t find out I threw tantrums too)! But after my son was born, the convenience of having a meal ready in minutes and the greater benefit of being able to serve the same food to the little one too, made me pro-idli! And since then, I have gleaned many an idli secret from many a friend and many a commercial cook.
So, here are some tips I learnt, which I am sure will help you in your daily idli adventure too…
- The proportions I prefer are 4 cups rice (you can use a mix of millets, raw rice and idli rice), 1 cup of de-skinned whole urad, a tablespoon or two of fenugreek and a fistful of poha (aval/ beaten rice). Wash all the ingredients. Soak the rice and poha together, and the urad and fenugreek together for at least four hours. Drain and grind each set separately. Mix them together along with salt and allow fermenting for 8 – 10 hours. Then, stow it into the fridge, or make the idlis immediately. Well, this is what everybody knows. So, let’s get to the real stuff…
- Drain and preserve the water in which you soaked the urad and fenugreek. Use this to grind the urad batter. This enzyme-rich water will help your batter rise well.
- When grinding the urad, add water only little by little. You will find that experienced people never pour water into the urad. They take the water in their hand and sprinkle it slowly. Allow it to grind for some more time; then sprinkle a little more water. Keep doing this, gradually, till the batter is done. When is this? Here is a test to find out. When the batter is smooth and springy, take a spoonful of it and drop in a vessel of water. If the urad batter remains like a blob and floats up, the batter is perfect. If it sinks, you need to sprinkle a little more water and continue grinding. If it disintegrates – oops, you have added too much water – and your idlis might end up flat L
- If you like nice, round idlis that retain their shape, use 2 cups of raw rice and 2 cups of idli rice to make your idlis. Add a little coconut water when grinding the batter.
- If you are grinding your batter in a mixer-grinder, chances are that the motor will heat up – and eventually your batter will also become warm. This is not a good sign. As a way out, use cold water to grind your urad. A friend once told me that she lets the urad soak in the fridge itself, so that the urad and the soaking water are cold – perfect for grinding in the mixie.
- Some people hesitate to let the rice and urad soak overnight thinking their batter will be watery. This is a misconception. You can comfortably soak these two overnight, and make the batter in the morning, so it will be fermented and ready to make fresh idlis for dinner!
- Your idlis will have a wonderful texture if you grind the rice a little coarsely. But, take care not to make it too coarse. Almost fine, but just a little coarse.
- While many of us grease the idli plates with a little oil and directly pour the batter into it, the best way to make idli is to line the idli plates with a wet, thin muslin cloth and pour the batter on this. The moistness in the cloth will make the idlis super soft. However, removing the idlis from the cloth requires a bit of practice. You need to turn the idli plates upside down so that the cloth with the idlis falls upside down into a shallow bowl. Now, spray a little water on the back of the cloth and try to remove it from the idlis. It will come off smoothly. If you have never done this before, do it leisurely on a Sunday, because chances are that the idli will stick to the cloth and you will find it a challenge to separate the two!
- If you are coating the idli plate with oil, use sesame oil as it gives a good aroma to the idlis!
- Fill each idli ‘hole’ only up to half with batter, giving enough space for it to rise.
- When arranging the idli plates, make sure that you place each plate above the other diagonally, so that the cups of the plate are in between the cups of the previous plate. This will ensure enough space for the idlis to rise and ensure that the idlis do not stick to the plate above them.
- Now for a traditional practice that many people have entirely forgotten today! Basically, when the batter is fermented, the fluffy urad-rich paste rises to the top, while the sticky rice-rich paste sinks to the bottom. What most people do these days is to mix the fermented batter thoroughly before making the idlis. Well, nothing wrong, but just try this method and you will see the difference. Don’t mix the fermented batter. Keep taking the fluffy batter from the top to make your idlis. Once you reach a watery layer, stop making idlis, give the remaining batter a mix and use the viscous batter that is at the bottom of the container to make wonderfully crisp dosas. You will find that the batter at the top is perfect for idlis and the batter below it is ideal for dosas!