It has been a cold and rainy day, dull and gloomy. Roads were slippery with the sleet, a cold bitter wind blew……
Times that make you want to stay home and enjoy the peace and quiet of cozy warmth……
There are foods that comfort you, memories wrapped in their aroma, recreate magic however far you live from your place of birth. Steamed rice dumplings have always done that to me, for as long as I can remember, it is called “Idli” from where I come from, a staple South Indian breakfast, a versatile dish and a healthy one at that, has had many avatars of it’s own, paired with different spicy combo’s is something you will never forget once you taste it.
Today, being Martin Luther King Day, it was a holiday, had time on my hands and in a mood for some culinary adventure.My thoughts flew back to the time, I first tasted ,’Nei Idli’s’.’Nei’/Ghee is clarified butter and Idli’s are steamed rice dumplings in the South Indian language of Tamil.It was in a small restaurant near the University hospital in Vellore, a city in the north eastern part of the state of Tamil Nadu. I remember the distinct taste of ghee coating every lentil in the sambar ( a lentil based vegetable curry, another staple in every South Indian home) and being immensely happy after tasting it, that I went to the same place each morning during my stay there in the city. It was served in a little bowl, with hot piping sambar and these happy Mini Idli’s swimming gleefully on it, that it is impossible to resist.The ghee is the icing on the cake, like I said, it makes your heart smile.
This cold and rainy day, I was determined to recreate that magic in my kitchen, I pulled out the mini Idli pan which has been safely packed in the pantry …..
I already had the Idli batter…..
I quickly made some yummy sambar to go with it & Voila! before I knew it, the ‘Nei Idli’ was sitting in my dining table all dressed & ready to go. The weather outside was soon forgotten, each soup spoonful of Nei Idli was just what we needed on this day, comfort foods always taste like that, they wrap your taste buds and your frail nerves with the tenderest of heart strings and you are no more the same.Even our pet demanded a second helping, need I say more ?
For the Idli Batter :
Idli Rice- 8 cups
Uradh Dhal – 2 cups
Methi/Fenugreek seeds- a pinch
Salt- to taste
Wash them separately ( the Methi /Fenugreek seeds is soaked along with the Idli Rice, to make soft fluffy Idli’s with a distinct flavor), and soak them overnight. Grind them separately and mix the batter together (with enough water, not to make it too runny but to be able to contain it within the confines of the Idli pan). Set the mixed batter aside, add salt for taste and sit it for another 8 hours, for the batter to ferment and rise up enough to make fluffy Idli’s next morning. ( You can have a whole lot of Idli’s for a week or more with the above ingredients, twice a day if you must, remember each Idli pan comes with 20 holes in them to pour Idli’s in, the Mini Idli pan has even more since they are much smaller !). Pour the batter in the Idli pan after greasing the pan with cooking spray, steam it for 20 minutes and serve hot on removing it from the pan.Mini Idli’s need a little more patience in pouring it into those multiple mini holes on the pan plate, but all for a yummy result at the end.
Sambar ( Vegetable based Lentil curry to go with the Idli’s)
Onion- 1 big (finely chopped) or 8-10 shallots(Shallots taste better in this curry )
Tomatoes- 2 (cubed)
Vegetables – (frozen or fresh) – 2 cups ( any vegetable will work or mixed vegetables too!)
Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
Sambar powder (home made or store bought) – 2 tbsp ( if you like it spicier)
Tamarind extract- 1 tsp
Salt – to taste
Lentils/Thuvar Dhal – 1 cup ( washed and pressure cooked with enough water to soften into a pasty consistency)
Cilantro/ Coriander leaves- to garnish
Oil- 2-3 tbsp
Seasoning – mustard seeds, Channa dhal & Uradh dhal ( a tea spoonful), a sprig of Curry leaves, a pinch of Hing/Asaefoetida
1. Heat oil in a thick bottomed vessel ,add the seasoning to it. To this add the onions and gentle saute till they become translucent. Now add the turmeric powder & stir some more.
2. Add the cubed tomatoes to the above & stir till they soften.
3.Now add the cleaned and washed vegetables and stir it for a few minutes.
4. To this add the cooked Lentil/Thuvar Dhal curry and mix it well, after adding the tamarind extract to it.
5. Now add the sambar powder and salt to taste & stir well.
6.Allow it to cook for the next 10- 15 minutes with the lid covered.
7. Garnish with cilantro and a dollop of ghee.
8 Serve hot in a soup bowl with floating mini Idli’s on top of a base of lentil curry and ghee or ‘Nei’/clarified butter.
Your ‘Nei Idli’ is good to go, spreading happiness & comfort all the way ! Enjoy!
You can find more of my Idli recipes here:
1.Idly Upma :
2. Colorful Cocktail Idli’s :
3.Idli with Cauliflower Kootu :