Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Truly, madly, IDLY !

You can say all the jokes you want about South Indians, but we will never ever stop eating Idlis. Not for the whole world. No amount of Rajnikanth-kolaveri-kerala nurses unfunny jokes can dissuade us from our traditional food, which continues to be a top favorite across all age groups- from toddlers to politicians. Oh and we are also tea drinkers. It keeps us awake and
and alert you seeIt is one of the reasons behind the percentage of South Indian students that knock at the gates of IIT, and the ever increasing theft rate elsewhere  ;-)


Coming back to idlis, even though its batter is available in every nook and corner, it cannot be compared with what we grind at home. The color, smell and everything about it is different. It could probably be because the stores may use baking soda for fast fermentation which is a practice we never do at home. Anyway for bachelors and newly-married-cooking-retarded people (that’s me around five years back), these batter packets are a blessing.

It was on my first grocery shopping trip post marriage that I found out about the idli batter packets and I rejoiced like I won the lottery. I was not even aware of the existence of such a thing mainly because before marriage, I never went grocery shopping. Secondly, hot idlis frequently appeared at the dining table and taken for granted in no time. Thirdly, when Mummy and a housemaid of twenty years are at the kitchen there is no room or reason for a third person to intrude and investigate. Fourthly it was better to eat and leave rather than staying back to ask questions and invite trouble.

It was years later when our baby came into our lives, we started to forego anything that came in packets. This included masalas, batter, processed snacks and other stuff. And then as necessity is the mother of pain-in-the-neck, our next trip to India saw us returning with a brand new grinder. Lifting the grinder weights regularly has made me a mini Mary Kom in terms of biceps. And then came the real trivia. Idli batter is no joke. If you want to make it successfully you need to brush up those math lessons which are collecting cobwebs in some corner of the brain(?). Sixth grade flashback - remember that lesson in ratio and proportion?

So Raw Rice: Urad Dal: Fenugreek = 2:1:(1small spoon). Well, had I understood mathematics in its raw form during my school days, I would have four cooks in my kitchen today asking me what I’d like to eat for dinner. Well, I’ll choose not to talk about what could have happened and focus on not learning mathematics come what may. It takes a while until you can understand that, this formula when followed religiously does not yield soft yummy idlis. Sometimes it can bite on your back by producing idlis that can also be used as stones at the Secretariat march. Idlis are made by ‘experience’, which I would like to rename as ‘sheer luck’. The silver lining of going through all this pain is that, once you grind the batter and keep for fermentation, and it fails at the box office, the same can be used to make dosas. Dosas always come out crisp and yum even if the batter is not in a good mood. This saves me from a lot of batter related stress.

The first time I made idlis, the ones on the lowest rung of idli mould drowned and died.  This was celebrated as a family joke (initiated and marketed by my sister) that my idlis committed suicide. I am secretly planning to throw an idli at her one of these days. 

After a while I mastered the art of making “poo polathe*” idlis. That feeling of licking clean a plate of soft idlis is a form of emotional bliss that can be experienced only by South Indians. Well these idlis are so light on the tummy that it drives us to drink an extra cup of coffee or grab a few biscuits by 11 a.m., but that is not a downside.

So as I sat around pretending to be a master chef, and at other times singing from the rooftop about my newly found culinary skills, somewhere in the background, summer gave way to winter. I found out the hard and bitter way that batter does not ferment in winter. And it is exactly at winter when you really want to devour hot idlis and tea! It took me a lot of effort to stop myself from running to the nearest store and grab a pack of idli batter!  I googled all the culinary blogs and found some real gems which had tips about making idlis in winter. Muscat is as of now at 16 to 20 degrees, which is too cold for idli batter. I tried the water bath method, and then placed it in the oven with oven lights on throughout the night for around 12 hours in total. In the morning I woke up like a mother hen eager to check on her eggs. I opened the oven, and the batter vessel...and... eurekaa!


February. Cool Monday morning. The golden rays of the sun seeped through the window. The birds tapped and murmured against the glass windows. The doves flew past fluttering their wings. The cool breeze tickled the curtains. The coconut oil solidified. On the dining table was the casserole. In it was hot 'poo polathe*' idlis bathing in steam. There was some coconut chutney and a cup of tea for company. Pure bliss. 


*super soft

Picture courtesy:Google

31 comments:

  1. Aah the idli woes of a South Indian family :) ...Since December my Idli batter stopped fermenting and had to be used as dosa batter... After 3- 4 failed attempts ( including the oven trick, but now I realize I had not kept the oven light on !) I took a oath on the new years eve to not think of home made idlis until march... Now let me try the oven trick with lights on :)

    Seena

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    1. I am so glad I posted this ... because I also dint know the oven light trick..it worked well for me...I hope it does for you too.

