Soft, fluffy and nutritrious, idlis are delicious, spongy and easily digestible.. even children in southern india are fed idlis. While in India, I could easily have idlis for breakfast, lunch & dinner, that’s how light, tasty and nutritious they are. About 10 years ago if you asked me to make these in Canada I’d have given you a despairing look! I allowed myself to think as follows: ‘don’t ever expect to make soft idlis like you did in india, Its just not going to happen in this cold weather’. Now years after experimenting to get it right, I’m happy to announce that flower-like idlis are possible using locally available rice. The secret, well there are just a few. So pull up a chair, go through this post and then see if you’d like to try out this gluten free rice bread for yourself.
3 cups parboiled rice
1 cup urad dal
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
Salt to taste
|Pots n Pans
• Wash rice a couple of times in cold water. Soak in 1½ times water to cover rice (remember rice will soak and swell so you want to give it enough water but not too much) and add ½ tsp fenugreek seeds to rice.
• Wash urad dal once, add ½ tsp fenugreek seeds and soak in cold water also overnight.SOS Urad doesn’t really take that long to soak & swell, but I give it the same 8 hours as rice so I don’t have to remember different soak times. Leave both rice and urad dal uncovered overnight. I’ve suggested soaking overnight so that you can have idlis for dinner the next day but you can easily reverse timings and soak in the morning to have idlis next morning for breakfast!
• Next morning, grind rice to a coarse and grainy batter. Grind urad dal smoothly till texture resembles soft and fluffy butter. Mix ground rice with ground urad batter using clean hand and pour into a pan large enough to accommodate dough fermentation & rising to more than double capacity. At this point dough should resemble grainy cake dough in texture. Add salt to taste.
• Wrap dough pan in kitchen towel and place in a warm place. I keep my dough in the oven with the pilot light turned on. In my previous apartment, I loved using the warmth created on top of my fridge to ferment my idli dough.
• Take dough from oven in the morning. Dough would have risen to about 250% its capacity. Mix dough turning everything together with spoon.
• Heat steam pan after adding 1 cup of water. (Don’t have idli plates, no problem. Idlis can even be steamed in a regular cake pan & then cut into wedges). Rinse idli plates. SOS some folks like to grease their pan. I found that just rinsing in cold water before pouring dough into plate has the same effect.
• Pour a big spoon of dough into each of the idli moulds. Cover pan with lid and let steam.
• Remove from stove. Let slightly cool before removing idlis. SOS another trick I learnt over time is to dip my spoon in the hot water in pan & idlis come out easily then.
• Serve warm with a dab of ghee & chutney or dip of your choice. Kids love to eat idlis with a spot of sugar.
Fun Facts …Myths that were shared in an effort to help me:
1. “You really can’t expect to have the same soft idlis as you did in India.”
My action: Eating soft idlis in wonderment in little india in Toronto.
Result: my vow to somehow make the same soft idlis.
2. “Its all in the mixing. Your hands are probably not warm enough and your body Ph not warm enough”.
My action: Running hot water over my hands, then massaging them till they were hot to touch & then mixing batter in.
Result: Warm hands, but batter never rose to the astronomical proportions it was supposed to. Idlis were hard as stone.
3. “Its all in the temperature. Your room is probably not warm enough”.
My action: Keeping batter on top of heating vents.
Result: Batter which was partly cooked at the bottom of the pan. Resulting in you guessed right– hard idlis.
4. “Use only the top part of the dough after fermentation”. You are probably mixing all the dough together.
My action: selecting only the top part of the dough to steam my idlis.
Result-Dough would fall apart and I’d have to a) either throw away the uncooked idlis or b) suffer through and eat inedible idlis so as not to waste food.
5. “Its all about the rice. You have to buy ponni rice or kanchipuram short grain parboiled rice”.
Action: trying to locate a good source for parboiled rice
Result: Idlis come out fine, but when the store is out of the specialty rice & I have to wait for the next batch to arrive from south india, guess what! no idli!
1. Wash rice & dal just once. With my extreme germ consciousness about cleanliness, I’d wash & rewash the rice till there were practically no nutrients left. DON’T. You only need to wash once, maybe twice max to remove any dust.
Wash urad dal only once. Fenugreek doesn’t need washing, add them after you have washed the rice/dal.The combination of urad dal and fenugreek seeds is more than just nutrition value. Its what draws in airborne wild yeast to help the fermentation process.
2. Keep soaked rice & dal uncovered: as that’s what’s going to encourage the yeast to enter and help break down starches later –which probably makes it the most easily digestible food in the world.
3. Any rice will do: There are two types of starch in rice; Amylose and Amylopectin. Long grain rice has 22 percent Amylose and 78 Amylopectin, while medium/short grain rice has 18 percent Amylose and 82 percent Amylopectin. Note corn starch is 100% Amylose. While you need over 80% Amylopectin to make Idli soft and plump and its recommended to use short to medium grain size rice. If you don’t have access to Idli rice, try Arborio Rice (or any other Italian rice used to make Risotto) or even Mochi Rice (Japan) or sweet/ waxy American Rice. SOS I used parboiled long grain rice easily available in regular grocery stores and it worked like a charm as you can see in the pix.
4. Use whole urad seeds: Split urad seeds lose their yeast during the mechanical and chemical process of splitting in a factory.
I do feel quite the alchemist as I try to share tips on soft idli making. I realize it may seem like a lot of instructions, but its really simple..no agonizing over what rice to get, pretty much any rice will do—main thing is no overwashing and of course the fenugreek seeds.
Dear reader, I feel confident enough to declare that you can make idlis in the coldest of temperatures following the steps I outlined above..I hope you’ll give it a try.