If you live anywhere besides Silicon Valley, Jersey, or New York, you may never have had the opportunity to sample these slightly cloud-looking puffs of uniqueness. But there is really nothing like an idli, so here are my tips for making them at home.
- Don’t make idlis in the microwave. That’s it. They just don’t taste good. Don’t ruin your idli experience that way. They are so easy to make with instant mix and a steamer that it really isn’t worth it.
- Don’t add too much water. If you are using instant mix, this can be a not quite disastrous, but annoying issue. Too much water means the batter doesn’t blend correctly, leaks when you try to fills the trays, and takes longer to cook (or never quite cooks completely). Less is more. Or at least, start with less, then add more.
- Allow the batter time to meld. Depending on which mix you use, they may or may not tell you a certain number of minutes to let the batter sit before you put it in the steamer. It is always best to wait twenty minutes or so to let the starches start binding. It will not only make pouring the batter easier, but you will get a better finished product.
- Keep the water level and heat level low. If the water level is too high, it will mix with the bottom tray of idlis, ruining the idlis on that plate, mixing batter into the water, and generally making a big mess. However, if there is not enough water or the heat is on too high, the water will all burn off and your idlis will cook strangly (or not at all) and the bottom of your pot or cooker will burn.
- Make sure to grease the pan well. I had tried using spray oil, but I find that this tends to clog the steamer holes a bit and result in under-cooked idli. Instead, just pour a bit of vegetable or canola oil onto a folded piece of paper towel and quickly whip it over your idli wells before the oil seeps into the paper towel. Re-oil the paper towel for each tray in your set of idli pans.
- Don’t overfill the trays. Err on the side of less batter in each idli spot. When you pick up the trays to put them in your steamer, there is likely to be a little jostling of the batter, and if it coats your entire tray surface, it will both block steam holes and be annoying to clean up later.
- Stand back when opening your steamer. I had gotten steam burns in some annoying places from not allowing the steam to dissipate when I opened the steamer to check on the idlis. Even if you don’t stick your head right over the pot when you open it, make sure not to stick your hand in to grab the tray too quickly.
- Test for doneness with your finger. Don’t trust your eyes on this one. Open the pan and just quickly (they are very hot) dab the pad of your finger on one of the idlis in the top tray. If it still feels wet, then you need to let them cook a few more minutes.