It is impossible to over-state the importance of rice to many of the cuisines of India- in several Indian languages, the word for "rice" (annam) is the same as the word for "food". Plain boiled rice invariably accompanies simple home-style meals. For other times, one can choose from an infinite variety of flavored rice, fried rice and layered rice dishes. The uses of rice hardly end there. There is rice flour which is used to prepare pancakes, sweet and savory snacks, and desserts. There is crunchy featherweight puffed rice (kurmura) which makes its way into tea-time snacks and street foods. Then there is the flattened rice (poha) which is my favorite breakfast ever.
Rice by itself can perform miracles, and it is no less magical in combination with other ingredients. One successful pairing that always yields delicious results is the alliance of rice with urad dal. A batter of these two ingredients, often fermented (using wild yeast) to a frothy mass, is delicious in endless forms- as fluffy steamed idli, crispy melt-in-the-mouth dosa, the sturdier adai, spongy uttapams and adorable little appams or paniyarams (with infinite variations of each dish).
I am particularly enamored by idlis. Many people I know (including a certain someone I live with) grew up eating idlis day in and day out for breakfast, and had endless idlis packed into their lunchboxes, and what with familiarity breeding contempt and all that, they don't like idlis any more. What can I say? More for me!! :D Idlis can be steamed in large batches, are nutritious and low in fat, can be refrigerated or frozen well, and resurrected to steamy perfection in a matter of seconds in the microwave. What's not to love? Plenty, as it turns out. Idlis fall into that category of foods (like bread) that call for only 2-3 ingredients and a simple-sounding recipe, but that can take a lifetime to perfect. Read Ammani's hilarious love-hate idli musings here.
Idli recipes that I have come across are more or less the same- a proportion of 1-3 cups rice to 1 cup urad dal, soaked and ground together into a fine batter, then fermented overnight, poured into molds and steamed to perfection. The rice can be bought pre-ground in the form of idli rava and this is how I have always been making my B- grade idlis. Consistently edible. Nothing to write home about. Resolutely average. Well, I am now ready for A+ idlis and this is the first variation I tried- using regular whole rice instead of the idli rice to see if it makes a difference (not much). I also made flavored idlis instead of plain ones: these are Kanchipuram idlis, containing an irresistable blend of cumin, peppercorns, curry leaves and, not shown in the picture, some ginger and asafoetida. The traditional way to prepare these idlis is to steam them in special cup-shaped molds, but I had to make do with my regular idli steamer. For great traditional recipes for this idli, see posts by Inbavalli and Srivalli.
Kanchipuram Idli(adapted from Chandra Padmanabhan's Dakshin, yielded 16 medium idlis and 6 medium uttapams)
1. Soak 1.5 C raw rice and 1 C urad dal separately in water for 2-3 hours. Drain off the water and grind each of these to a batter, adding some water only if necessary. Mix the two batters and let the whole thing ferment for 8-24 hours (8 hours is all I needed in this warm weather).
2. Meanwhile, heat 2 t untoasted sesame oil (gingelly oil) in a small pan and add 0.25 t asafoetida, 10-12 whole black peppercorns, 2 t cumin seeds, 1 t minced ginger and 10-15 curry leaves. Saute until spices are fragrant. Grind the mixture together to a coarse powder.
3. Once the batter is fermented, stir in (gently!) 4 T untoasted sesame oil and the spice mixture. Add salt to taste. Make idlis in a steamer.
I served the idlis with some cauliflower sambar:
The rest of the batter was saved onvernight for delicious uttapams the next morning:
These idlis tasted delicious, but I still have a long way to go. My efforts to make a soft melt-in-the-mouth idli shall continue! Two contraints that my idlis are presently faced with are:
1. The use of regular sona masuri rice in place of parboiled rice that is traditionally used to make idli.
2. The use of a food processor to make the batter, instead of a heavy-duty grinder. I suspect that the food processor fails to grind the batter as finely as it ought to be ground.
I don't foresee buying a bulky and expensive grinder any time in the near future, but I will buy some parboiled rice soon. Actually, the only reason why I have not bought parboiled rice yet is that I cannot buy "some" of it; I have to buy it in huge 10 lb sacks because that is the smallest unit that is sold in our international store. This will last me a whole life-time and the next couple as well! But I recently learned that parboiled rice retains a lot of nutrition because of the way it is made, and is nutritionally closer to brown rice than to white rice. I will be buying it soon!
