|Course||Breakfast, snack rarely dinner|
|Place of origin||Karnataka|
|Serving temperature||Hot with sambar and chutney|
|Main ingredients||Black lentils (de-husked), rice|
|Variations||Button idli, tatte idli, sanna, sambar idli, rava idli|
Idli (Kannada: ಇಡ್ಲಿ,Tamil: இட்லி, Malayalam: ഇഡ്ലി, Telugu: ఇడ్లి), also romanized idly or iddly, plural idlis, is a traditional breakfast in south Indian households. Idli is savory cake of Karnataka that is most popular throughout the southern part of India including Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka. The cakes are usually two to three inches in diameter and are made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils (de-husked) and rice. The fermentation process breaks down the starches so that they are more readily metabolized by the body.
Most often eaten at breakfast or as a snack, idlis 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. A variant of Idli known as sanna (Konkani: सान्नां sānnāṃ) is very popular amongst the Goans and other Konkani people. Another variant known as "Enduri Pitha" is very popular in Odisha. For preparation of "Enduri Pitha", mixture of black gram paste and ground once-boiled rice is wrapped in turmeric leaf and steam cooked.
A precursor of the modern idli is mentioned in several ancient Indian works. A 920 CE Kannada language work by Shivakotiacharya mentions "iddalige", prepared only from an urad dal (black lentil) batter. Chavundaraya II, the author of the earliest available Kannada encyclopaedia, Lokopakara (c. 1025 CE), describes the preparation of this food by soaking urad dal (black gram) in buttermilk, ground to a fine paste and mixed with the clear water of curd, and spices. The Western Chalukya king and scholar Someshwara III, reigning in the area now called Karnataka, included an idli recipe in his encyclopedia, Manasollasa (1130 CE). This Sanskrit-language work describes the food as iddarika.
The recipe mentioned in these ancient Indian works leaves out three key aspects of the modern idli recipe: the use of rice (not just urad dal), the long fermentation of the mix, and the steaming for fluffiness. The references to the modern recipe appear in the Indian works only after 1250 CE. The food historian K. T. Achaya speculates that the modern idli recipe might have originated in the present-day Indonesia, which has a long tradition of fermented food. According to him, the cooks employed by the Hindu kings of the Indianised kingdoms might have invented the steamed idli there, and brought the recipe back to India during 800-1200 CE.
The Gujarati work Varanaka Samuchaya (1520 CE) mentions idli as idari, and also mentions its local adaption idada (a non-fermented version of dhokla). The earliest extant Tamil work to mention idli (as itali) is Maccapuranam, dated to the 17th century.
(N.B. Because this is a sourdough fermentation, use either bottled water or boiled-cooled (to room temperature) tap water water, otherwise the chlorine in the tapwater could kill/slowdown the sourdough/natural yeast).
To make idli, place four parts uncooked rice to one part split black lentil (minapa pappu, urad dal, vigna mungo) in a pan and soak separately for at least four hours. Optionally, to improve taste, add half a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds to the lentils at the time of soaking. Grind the lentils (with the fenugreek seeds) to a fine paste attaining the consistency of whipped cream. Grind the rice to a coarse paste separately in a heavy stone grinding vessel (rolu-rokali, rubbo-kallu, oralu kallu). Mix both the lentil and rice paste thoroughly. Alternatively, urad dal flour and rice flour can be purchased separately and mixed with water. Leave the paste to ferment overnight, (it helps to add a pinch of yeast) until it has expanded to about 2½ times its original volume. After the overnight fermentation, save some of the batter (in the refrigerator) as a starter culture for the next batch (since it is a sourdough culture, and acid, it should keep about a week).
In the morning, put the idli batter into the ghee-greased moulds of an idli tray or "tree" for steaming. The perforated moulds 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 (about 10–25 minutes, depending on size). The idli is somewhat similar to the attu, dosa, a fried preparation of the same batter.
Note that a traditional method in Tamil Nadu avoids greasing and uses a pure white cloth which is placed on the moulds and batter is poured over it. After the idlis are cooked the trays along with cloth are inverted onto a plate, water is sprinkled on the cloth, then the cloth is pulled and the idlis come out without sticking to the cloth. This way idlis are prepared without a single drop of oil or ghee. Those cloths are washed daily and kept separately in kitchens. In the old days, before idli mould cooking plates were neither popular nor widely available, thick idli batter was poured on a cloth tightly tied on the mouth of a deep cooking pan or tava half filled with water. A heavy lid was placed on the pan and the pot kept on the boil until the batter was cooked into idli. This was often a large idli depending on the circumference of the pan. It was then cut into bite-size pieces and eaten.
Idlis are usually served in pairs with coconut chutney (thengai chutney/kobbari chutney) or kaara chutney (onion chutney), sambar and idli mulaga podi or kara podi with ghee/oil . Kobbari pachadi and karampodi are first used to eat in combination of idlis in Andhra Pradesh, specifically in Kostha Andhra Districts.
Allam pachadi (which is made of Ginger and available in both the sweet and spicy varieties), also goes very well with idlis and dosas.
If there are excess uneaten idlis, they are often used to make a savory snack called idli upma.
This can be prepared by cutting the prepared idlis (above) into small pieces. Sauteing some sliced onions, black crushed dal, curry leaves and fry till golden yellow of onion. Add the chopped idlis and continue sauteing. Serve with coconut chutney or pickles or with chutney powder with ghee.
