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IDLI [Indian Rice Cake]
Have you ever heard of Idli [indian rice cake] before?
Idli is a South Indian rice cake sponge that is typically enjoyed for breakfast, served with a flavorful lentil soup called sambar and various chutneys. This dish has been a vital part of South Indian households since the early 10th century.
These delectable cakes are traditionally made by soaking and grinding rice and black gram (urad dal) into a batter, which is then fermented overnight — the warm and humid climate of South India plays a crucial role in this fermentation process. After boiling, the batter is used to make idlis. It is also used to make dosas, uttapam, and other South Indian delicacies.
*An important note – In colder climates, achieving the natural fermentation of idli [Indian rice cake] batter can be challenging. Therefore, many modern recipes incorporate baking soda to expedite the process.
Indian cuisine is a delightful journey celebrated in the United States, and its flavors are relished with enthusiasm. Among the most beloved dishes among Americans are butter chicken, saag paneer, samosas, naan, and chana masala. However, these dishes primarily originate from Northern India, often leaving the culinary treasures of Southern India overlooked. In essence, the rich tapestry of Indian food culture is not receiving the attention it truly deserves.
Southern Indian cuisine predominantly features various types of lentils and coconut in its dishes. These dishes can be more intricate to prepare, compared to the Northern Indian cuisine that often relies on ghee and cream, making it relatively easier to cook. I hope this brings awareness to the hidden gem of South Indian cuisine. If you’re intrigued and want to explore the world of South Indian cooking further, a recipe is provided below for you to try it out yourself.
Or, for a hassle-free experience, consider dining at a South Indian restaurant the next time you crave Indian food!
Sustainable Rice Cultivation
Rice plays a significant role in preparing South Indian cuisine. It is enjoyed with flavorful gravies and curries and is also the key ingredient in making idlis[indian rice cake]. While rice is a staple food and an essential crop, there is growing concern about how it is cultivated worldwide.
In Asian countries, rice cultivation is a water-intensive process, requiring flooded fields to plant rice seeds. Additionally, it is estimated that 10% of methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas, are attributed to rice cultivation. Methane-producing microbes are found in flooded rice paddies worldwide. As one of the world’s major staple crops, ensuring sustainable rice cultivation through practices like alternate wetting and drying (AWD) and mid-season drainage is crucial to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
Health Benefits of Indian Rice cake [Idli]
Fermented foods, like idli, [indian rice cake] are consumed regularly in South India. A study conducted in 2011 identified lactic acid bacteria (LAB), including L. mesenteroides, S. Faecalis, and S. thermophilus, as essential microorganisms that thrive during the fermentation of idli batter.
LAB are known for their health benefits, including:
-Improved glucose utilization
-Increased natural energy levels
-Lowering cholesterol levels
-Enhanced absorption of nutrients through the production of enzymes like amylases, lipases, proteases, and more.
The fermentation process of Idli [ Indian rice cake]batter also enhances the bioavailability of vitamins B and C, making it a nutritious and flavorful dish that combats nutritional deficiencies.
Rava Idli (Serves 12-16 idlis) , Indian rice cake
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon split chickpeas (split chana dal)
1 teaspoon split black gram (split urad dal)
2 dried red chilies
¼ teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
A handful of curry leaves
2 cups rice cream (you can use cream of rice)
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped
½ green chili, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup roasted cashews
A handful of fresh red chilies, sliced
2 cups plain yogurt (we used cashews)
Cooking oil (any type)
Idli molds or small bowls
1-Heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.
2-Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, split chickpeas, split black gram, and dried red chilies. Cook until the lentils turn slightly golden.
3-Once they’re golden, add curry leaves and asafoetida powder.
4-Stir in the rice cream and mix everything well.
5-Add ginger, green chili, roasted cashews, and sliced red chilies. Mix thoroughly.
6-Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add plain yogurt. Mix well until you have a consistent batter.
7-Add water until the batter reaches a drinkable but not too thin consistency.
8-Mix in the baking soda to help the idlis rise.
9-To prevent sticking, lightly coat each idli mold with oil. Fill each mold with the batter.
10-Place the idli molds in a steamer or an instant pot with the steam function for about 10 minutes.
11-Once they’re steamed, allow them to cool for 5 minutes before removing the idlis from the molds.
12-Garnish with fresh coriander and serve hot with your favorite chutney.
While white rice is commonly used, you can opt for brown rice cream for a healthier option.
If you don’t have idli molds, you can use small bowls or ramekins instead.