An Idli is rather like the Cinderella of south Indian cuisine. Compare her to other stalwart favorites like crispy, flamboyant dosas that spill over your plate, and golden, melt-in-the-mouth vadas, and the Idli comes across as rather humble, even plain. Worse, try eating her by herself and she is, to boot, bland. After all, there’s nothing more to a generic Idli than udad dal, rice, and salt.
But there’s something about an Idli. Sprinkle on some fairy dust and lo and behold, she transforms into the belle of the ball. That porous and fluffy texture is the perfect vehicle to showcase the spicy-sweet-sourness of vegetable sambar and the creaminess of coconut chutney: the accompaniments an Idli is traditionally served with. What’s more, unlike those dosas and vadas, an Idli is fat-free, making her the perfect food for just about anyone.
In our home, Idli is a perennial favorite. Both Desi (my resident Tamilian) and Jay love Idlis, and so does my fluffy sweetheart Opie who waits patiently for those under-the-table handouts. But this time, I had an added incentive to make Idlis– I had these gorgeous idli makers, or Idlitos, from Gitadini, the innovative folks who gave us the Rotito rolling board and Yin Yang spice box.
An Idli, as simple as it is, needs some special equipment for steaming. Traditionally this has been a three- or four-tier steel contraption with shallow, round, concave indentations where you pour in the batter before bunging the whole thing into a steamer. A few minutes of steaming sets the cakes and you can then slide them out with a spoon or a knife to get those little rounds many of you are no doubt already familiar with.
But the Idlito makes Idlis prettier, by offering fun little shapes you can mold them in. I got two: a pink one shaped like flowers and a red one shaped like hearts. They stack on top of each other beautifully, and because you can make seven idlis in each, two Idlitos — in my home — made enough Idlis for the whole family with more left over.
The Idlitos are made of silicone, so they are non-stick, which makes unmolding the Idlis easy. I found that it’s a good idea to wait until the Idlis have cooled down a bit so the shapes come out perfect. You can also use the Idlitos to make other steamed recipes, like my Brown Rice Dhokla.
And now for the giveaway.
Gitadini has kindly offered to give away an Idlito to one of Holy Cow!’s readers in the United States. All you have to do to enter is leave me a comment below telling me why you love Indian food, and you could be all set to make your Idlis in no time at all. I will announce a winner on Monday, the 23rd of March.
I even have a recipe for you to use with that Idlito, or with your usual steamer. A dressed-up version of the plain-Jane idli, called a Rava Idli.
Rava Idlis are not fat-free, you do need some oil for sauteeing, but they are filled with veggies and very, very good for you. Making them is also a breeze– you don’t need any of the soaking, grinding, fermentation that goes into the classic Idli. All you need is some cream of wheat, or sooji, or rava, a few veggies from the refrigerator, and you’re all set.
Try ’em. I know you’ll fall in love.
- 3 cups sooji rava or cream of wheat
- 6 ounces of silken tofu (1/2 package)
- 2 tbsp almond milk or any non-dairy milk
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp mustard seeds
- A pinch of hing or asafetida, optional
- 1 large carrot, grated
- 2 tbsp grated ginger
- 1 medium onion, minced
- 1/2 cup coriander leaves, finely chopped
- 2 green chili peppers like serrano or jalapeno (use less for less heat)
- 4-5 cups water
- Salt to taste
- 1 tsp Eno fruit salt, optional, but try and use it if possible-- you can find it at any Indian grocery store or online. It gives the idlis a great fluffiness
- Place the tofu in a blender with almond milk and lemon juice. Blend until smooth.
- Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the mustard and when it sputters, add the onions, ginger and chili peppers.
- Saute, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Add some salt to help them along.
- Add the carrots and coriander. Stir well, then add the sooji rava.
- Saute over medium heat, stirring frequently to keep the rava from sticking or burning. It can brown easily in hot spots, so don't leave it unattended.
- When the rava is fragrant and lightly colored, turn off the mixture and let it cool a little. Add the tofu mixture, mix well and add four to five cups of water, You want the batter to be quite thick, thicker than a pancake batter. Add salt to taste.
- Add the Eno fruit salt and immediately pour the batter into the idli molds. If you're using the Idlito, you don't need any oil, but it is a good idea to spray some oil into the steel molds which makes unmolding easier.
- Pour about an inch of water in a wide pan deep and wide enough to hold the idli mold comfortably. Bring it to a boil. Place the mold carefully into the pan. Cover, and let the idlis steam on low heat for 15 minutes.
- Remove the mold from the steamer. Let the idlis cool a bit, then unmold.