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  2. Wonderful writing, my beloved daughter, Anita !!! Idli making is an art ! The idli and chutney you had shown is mouth watering !!
    Papa

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  3. Anita,

    You made me feel so tempted. When do I get a chance to have those delicious IDLIs? We too make these even in winters.

    Take care

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    1. mmmmm....Yummy writing! Your blogpost has made me hungry for 'poo polathe idlis' :)

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    2. Hahaha I agree that pic of Idlis I posted here is truly mouthwatering ! And thanks :-)

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  5. THe best idlis I 've had was in Chennai! But your pic looks great too! Well written!

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  6. Ha ha ..idli was the first challenge for my wife and on the first attempt she succeeded in that .. but after that around 4-5 times idlis didnt came out that well .. :) I love idli with sambar ..

    Great write up .... :)

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    1. Yeah idly batter depends on a lot of factors. Thanks Praphul.

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  7. yeah... even idlis can make your day. and I totally agree, you need to be really talented to make those "poo-polathe" idlis :) :) :)

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  8. heheheheheheh......I now resort to packet batter because I don't stay with my family anymore :(
    and whenever south indian women meet...the main topic is the proportion behind getting the best idli! :P
    Poo Polathe idli......and now I am salivating.
    Did I tell you that I had idli this morning?

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    1. I had it yesterday. Hence the post! Yeah for you packet batter is the best option!

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  9. I live in a Brahmin household where packet batter is considered blasphemy! My MIL has her own secret ingredients for the Idlys along with secret ratios. She grids it in the grinder until the batter has the right shine and texture. The idlys turn out to be tiny droplets of heaven! Now I understand the importance of the perfect idly!

    The bestest idly however was at the 'Murugan Idly Kada' in Chennai. Those damn idlys just melt in your mouth!

    And yeah, like Red, I had idly for breakfast too! :)

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    1. Is it.. I rarely have idlis from restaurants... May be cos I.love my own idlis More! I don't make vadas so I order those.

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  10. Ezhuthil kothii varuthii.. my sisters named j n j " idli kuttans" because I used to have idili for breakfast most of the timeee.. u brought bac memoriess..batter making is an art for sure... thanks for the oven trick..

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    1. Anju !!! Welcome...!!! Thanks for leaving a comment, dear ! And its a good thing that babies like idli. Easy to eat and digest. Remember when we are ill, doctors sugggest to take bread or idli, cos it is neutral food :-)
      And I am so happy everyone agrees that idli batter is not a joke... and you are always welcome Anju, for any more tips and tricks ! ;-)

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  11. You nailed it. Idlis, vadais, sambar and all that jazz -- I have come to love and long for them being away from home. I manage my idlis and dosais well but still eating them at home is priceless.

    Now, you have left me wanting a hot plate of idli-dosai-sambar-vadai.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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    1. Haha thanks and I.am glad the post tempted you to eat idlis!

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  12. So much for an idly that would soon be eaten? OMG!

    But yes, culinary feats are nothing more than triumphs at great battles. The mathematics is always tricky and the chefs always never tell how big was the spoon when they said take a spoonful.

    Cheers,
    Blasphemous Aesthete

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    1. Correct... Or whether it was just a spoonful or a heaped spoon. Haha you're right.

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  13. You have inspired me to start making my own batter at home. I was dependent on the store bought ones since a couple of yrs due to laziness. But what you said is true.. the home made one is definitely more softer. And to think that i never thought about all that might be going into the store bought batter... yuck!!! Anyways quite an inspirational and entertaining post...
    PS : I was about to write a few praises abt the pic too but it was then that i saw the pic courtesy :D.. Whomsoever's culinary skills it might be, it is definitely worthy of praise.. the idlis and the coconut chutney looks YUM!!!

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    1. I am so glad I inspired you to make batter at home!!! Once you make it, you will never regret it or reach for the packet again!

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  14. Suuperb!!
    Even though I am a North Indian, idlis happen to be my soul-food! :D
    Great post!

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    1. Thanks !
      And I am glad I came across a north Indian who loves idlis!

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  15. I am crying as I type this comment. I haven't had idlis for over one and half years barring the one time I devoured them at Sagar Ratna during my visit to Delhi. My wonly Tamilian friend in Brissy refuses to oblige despite me dropping boulder sized hints.

    The soft, melt in mouth idlis soaked with spicy, piquant sambhar is food nirvana for me.

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    1. :D Welcome home ! Also for us mallus and tamilians, idly is staple food. Something we eat on a weekly basis. Your friend might not even think of idly as an option because it is usually not served to guests..! And she doesnt know how much you crave to eat them ! :D
      Same pinch - Idly is food nirvana for me too!

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