When you say South Indian breakfast, the first thing that comes to mind is soft, white fluffy idli (and assorted chutneys that go with it). Idli is a characteristic Tamil dish, perhaps one of the oldest fermented foods in India. The batter, made from soaked raw parboiled rice and urad dal, is then left overnight, placed on the kitchen counter to ferment. Traditional kitchen tops are usually made with grey Cuddapah stone, but in recent times granite is widely used. South India enjoys a relatively warm climate year long, making it conducive for the batter to ferment and rise to almost double, overnight. Natural bacteria and microorganisms (probiotics) do the trick and no yeast is involved! The ‘good bacteria’ in fermenting was a way of preserving food, long before the days of refrigeration. Fermentation can produce distinctive, strong slightly sour flavours…similar to sourdough breads or Japanese Sake.
What are the benefits of fermented rice? You are what you eat, say Yoga and Ayurveda. Ever heard of the intelligent, witty, highly educated, culturally rooted South Indian, whose memory recall for reciting complex Sanskrit stotras is remarkable? Then its the Tam Brahm!(Tamil Brahman). Idli, dosa and appam are breakfast delicacies made from fermented food. ( Of course, other cultures have produced many a scholar too).
Cultural Notes: The home of a South Indian is distinctly traditional, religious oriented, disciplined in daily routine. Women of the household, urban or rural, are early risers. The stainless steel coffee filter is the first gadget on the kitchen top to be filled with fresh ground coffee. Then water is set to boil and pour into it, letting the deep brown decoction percolate. Time for morning stotras, music to be melodiously filtering the entire house. Next is drawing muggu at the doorstep with rice powder, and invoking goodness and clean Spirits to enter the household. This is done by sprinkling water (or mopping) at the doorstep /threshhold and placing exact number of pearly white dots for the muggu pattern. With swift and dextrous hand movements between those dots, a beautiful pattern emerges. Intricate dot counting becomes Art!
”Kapi ready irke” she tells the house as she pours steaming hot frothy, brown brew into stainless steel tumblers ( yes, there is a reason for the metal tumblers of particular size, to keep the coffee warm and taste retaining too. Definetely better than Star Buck mugs!).
Its time for other gadjets to appear on the counter. Set up the idli stand and prepare the tangy sambar.
I too have assembled my equipments. A Pressure cooker, idli stand, blender/mixer or a traditional stone grinder, small hand shaped spoon to remove steamed idli, banana leaves for serving, stainless utensils and katori (cups), stainless scooping spoon, stainless steel coffee filter.
2 cups parboiled raw rice (not Basmati) or Ready packed idli rice flakes
1 cup urad dal
2 tsp. avval /pohe /beaten rice (optional)
few seeds of soaked methi/ fenugreek
water and salt as required
Wash the rice ( or pakaged idli rice flakes) and urad dal few times, seperately till water runs clear. Grind them seperately to a semi fine batter along with (optional) beaten rice. Now mix both the batters, add soaked methi seeds and salt and water as required. The mixture should be semi thick, pouring consistency. Place in large bowl or utensil and cover with a plate. The batter should rise when left overnight (or 5-8 hrs.) in a warm place.
Next day early morning, check batter, give a good stir.
Now put 2 – 3 cups of water in the pressure cooker or steam cooker. Prepare idli stand by washing and lightly oiling, so the idlis can be scraped off easily. (traditionally each sieve is filled with batter and covered with a muslin cloth, that helps retain the steam, as well as easy to tip off idli, once ready). I do not do this at my home.
Place stand in cooker WITHOUT the pressure whistle. Steam for 10 -15 mins, check if done by inserting a sharp knife or fork into the fluffy idli. Keep them to settle in the cooker for another 3-5 mins. Remove lid, take out stand and use the spoon to scrape out the fluffy, soft idli , place in warm box or serving bowl. The softness will depend much on the preparation of batter consistency and the fermentation due micro organisms, developed in warm place.
Practice makes perfect, so do experiment if you are a novice.
Now, as in a traditional South Indian home, light a lamp at the altar, light some incense stick /agarbatti and listen to some melodious chants. Serve fluffy steaming idlis along with Sambar (Tangy vegetable stew) and some coconut chutney.
‘Anna he poorna Brahman’ Enjoy your breakfast.
Wait here for the sambar and chutney recipes, please.
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