My attempts to buy rosematta rice (Kerala red rice) at this very same international market have been completely futile and a little hilarious. I asked an employee if the store carried rosematta rice and explained that it is a red rice from India. He patiently led me to the Mexican aisle and pointed out a pack of "red beans and rice". I shook my head and tried to ask again. This time, he took me to the Italian aisle and pointed to "risotto rice" and was exasperated when I dejectedly shook my head again. How could I explain that just because "rosematta" and "risotto" have a couple of syllables in common, does not make them substitutes for each other? The store does carry Sri Lankan samba rice labeled as red rice, but this one is sold as a 20 lb sack! Anyway, I know I can buy rosematta rice online, but am not too thrilled with the prospect of paying all those shipping charges for a heavy commodity like rice.
Rice as my comfort food of choice...
Three typical Marathi rice dishes...
Three rice dishes to feed (and please) a crowd...
Three dishes exploring rice in other cuisines...
"Chinese" Fried Rice
If experienced idli chefs have any magical tricks for making perfect idlis, please please please leave a comment! For an extraordinary array of rice dishes, visit Sharmi's gorgeous round-up.
I love your enthusiasm for creating different regional specialties...those Idlis do look soft, in the Udupi restaurants they add some ghee fried cashews to the batter too! And when steamed in banana leaves, they taste so subtly fragrant....ReplyDelete
The collection of rice recipes at the bottom is worth some detailed exploration! Loved your carrot cake too!
Kanjeevaram idli looks good Nupur! MY great grandma (who's still alive) is from KAnjeevaram. And her speciality is KAnjeevaram idli! Everytime we visit (inspite of her failing eyesight) she insists on makign these for us. For some reason I've never made these at home. Will have to make them now, inspired by you :-)ReplyDelete
those idlis look so lovely! i haven't tried making kancheepuram idlis yet. u should get 'rose matta' in a kerala grocery store, if u have one nearby.ReplyDelete
Very nice dishes Nupur...and your rice collection is tempting....ReplyDelete
Amma uses 1/4 tsp of fenugreek to Rice while soaking it. And you need to add 2 & 1/2 measure of water to the rice you soaked, which needs to be added frequently while it is ground.
When you have time check out my recipe thats given by my mom which sure is very soft!ReplyDelete
When can I come over?ReplyDelete
I came under the familiarity breeds contempt category until a few years ago... thankfully, things have changed for me.
Your idlies look fabulous. Really look soft and Perfect... Looks like you have perfected the art of making the idly..ReplyDelete
Such perfection. And rice, it is like a perfect ingredient, isn't it?ReplyDelete
Hi Nupur, not an expert in idli-dosa area, but something that works for me is adding a handful of cooked rice to the grinding jar, towards the end, which works in my case, to get soft idlis. Also my friend uses a proportion where she takes sona masuri and parboiled rice in equal quantities for the rice part. And in our place, I have seen parboiled rice, in small packets, in walmart..hope it helps :)ReplyDelete
Nupur- great kanchipuram idlis. I have been trying to get rosematta rice too but settled for Sri Lankan one available in a small bag in our Indian stores. Indira's rosematta idlis worked quite well for me.ReplyDelete
I add salt to the batter before fermenting. Based on MIL, it helps the fermentation process.
Idli Superstition-I also try to do the messy job of mixing in salt by hand (literally) into the batter. If you are a person with warm hands, it ferments the batter faster. I was told this by MIL. I tried and it worked. So I am keeping it :-)
Your idlis look perfect, Nupur.I must be one of the few South Indians around does not like idlis & hence have never made 'em. Th only time we have idlis at home is when my husband makes 'em. I too don't have one of those heavy-duty grinders and my dosa batters(I just love dosas) were never quite alright. So I started making my own instant dosas.( there's a recipe on my blog for this if you are interested) You could probably do the same with idlis. I just saw it on one of the other blogs.ReplyDelete
Cauliflower sambar sounds interesting. Never used that in a sambar before.
Yumm! I have never made kanchipuram idlies..time to try it now!ReplyDelete
I have had some disastrous experiences with making idlies. The par boiled rice is key for the bacteria to form that causes the dough to rise.
