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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A - Z Idli Series ~ I for Idli (Idli Rice Version)

So far in the series,
Today is the turn for the basic version of idli which happens to be the standard for all the idli variations out there and cherished by South Indians. For the uninitiated, idli is an iconic South Indian breakfast dish which are soft and fluffy steamed cakes. They are prepared using a fermented batter of rice and skinned black gram. This traditional dish is considered to be one of the healthiest breakfasts from the region, easily digestible and fit enough to be prescribed for the ill and convalescing. The dish needs an advanced preparation as the ingredients need to be soaked, ground and then the batter needs to be fermented before steaming it in special moulds. Idlis taste bland on their own. However drizzle some melted ghee over them and dig in with delicious accompaniments like a chutney, usually a coconut based one, a lentil dish called sambhar and spicy lentil powders, thus making it a filling and enjoyable meal for any time of the day. They are obviously gluten free and vegan if you skip the ghee.

My idli turn out super fluffy and soft. To be honest, I grew up watching idli being made around me on a regular basis and I don't fret about the idli preparation. I know however it is a daunting task for those who are not well versed with the process. I tried to explain the process in as much detail as possible here for anyone who needs some tips and the post has turned out to be a lengthy one. Idli making involves four steps - soaking the ingredients, grinding, fermenting and steaming the idlis. Grinding the batter to the correct consistency and it's proper fermentation are the important factors which decides the fate of the idlis. Idli making is an easy task with the modern conveniences we have in the kitchen compared to the olden days when the women had to manually grind the batter in stone grinders and steam on wood / kerosene stoves.
Usually if one lives in a warmer climate like India, soaking the ingredients in the afternoon and grinding it in the evening works fine, if planning for next day's breakfast. My husband's hometown is like a hot oven during summers and so, my mother in law would grind the batter around 9 at night so that the fermented batter would not go sour by morning breakfast time. I live in a cold climate and so my routine in recent years has been to soak the ingredients as soon as I wake up. I grind the ingredients around 11 am and leave the batter in oven with the light on. There are instances where my batter took around 24 hours or more to ferment, during the peak winter time.

Ingredients used in idli preparation:
Idli preparation needs two basic ingredients, skinned black gram / urad dal and rice. Skinned black gram, either whole or split can be used. (My grand mother used to use the whole black gram to make dosas and idlis but it is a pain to sit and rinse off the skins off the soaked beans.) 

Idli rice that is used in the recipe is the short, fat parboiled rice that also goes by the name Salem rice. In lieu of idli rice, idli rava aka cream of rice can be used. In that case soak separately black gram and idli rava. Some use fenugreek seeds / methi and flattened rice / poha as well in the recipe.
The black gram and rice proportions used also vary from home to home. The rice used varies from 2 to 4 times the quantity of black gram used. I go with 1:2 ratio whereas my mother uses 1:3 ratio. In Andhra and Karnataka, dosa and idli batters are different but I have noticed that some use the same batter for the both the dishes. 
Step 1 - Soaking the ingredients:
Soaking period is about 4 hours but two minutes are needed to rinse and soak the ingredients. Some soak the ingredients individually but I don't see any merits and soak them together which works fine for me. Rinse them twice thoroughly with water and soak them in enough water so that the water level is higher through out the soaking period. (About 3 hours is enough if using idli rava instead of idli rice and the ingredients are soaked individually in that case.)

Step 2 - Grinding the ingredients:
The ingredients are ground to a smooth batter either in a wet grinder or an Indian style mixer / blender. I have a wet grinder but I prefer grinding in my Oster 14 speed blender which works good for me. (The grinder takes more time than the blender and I hate cleaning the grinder.) I haven't watched the time but the amount of ingredients I mentioned in the recipe can be ground in one batch, which takes around 10 minutes. Don't grind the batter too thick or runny. Too thick batter will not ferment and thin batter will yield flat and not well cooked idlis. Salt can be added while grinding if living in a cold climate and in warmer climates, add salt before steaming the idlis. If using idli rava, grind black gram first, squeeze out the water from the idli rava (that has been soaking in water) and add the rava to the batter and run the blender for a couple of minutes to blend.

Step 3 - Fermenting the batter:
This is the important part of the idli preparation. The ground batter needs to be covered and placed in a warm place to ferment. The time of fermentation depends upon the local weather. It may take around 8 to 10 hours to double that time. Place it in an oven with the light on (without turning the oven on) if living in a cold climate. The yogurt setting in an instant pot works too. The final fermented batter would increase in volume, be airy and have a slightly sour smell to it. If the batter turns out thin for some reason, use it to make dibba rotte instead of idlis. 

