|Yummy home-made idlis with chutney and sambar|
The idli (IPA:ɪdlːi), also romanized "idly" or "iddly", is a steamed rice cake popular throughout South India. It is made by steaming batter — traditionally made from pulses (specifically black lentils) and rice — into patties, usually two to three inches in diameter, using a mold.
Most often eaten at breakfast or as a snack, idli are usually served in pairs with chutney, sambar, or other accompaniments. Mixtures of crushed dry spices such as milagai podi are the preferred condiment for idlis eaten on the go. It is recognized as one of the most healthiest foods in the world.
The idli is a common fastfood available everywhere in India, especially in the states that make up South India.
Although the precise history of the modern idli is unknown, it is a very old food in southern Indian cuisine. One mention of it in writings occurs in the Kannada writing of Shivakotiacharya in 920 AD, and it seems to have started as a dish made only of fermented black lentil. One description circa 1025 A.D. says the lentils were first soaked in buttermilk, and after grinding, seasoned with black pepper, coriander, cumin and asafoetida.
The Kannada king and scholar Someshwara III, reigning in the area now called Karnataka, included an idli recipe in his encyclopedia, the Manasollasa, written in Sanskrit ca. 1130 A.D. There is no known record of rice being added until some time in the 17th century. It may have been found that the rice helped speed the fermentation process. Although the idli changed in ingredients, the preparation process and the name remained the same.
To prepare the classic idlis, two parts uncooked rice to one part split black lentil (Urad dal) are soaked until they can be ground to a paste in a heavy stone grinding vessel, the attu kal. This paste is allowed to ferment overnight, until about 2-1/2 times its original volume. In the morning, the idli batter is put into the ghee-greased molds of an idli tray or "tree" for steaming. This typically has several metal trays in tiers on a central support, with three or four round indentations per tray. These molds are perforated to allow the idlis to be cooked evenly. The tree holds the trays above the level of boiling water in a pot, and the pot is covered until the idlis are done, in 10-25 minutes, depending on size. The idli's pancake-like (or crepe-like) cousin is the dosa.
Contemporary Idlis and variations
Southern Indians have brought the popular idli wherever they have settled throughout the world. Cooks have had to solve problems of hard-to-get ingredients, and climates that do not encourage overnight fermentation. One cook noted that idli batter, foaming within a few hours in India, might take several days to rise in Britain. The traditional heavy stones used to wet-grind the rice and dal are not easily transported. Access to Indian ingredients before the advent of Internet mail order could be virtually impossible in many places. Chlorinated water and iodized salt interfere with fermentation.
Newer "quick" recipes for the idli can be rice- or wheat-based (rava idli). Parboiled rice, such as Uncle Ben's can reduce the soaking time considerably. Store-bought ground rice is available, or Cream of Rice may be used. Similarly, semolina or Cream of Wheat may be used for rava idli. Yoghurt may be added to provide the sour flavor for unfermented batters. Prepackaged mixes allow for almost instant idlis, for the truly desperate. Idli Burger is another variation that can be made easily.
Besides the microwave steamer, electric idli steamers are available, with automatic steam release and shut-off for perfect cooking. Both types are non-stick, so a fat-free idli is possible. Table-mounted electric Wet grinders may take the place of floor-bound attu kal. With these appliances, even the classic idlis can be made more easily.
The plain rice/black lentil idli continues to be the popular version, but it may also incorporate a variety of extra ingredients, savory or sweet. Mustard seeds, fresh chile peppers, black pepper, cumin, coriander seed and its fresh leaf form (cilantro), fenugreek seeds, curry leaves (neem), fresh ginger root, sesame seeds, nuts, garlic, scallions, coconut, and the unrefined sugar jaggery are all possibilities. Filled idlis contain small amounts of chutneys, sambars, or sauces placed inside before steaming.
A variety of idlis are experimented these days, namely, standard idli, mini idlis soaked in sambar, rava idli, Kancheepuram idli, stuffed idli with a filling of potato, beans, carrot and masala, ragi idli, pudi idli with the sprinkling of chutney pudi that covers the bite-sized pieces of idlis, malli idli shallow-fried with coriander and curry leaves, and curd idli dipped in masala curds.
- Idly Wada.jpg
Idli and Vada served with sambar and two type of chutneys (green and red) on banana leaf.
- Idly sambar vada.JPG
The South Indian staple breakfast item of idly, sambar, and vada served on a banana leaf. Note the stainless steel plates and cups; characteristics of south Indian dining tables.
Tatte Idli: variations from Karnataka
Sambar idly: Idly soaked in sambar. Chutney is the best companion for this dish.
- Idli at MTR.jpg
MTR idly: Famous Mavalli Tiffin Room idly served with pure ghee and sambar. Pure Ghee is poured on seaming edli and relished with chutney or sambar.
- Idli (Indian Rice Cakes) - a Balanced Diet. Author: Dr M.S.Rajanna Professor. Department of Community Medicine. Sri Siddhartha Medical College. Tumkur Karnataka state. India.
- Achaya, K. T. (1994) Indian Food: A Historical Companion, Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-563448-9
- Devi, Yamuna (1987) Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, Dutton ISBN 0-525-24564-2
- Jaffrey, Madhur (1988) A Taste of India, Atheneum ISBN 0-689-70726-6
- Rau, Santha Rama (1969) The Cooking of India, Time-Life Books
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