My brother in law left me this note on my post about failed idlies:
"As far as leavening goes, the two most important things are the urad dal and the parboiled rice. The bacteria that munch on the dal produce a lot of carbon-di-oxide. The parboiled rice has gelatinized starch that holds on to the gas much better than raw rice can. The dal also has the right kinds of starches (that the bacteria like) to produce a slimy output that will hold on to the gas and help your idlies rise."
Warm to the touch temperature (not hot), is where the bacteria thrive. Also the rice for the idly should not be ground too finely, in order for it to cook and puff up nicely.
Good luck with your idly recipes! I sometimes feel like its all a huge experiment, and i will rig up lights over my batter, wrap it in towels, and warm it in a slightly warmed oven.
I totally understand what you mean about not wanting to buy 20lbs. I asked my dad to give me a box of rice, because I didn't want to buy the whole bag from the store!!
Great idea for JFI rice though!
My fave is kanchipuram idlis Nupur. No contempt here, just giddy love ;-)ReplyDelete
The only trick I know is adding fenugreek seeds to make idlis more fluffy. But yours look fluffy anyway.
I liked the added flavours in those kanchipuram idlis, as I make them plain. Will try this spice mix and sesame oil next time I make them...well said idli making is an art of perfection only after several failures..ReplyDelete
Nice entry for JFI and I like all your rice entres!
You should be able to find rose matta at your local indian grocery store. We eat rose matta rice at least 5 days a week! :)ReplyDelete
Now kanchipuram idli sounds like a must try.. And you have such a wonderful collection of rice recipes.
These are really fluffy looking idlis, Nupur! and a delightful array of rice based recipes too :). My favorite is Waran bhaat and the upside down pulaav. i still haven't been able to find some Rosematta rice! Oh, btw Seema at Recipe Junction has a neat idli recipe, the mallige idlis. It works really well! and now i got this recipe from you, wow, its idli time for me :).ReplyDelete
I have never made idlis, though I've had them in restaurants. Now I'm inspired to try my own!ReplyDelete
Now first of all, I think you can't possibly be right about your grade on idlis. I'm no expert, but I thought your idlis were delicious and only wish I could make some like that myself.ReplyDelete
About parboiled rice... Uncle Ben's Rice, which is available in most grocery stores in small boxes, is parboiled rice - wouldn't that work? I had no idea parboiled rice was richer in nutrients than regular white rice! That's what we always ate growing up, but I've gotten away from it in recent years... I guess I'll have to reconsider :)
I'm lucky in that there is a South Indian store somewhat near me that sells rosematta. Although you have to be careful to ask for it specifically as Kerala red rice - they sell the Sri Lankan red rice too and it's not the same thing at all.ReplyDelete
I too am on the fence about buying parboiled rice. I have a very small house and already have huge (20 lb or more) sacks of basmati, jasmine and sona masuri; as well as 5 pound bags of white and black sticky rice and rosematta; and small amounts of arborio rice, black forbidden rice and rice flakes (poha). I just don't know where I'd put the parboiled rice.
Hi Nupur -ReplyDelete
Have you tried Ebay for rosematta? I found a seller in San Diego who sells 1 pound bags for $2.95 plus $4.60 shipping, but you can also buy 2 pounds for the same shipping cost. $+5/lb is a little high for rice, but worth it if you can't get it anywhere else, I'd say.
This is a lovely post with all your fav. rice dishes! I enjoyed reading of your love for idlis and the quest for A+ variety. I have only made them twice, so I don't have any basis for comparison! I recently treated myself to Dakshin and have made one sambhar "by the book" so far -- it was great. Her photos are tempting, but not so much as yours. I will try your recipe for idlis next time. They look delicious, and nice to know I could save some batter and try uttapams too.
On rice -- I know it's American variety but I wonder if Uncle Ben's might work for your experimentation? They market the product as 'converted' but I always knew that to mean 'parboiled'. Plus, it comes in smaller packages :)
As usual love to read your post Nupur. Your style of writing without commenting other's style is remarkable. Nice entry too. VijiReplyDelete
Nandita, I can just imagine the taste of these idlis steamed in banana leaves...mmm...Actually, I have never eaten this idli in restaurants and have no idea what they should really taste like :D Thanks a lot for the fried cashews tip!ReplyDelete
Latha, How perfectly awesome! Please please learn the art from her, Latha. I am 100% sure her Kanjeevaram idlis are light-years ahead of these.