Step 4 - Steaming the idlis:
If living in a warm place, salt can be added to the batter at this point. Gently stir the fermented batter a couple of times to uniformly aerate the batter and ladle the batter into greased moulds. If you don't own a idli stand, they can be steamed in small steel cups / glasses. Or even in a steel plate with high edges in a similar fashion to dhokla and cut them into wedges. The idlis can be steamed in a idli cooker, pressure cooker or a steamer. Don't use the safety valve if using a pressure cooker. Steam the idlis on low medium setting and it takes around 20 - 25 minutes on my gas stove to steam them. Moisten your fingers with water and check the top of idli to check whether they are done. They will not stick if done. If the idli top sticks to your moist fingers, then it needs to be steamed further.
Storing the batter and idlis:
I never refrigerate the idli batter but my mother recommends the refrigerated batter to be used within three days. She adds salt only to the portion she is going to use to make idlis and refrigerates the rest of the batter. She leaves the batter on the counter for a while before using it the next time. The refrigerated batter can be used to make again idlis, dibba rotte or ponganalu.
I instead usually make a big batch of idlis and freeze as many idlis as I need. (This works if you don't have power cuts in your area.) I cool down the idli immediately after preparation and freeze them to use later. They need to be just warmed in a microwave, covered until hot to enjoy them when needed. 

Ingredients: (Yield - 20 - 22 idlis)
1/2 cup skinned black gram / urad dal
1 cup idli rice
1 & 3/4 tsp. salt or to taste
1 & 1/4 cup water
Ghee to grease the idli moulds and drizzle over idlis while serving

* Rinse idli rice, and skinned black gram together and drain. Soak them together in water, in a wide bowl for about 4 - 5 hours and drain the water used to soak completely.
* Grind them together adding salt and water just enough to grind them into a smooth and thick batter. (The salt can be added just before making idlis if living in a warm climate. I add it while grinding since I live in a cold climate and the batter takes longer to ferment.)
* Transfer the batter to a container large enough to hold the fermented batter. (The batter raises while fermenting and so plan accordingly and use a big container.) Cover the container and allow it to ferment overnight (if the batter was ground in the evening) or for about 10 - 12 hours in a warm place. If living in a cold climate, leaving the batter in an oven with the lights on (without turning on the oven) helps. Or use yogurt setting in an instant pot.
* The fermented batter looks like below - thicker than when grounded, airy, and slightly sour smelling.
* Heat about 2 cups of water in a idli cooker base or a idli cooker or a steamer on medium heat. 
* Grease the idli moulds with ghee / oil. 
* Gently stir the batter a couple of times with a ladle. 
* Ladle the batter into the idli  moulds carefully without spilling.
* Place the idli stand in the prepared cooker / steamer and close the lid. Don't use the valve for the lid if using a pressure cooker.
* Steam the idlis on low heat setting for about 20 - 25 minutes or until done. (The idlis should not stick when touched with moist fingers.) Check the water level in the steamer base and add extra if needed.
* Wait for about 10 minutes and then remove the idlis by running a spoon around the edges.
* Drizzle melted ghee over the idlis and serve them with a chutney, sambhar and/or spicy podi. Mine were served with roasted gram chutney, sambhar and nalla karam podi.
* Refrigerate the left over idlis and use in a day or two. Or they can be cooled down immediately after preparation and frozen to use later. Nuke them in a microwave, covered and enjoy hot, piping idlis when needed. 


vaishali sabnani said...

Looking at these idlis, I feel like going through the whole process of soaking and grinding. I find it tedious , but do make them once in a blue moon.
Super soft and delicious idlis.

Ritu Tangri said...

You idli series is wonderful. Tomorrow i'm going to make your moong dal idli.
Could you tell which is this rice in the pic?

Suma Gandlur said...

Ritu, the rice I used here is sold as idli rice at Indian stores in US. Also goes by the name Salem rice in South India.

rajani said...

Suma the idlis look so soft and fluffy! I cannot think of a better breakfast than that plate there!

Sandhya Ramakrishnan said...

How many ever different kind of breakfast recipes come and go, nothing can beat the classic idli. The best ever for breakfast, not to mention, healthy as well. Love the detailed post and the idlis look marvelous.

Archana said...

No breakfast can beat the idli one. The simple everyday idli is so full of favours. loved this easy how to do. Ideal for novice and experts too.

Archana said...

The basic idli is a favorite in my place. The moment I make some variety it is met with strong resistance. Loved your how to post perfect for novice and experts too.

Rafeeda - The Big Sweet Tooth said...

I love that you chose to post the regular idli too... I use the same proportion as you do, since that seems to be working for me all the time... Looks just so fluffy...

Radha said...

Idli are the most favorite food for me. Your idlies look soft and fluffy. Love your step by step instructions.

Narmadha said...

Classic idli is always the best. Thanks for sharing all the tips and tricks which are so helpful. With chutney and sambar, we never get bored of these idlis.

MySpicyKitchen said...

This is quite a detailed post and very helpful for novice cooks and not so novice! I may follow one or two tips you mentioned above, next time I make idli, specially the batter consistency tip and amount of water.