Slighly UFO shaped, made of an indescribable (and slightly disgusting sounding) mix of ingredients (fermented rice anyone?), and composed of an airy, cakey texture, idlis are a truly unique food.
In my recent travels, I have had the pleasure of eating idlis for breakfast at hotels and my future in-laws house, and for lunch and dinner at the myriad South Indian restaurants in the Bay Area. I am not one to eat out every day, by any means, but these little white puffs are just that good!
Finally, I had had enough and decided to start making idli at home. While some incredibly enterprising folks make them from scratch, there are certain doughs that I know have too high a chance of failure for my taste (how many times have you made really tasty pizza dough from scratch on the first few tries?), so I got myself some mix.
As with most boxes Indian curries or mixes, there are several main brands to choose from as well as several different types of idli batter or mix. If you are lucky enough to have an India grocery store near you that stocks pre-made batter in the refrigerator section, I am jealous. And you should pick some up immediately. Otherwise, there are two main purveyors of instant mix, Gits and MTR, and you can buy mix online if there is not an Indian grocery store near you. MTR is a bit more expensive and generally higher quality, but I have honestly been more pleased so far with the results from Gits, but that may be because I don’t make them in a heavy duty pressure cooker.
The most indispensable item for making idli is the trays. You can purchase these online through many vendors or at any good-sized Indian grocer. Most Indians fit these into their pressure cooker, but I thought that since you are really just steaming them anyway, you should be able to just steam them in a big pot. The result? Pretty successful, if I do say so myself, but I think the cooking time is a bit longer. I make them in my large stock pot (typically used for pasta). You can either just let the trays rests (they have a little stand attached to keep them elevated) on the bottom of the pot, or fit in one a strain or steamer tray and rest the trays on that.
Rice idli, the typical white puffy variety, are most near and dear to my heart as a breakfast treat. Typically served with tomato-lentil sambar soup and fresh, savory coconut chutney, this combination manages to hit all of your different taste cravings in a super healthy and highly satisfying way. Dahi (yogurt) and a ghee (butter) sauce are also common idli fixins, depending on whether you want to up the health quotient or the glutton factor.
Rava idli, made with semolina flour (or rava), are, in my opinion, the flashier variety. A good appetizer or party snack, these stand up well eaten on their own, so they are a good choice when you want to serve snacks with napkins only and not bring in plates or bowls for dipping. Aside from the different flour based, these idlis are dolled up with mustard seeds, ginger, and curry leaves, so they have most coconut chutney ingredients already included. Also, cashews, fresh coconut, and bits of vegetable often add more color to the mix. Though I haven’t yet tried, these do appear easier to make from scratch. Mad Tea Party, and excellent blog for Indian recipes, has a pretty quick and easy looking one that I hope to try soon.
So if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of quick and tasty idlis made at home, try these mixes or recipes out and tell me what you think! It’s amazing how easy they are once your get the supplies together and just go at it. Follow these tips for perfect results!