Is the "real" name of the place Kanjeevaram or Kanchipuram?
Lissie, a Kerala grocery store is a bit too specific for a relatively small city like St. Louis, but I'm definitely going to look for some Indian stores!
Srivalli, I do add fenugreek most of the time. Thanks for the rice soaking tips, and yes, your recipe looks delicious! I have linked to it on this post already, and will be trying it real soon!
Raaga, I have to say that V does eat idlis when I make them, but deifnitely does not enjoy them as much as me :) Come on over and join us for lunch!
Kamini, Oh, no, I am very very far from perfecting the art of idli-making :)
Cynthia, oh, yes, rice certainly rules my kitchen.
Shn, you know, I did try that trick of adding cooked rice once, but it did not seem to work. Maybe I need to revisit it. Will definitely try the sona masuri and parboiled combo. Thanks for the great tips!!
Mika, How are you?? Good to see you! I have been trying both- adding salt before and after fermenting. Good to know that adding before is recommended. My mother also said the same thing! About mixing with hands. But it is no superstition, right? :) We are trying to transfer some body heat to get the fermentation going at an optimal temp.
TBC, no, you are far from being the only one- lots of South Indians I know get tired of idlis (dosas and other delicacies, on the other hand, seem to be perenially popular!). I'll definitely look at your instant dosa recipe!
About the cauliflower, I put all kinds of non-traditional veggies in sambar and they all taste great to me :)
Roopa, they are delicious- worth a try!
Kanchana, Ok, now you have totally convinced me to go find some parboiled rice. Your Bro-in-law's tips make a whole lot of sense! Also, good to know that idli batter is slightly coarse, I have putting too much effort into making fine batter. Now is the best time to try idlis in my kitchen, it is like an incubator (warm and toasty, good for yeast, not so much for humans :D). Thanks so much for taking the time to leave all the tips!
Ashwini, yes, I do add fenugreek seeds about half the time. Don't know if I have seen any difference :D Maybe a controlled experiment is called for. I share your giddy love for idlis :D
Padma, the added flavors make this ildi delicious! "true" recipe call for adding a lot more sesame oil and ghee to the batter, but I had to cut that down!
RP, yes, now is the time to go hunting over all the Indian stores in this city! Yes, I seem to be eating a lot of rice (and posting about it!) :D
Musical, the upside-down lobia polo has been my absolute favorite rice dish this year! Such a simple and delicious dish. I did try Seema's recipe, but the addition of cooked rice and yogurt did not work for me, but that was probably because the season was all wrong...I'll have to give it another shot :)
Lydia, I would suggest, with these dishes, try making dosa batter and dosas first....for me, they worked just fine from the very first time. Idlis seem to be more tricky :)
Cathy, thank you for saying that :) You know, I visited an aunt last month and tasted her superb idlis, and then realized that mine totally needed improvement! Uncle Ben's! Yes, that is a good idea! I was surprised to learn of the nutritional bit too. Apparently the parboiling seals in a lot of the nutrition.
Diane, thanks for the great tip- I had no idea that Kerala red rice and Sri Lanka red rice are that different! Wow, you have such a collection of rices. IIf you lived closer, we could have done a "rice sswap" :D All my sacks of rice are in a top shelf of a kitchen cupboard, and I have a feeling it is going to collapse on top of me sometime soon :)
Vicki, Thanks for the tip...I will look around some more and then maybe buy online as the last resort.
Linda, you are very sweet for saying that, but the photography in Dakshin is sooo gorgeous! I like a lot of recipes from there, and keep trying a new one off and on. You are so right, converted rice is the same as parboiled and Uncle Ben's is ubiquitous! I might have to try it.
Viji, thank you so much for your sweet words :)
Idlis and uttapa look great.. thanks for combining all rice recipes at one place.. Its now easier to follow my rules of cooking for guests :DReplyDelete
Nupur,I grew up eating idlies and always swore that I would never eat when I grow up,but now I enjoy these as they are the simplest to make.ReplyDelete
Kanjivaram idli seems very delicious,bookmarked.
do you have any tips for the very novice indian cooker on how to actually steam up idlis? esp. w/o owning a steamer expressly for idli steaming purposes? i have a little steamer insert to place over a pot of boiling water, but fear that's not what you had in mind..
