Monday, July 16, 2012

Idli Sambhar

My all time favorite breakfast item is Idli-Sambhar. The Idlis made by Ma are pearl white, fine edged and spongy. While in school, Ma made this for us early morning on weekdays for which she woke up at the crack of dawn. For me, Idli is a sunny bright symbol of a happy childhood and growing up years. For the longest time, I presumed making a batch of Idlis got to be the simplest thing in the world. Well in my case, the story was little different.

I began cooking many years ago and my dishes since then have been quick and simple. I like my food but do not believe in spending long hours in the kitchen unless I am exceptionally motivated. So Idli was always pushed to the bottom of my list. Coming to the US, I spent many many months testing, trying, cooking Idlis which resulted in hard, stone like Idlis. A few times I chose to give up because the effort disappointed me to a great extent. Determined to master the recipe, I took the bull by the horns and took tiny baby steps. With every attempt I changed the recipe here and there, altered the fermentation approach, sometimes the ingredients and finally made it. This is a work-in-progress post, so will update with more notes as I move ahead with the blog. I stick to my mother's recipe finally because its given me best results. I also enjoy Idli Roast, Idli Usli from leftover Idlis from the previous day. I got to confess, sometimes Idlis are made in our house just to enjoy Idli Roast. :)

We both like Idlis which are a bit coarse and non-pasty (Raval in Marathi). I grind the Urad Dal and add Idli Rava (washed). The mould I use results in about 1" thick Idlis. Idli is super healthy, steamed, nutritious food, a complete meal when paired with Sambhar and good source of protein and carbohydrates. Ma garnishes Sambhar with chopped Coriander leaves which adds a unique aroma to the broth. Try different permutations and combinations (if you live outside India and in cold terrains) and eventually you will succeed.

~ Idli Sambhar ~
Prep Time: 8-10 hours (fermentation time)
Cook Time: 20 minutes + 15 minutes (to get the steamer to a rolling boil)

Yield - 20 Idlis

Idli Rice or Idli Rava - 2 cups
Urad Dal - 1 cup
Contraption needed - Idli Steamer/ Pressure cooker and Idli Mould

Wash the Urad Dal just couple of times and soak in filtered water (atleast 8 hours soak time required). Grind the Urad Dal till you get a soft batter which is thick (do not add too much water and if possible add some of the soaked water). Wash Idli Rava in water for few times and add this to the batter. Transfer the batter to a steel deep-bottomed vessel and cover with a loose fitting lid. Throw salt on top and keep a sheet pan below the vessel to prevent any spills. Leave the pilot light of the oven on all through the fermentation process.
The next morning, the batter volume will double up. Give a good mix and set aside. Grease Idli moulds with oil and add boil water in the Idli steamer (takes around 15 minutes). Add batter to fill half of the mould and place in the steamer side by side. Cover the lid tightly and steam on medium flame for 15-20 minutes. Once time has elapsed, check with a knife. It should come put clean. Unmould using a butter knife or a sharp pairing knife. Serve with Sambhar.

1. Do not wash the Urad Dal a lot. The starch in Dal is essential for aiding fermentation.
2. Check if its a warm day. A warm day encourages wild yeast presence in air and supports fermentation.
3. Use Gota Ural Dal (whole) for softer Idlis. Second preference would be for split Urad Dal.
4. Once batter is ready, mix it well with your hands. The warmth from the body kick starts fermentation. Do it twice during the fermentation process for speeding up the process.
5. Do not cover the lid of the batter vessel tightly. Use stainless steel vessel for storing batter.
6. Use a little quantity of soaked water for grinding Urad Dal. 
7. Unmould the Idli as soon as you transfer from the steamer.
8. If the Idli rises in volume after adding in mould, its a good sign of complete fermentation.
9. If you live in a colder region, heat up the oven a little during winter time and avoid opening the oven door frequently once you put the batter in.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Mixed Vegetables (finely chopped) - 4 cups
[Beans, Carrot, Cauliflower, Potato, Ivy Gourd, Onion]
Boiled Toor Dal - 1 cup
Sambhar powder - 2 tbsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida - 1/5 tsp

For Seasoning -
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves - 1 sprig
Oil/ Ghee

For Garnish -
Coriander leaves (chopped) - 3 tbsp

Rinse and chop the vegetables. In a deep bottomed vessel, boil the vegetables with little salt, turmeric powder and hot water (2 cups). Once par cooked, add the boiled Toor Dal, Asafoetida and Sambhar powder. Add enough water as per consistency desired. Bring to a boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes till completely cooked. Turn off the flame. In a separate seasoning pan, heat few tsp. of oil/ghee, season with mustard seeds and once they splutter, add curry leaves. Pour this seasoning on the soupy curry and garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Cover with a lid and serve hot.

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