Contemporary idlis and variations
The people of Tamil Nadu have brought the popular idli wherever they have settled throughout the world. Chettinad idli (as it is popularly referred to) made by 'Nattukottai Nagarathars' top the list, in the quality of idlis and there is a craving for Chettinad idlis, throughout Tamilnadu. Due to the popularity of Chettinad idlis, the cooks from Karaikkudi (part of Sivaganga District in Tamilnadu) are in great demand. Generally the cooks have had to solve problems of hard-to-get ingredients and climates, that do not encourage overnight fermentation.
Newer "quick" recipes for the idli can be rice- or wheat-based (rava idli) that is extremely popular in Karnataka where this type of the idlis seems to have originated. Parboiled rice 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 preparing rava idli. Yogurt may be added to provide the sour flavour for unfermented batters. Prepackaged mixes allow for almost instant idlis; however, the additional health benefits of fermentation process will be lacking. Idli burger is another variation that can be made easily.
Mallige idli is one of the most common and versatile Bangalore breakfasts made with beaten rice or poha, cooked rice, idli rice, sour yoghurt and urad dal. These idlis are white puffy steamed rice cakes which are simple to prepare and very healthy with very low fat content in them. Mallige is jasmine in the Tamil and Kannadalanguages, hence this dish is also known as jasmine idli. These idlis are very soft and fluffy and popular in Mysore and Mangalore. Spongy idlis with coconut chutney served along with delicious piping hot sambar is a very famous Karnataka meal.
Although idlis are often cooked in a steamer over the stove, microwave steamers and electric idli steamers are also available, with automatic steam release and shut-off for perfect cooking. Both types may also consist of non-stick batter pan. This allows cooking without oil-based lubrication of the pan that makes it feasible to easily dislodge the idli from the pan. Batter preparation using a manual rocking rock grinder has been replaced by electric grinders. In many households, table-mounted electric wet grinders have replaced on-floor attu kal (Tamil: rocking rock). With these appliances, even the classic idlis can be made with less labour.
The plain rice/black lentil idli continues to be the popular version, but it may also incorporate a variety of extra ingredients, savoury or sweet. Mustard seeds, fresh chile peppers, black pepper, cumin, coriander seed and its fresh leaf form (cilantro), fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, 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. Idlis are sometimes steamed in a wrapping of leaves such as banana or jackfruit leaves.
A variety of nontraditional idlis exists 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.
South Indian temple town Madurai in Tamil Nadu is famous for its overnight idli shops where one can have hot and soft idlis even at 2 a.m. These idlis are served with sambar and also with more than three varieties of chutney like coconut chutney, cilantro chutney, onion chutney and mint. The softness of these idlis lie in the selection of rice and black gram (black lentil).
Other temple towns in Tamil Nadu like Kancheepuram and Tanjore are also famous for the tasty idlis. Most of the people in south India take idli as the breakfast. Idlis are an easily disgestible food taken with sambar provides a mix of proteins and carbohydrates. Apart from sambar idli is also taken with brinjal/tomato kothsu (a south Indian side dish), puli milagai (a gravy made of tamarind, chilly and onion), vadai curry, etc. Idli with vadai curry combination is most popular in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Idli goes very well with idli powder (milagai podi (literally chilli powder in Tamil)). Many varieties of idli powder exist; the most popular ones include the powders made of black lentil/chana dal and ellu podi (made of sesame seed and dried red chilli).
Apart from many other variations of idlis in Karnataka, the people of Karnataka can be found continuing the 1100-year-old way of making the idli as mentioned in the works of Shivakotiacharya or Chavundaraya. The finished product is called uddina idli, with the main ingredient remaining urad dal (black lentil).
Ramasseri, an offbeat village in Palakkad is known all over Kerala for the idlis it makes—the delicious ramasseri idli. Spongy and soft, it is slightly different in shape from the conventional idlis. It is a little flat and round. It is eaten with podi mixed in coconut oil. The beginning was from a Mudaliar family living near Mannath Bhagavathi Temple in Ramasseri near Elappully.(સંદર્ભ આપો)
The recipe of ramasseri idli dates back to about the first century, which is a trade secret. The Muthaliyar family had migrated to Palakkad from Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. The new generation in the profession says that the secret of the recipe and taste were handed down to them from the older women of the community. Now the idli business is confined to four families in Ramasseri. Selection of rice is very important in making ramasseri idli. Usually the varieties used are Kazhama, Thavalakannan, Ponni etc.
The taste depends on the boiling of the idli itself. Drying and dehusking are also important and need to be done in a particular way. The combination of rice and black gram is also equally important. For ten kilograms of rice, one kilogram of black gram is used. Idli is made only after four hours of fermentation. Steaming of the idlis is done on a cloth covered on the mud pot using firewood. This allegedly provides a special taste to the preparation. Leftover idlis can be torn into crumbs and used for preparing dishes such as idli fry and idli upma.
The South Indian staple breakfast item of idli, sambar, and vada served on a banana leaf. Note the stainless steel plates and cups; characteristic of south Indian dining tables.
MTR idli is Mavalli Tiffin Room idli served with pure ghee and sambar. Pure ghee is poured on steaming idli and relished with chutney or sambar.
Muday idli is a Mangalorean variant of idli.
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