These are some really yummy looking Kanchipurum idlis!! I have tried making them just once and that too with a ready made mix...and i am not excited about the experience ;) This recipe is a must try out! :)ReplyDelete
I too make idlis with idli rawa...but plan to make them using raw rice now that I have Sumeet.
One trick which that I have to make fluffy idlis is adding about 1/4 tsp of methi seeds to the batter. Soak them along with the rest of the ingredients and grind. Use this for dosas too. Also my measurements are 3 cups rice to 1 cup urad dal...always results in fluffy and soft idlis. :)Hope this helps.
Your idlis do look perfect and soft.
I am that south Indian who never liked idlis though my mom made super sponge idlis. Once I started to cook, that notion changed.
Though I would not consider myself an expert, I do make A+ idis with idli rava. I don't have an expensive grinder. All I have is Hamilton beach blender, which is supposed to be meant for juices kind of stuff.
I use uraddal and idli rava in 1:2 ratio and soak them for three hours. (I live in Midwest). First I will grind the uraddal super soft with as little water as possible and then add rava and grind again till some what smooth. Then add salt and keep it in the oven. I usually grind by 6 p.m It is usually fermented well by morning even in the winters. I never had to add baking soda to the batter.
Now recently, I came across idli rice. When my SIL insisted that they make good idlis, I bought it.
This needs more soaking. I had to soak it in the morning. Grinding took lots of time, I mean a lot. Again I had to add baking soda in the morning. Then the idlis were good.
My mom used to use the parboiled rice when idli rava was not sold. Some how I never liked those parboiled rice idlis. I don't know whether that rava is made using this rice.
I haven't tried the other varieties of rice though.
Since you are already making idlis with rava, I don't know whether you need this info at all:)
I like your carrot cake, especially the decoration.
My dad loves these idlis. Even to this day, these idlis are served in road side shops in Kancheepuram. And they have a grainy texture which is its signature :)ReplyDelete
Wow Nupur..those idlis look sooooooo nice and absolutely yummy..I definitely want to make those soon..Also, love ur collection of rice dishes :-)ReplyDelete
Arts, you and your rules :D yes, I end up making rice dishes often too, for guests.ReplyDelete
Sreelu, so true, they are the simplest to make...but making really good idlis is still a challenge for me!
LO, I think the steamer insert will work, but only if it has no holes, or very tiny ones. Otherwise: here's soemthing I have improvised in the past: Pot of boiling water: a sieve inserted into the mouth of the pot. A flat container with the batter placed inside the sieve, then a cover placed on the whole thing.
Tee, oh. good, you now have a Sumeet! I'll try your measurements, I usually use 2 cups rice : 1 cup urad dal. Thanks so much for the tips!
Suma, Thanks for the detailed suggestions- see, I never tried grinding the soaked idli rice...just used it straight. Your thoughts are very useful! I can see lots of idli experiments in my future :)
Suganya, someday I hope to taste the "real" ones....I have never tasted Kanchipuram idlis before making these!
Anu, thanks :) you can see I am a rice lover!
Nupur, very sweet of you to link to my post. Do try it out and let me know how it comes out..ReplyDelete
Hi..liked ur blog..and the enthu with which u have written about the variety in rice..nice...ReplyDelete
I have always made idlis with par boiled rice..one trick that i have been using to get soft and fluffy idlis is that i soak the rice and urad dal seperately overnite ..to the urad dal,while soaking i also add 1 or 2 tspoon fenugreek seeds. While grinding the rice, also add 1-2 cups of beaten rice (aval in tamil), soaked in water to become soft...i grind the rice and urad dal seperately in a table top grinder and mix them later and let thme ferment...hope this makes ur idli soft..all the best... :)
p.s: have added u to my blogroll list....ReplyDelete
the idlies look perfect? why do you need comments from experts now? I think you are one urself :)ReplyDelete
Priya, thanks for the tip! I will definitely try the beaten rice method!ReplyDelete
Nags, you know what they say, looks can be deceptive ;) these are far-from-perfect idlis...
Kanchipuram idlis with sambar looks great.wonderful collection of rice dishes.Thanks for sharing.I also soak rice and urad dal with 1 tsp methi seeds separately for 4 to 6 hrs.The idli rice from indian store works better.(rice and urad dal in the ratio 5 1/2 : 1)I usually used to do 4;1 but a friend suggested 5 1/2:1.This is great.I too have regular blender with glass jar.Like you said ,I am also not satisfied with the food processor results. Durga.ReplyDelete
the idlis have a neat finish :) and i like the way you have placed your sambar. nice kadai!!ReplyDelete
im not an expert idli chef - though my amma is one. here are a few things that i have learnt.
1. soak with 1 1/2 tsp of methi seeds - this is "yeast" traditionally used to help in fermentation.
2. soak for 6 hours before grinding. saves electricity and helps get to the soft paste consistency faster.
3. add water while grinding at regular intervals. this will give you a smooth paste. roughly, 2 1/2 cups of water needs to be added. you can 1 cup when to start to grind and add the rest in small tbsp quantitites at regular intervals.
4. proportion is mooooost critical. 4:1 (rice:urad dal) gives idlis that are soft. while 2:1 is considered some kind of yardstick (i have no clue why), in chettinad (where you get the best idlis) people use 4:1. i use 4 cups rice for 3/4 cup urad dal with wonderful results.
idli incidentally is an indonesian import that the people of chettinad progressively converted into rice based steamed pancakes from the original urad dal based one. they realized rice makes it more long standing and fluffy. so rice must be significantly higher to get soft idlis.
the chettinad people also make masala dosa minus urad dal - with just rice and fenugreek.
for kancheepuram idlis you can use 3:1 and grind it coarsely to get the authentic finish.
5. poha or aval is sometimes added to give idlis softness. while this works, i would not recommend this as a practice because such batter will not be long standing. my batter stands for more than a week.
6. use parboiled rice for better results. good idli rice is fat, transparent with a mild white line or patch.
rather long eh? well, im absolutely passionate about idlis and want people to get it right - what joy can be greater than taking a bite of soft divine fluffiness?
I've been wanting to make Kancheepuram idlis ever since I first tasted them. I was under the impression that they use black urad dhal (with skin that is) and you are right, those spices do give the idlis a kick. You can buy the small ultra grind.. it's quite handy and not too expensive - using a grinder makes quite a bit of difference.. something abt the batter coming into contact with the stone.ReplyDelete
Durga, I did buy idli rice last weekend so I will be trying this method soon!ReplyDelete
Lakshmi, how very generous of you to share all these fantastic tips! I really really appreciate it. I did buy idli rice but it is long rather than fat :( but yes, it is sort of transparent. Will give it a shot and let you know how it works!
Laavanya, thanks for the suggestion- will look into the small ultra grind! I can truly imagine that a good grinder would make all the difference.ReplyDelete
I know I am too late to comments but still want to do it beacuse I am crazy about idlis of any kind!! I have have it at any time of the day. your version looks great.ReplyDelete
first time in ur blog.. nice one.. saw ur entry in JFI-Rice and liked the Idli recipes. Wanted a clarification. the rice should be nice batter or corase batter?
For softer and perfect idlis try this:
1 1/2 cup long grain rice
1 1/2 cup idli rice
1 cup urad dal
Soak each separately for atleast 5 hours.
Grind and do not add too much water.
Let it ferment well.
Love this post! Idlis look fantastic. I love Idlis. For Pongal we make this Kanchi idlis with cashews included. Very tasty. Another thing is I make them in the small steel tea tumbler, so it has the shape of that for a special effect. Hopefully this year I will get a good photo of that and blog it!ReplyDelete
I've blogged your Kanchipuram Idli as a model recipe in the 1001 Idli cookbook at
/Thanks for the detailed recipe and the frank comments on the problems faced
My proportion for idlis isReplyDelete
1. For Indian Mixie
4 cups Idli Rice(Available in indian grocery stores in US)
1 Cup Urid Dal (Deskinned-Whole/Gota)
1 tsp Methi seeds
2. For indian wet grinders
5 cups Idli Rice(Available in indian grocery stores in US)
1 Cup Urid Dal (Deskinned-Whole/Gota)
1 tsp Methi seeds
Soak rice and urid dal+Methi Seeds seperately. Grind after 5-7 hours.
First Urid dal+methi Seeds till frothy. Then grind rice. Add salt. Let the mixture be little thick i.e. add less water.