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Idli, Whole, Fermented, and Stuffed Two Ways

Updated: Jan 7


A traditional favorite breakfast from South India, idli are light, savory steamed cakes originally made from a naturally fermented, gluten-free batter of rice and split black lentils (urad dal). Today, sadly, many opt for quick idli batter mixes that use par-boiled white rice and artificial leavening, but they lack the depth of flavor and health benefits of the real thing. A delicious savory breakfast, idli also make beautiful canapes for any time of day, served stuffed or plain, and accompanied by your favorite chutneys, pickles, or dips.


For this recipe I avoid cooking oils and use brown rice for its fiber and nutrients in its bran and germ. I made two tasty veggie fillings: a potato-curry leaf-sweet pea, and a tomato-pepper-onion. Have fun coming up with your own Indian-inspired veggie stuffings, which, to save time, you can make in advance.


Idli take a few days to ferment but it’s worth the wait for their complex flavor and nutritional benefits. A natural probiotic and functional food, idli contain multiple strains of beneficial lactobacilli shown to arrive in the gut where they suppress pathogenic bacteria, reduce inflammation, aid digestion, and boost metabolism. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3791246/#:~:text=In%20India%2C%20idli%20batter%20fermentation,delbrueckii%2C%20L.)


Idli prep soak and ferment time 20-30 hours Stuffings prep time 50 minutes

Cooking time 15 minutes Makes about 72+ stuffed idli

Equipment

A stainless idli pot with 5-6 racks

Unbleached butter muslin, cut out to line with idli rack with a hole for the center pole

A high-speed blender


Ingredients

Idli

3 cups brown rice, any variety

1 cup urad dal (split black gram lentils) *

½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds

Water


Potato Pea Stuffing

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds *

10 curry leaves*, chopped crudely

1 green Thai chile*, chopped (use two if you enjoy more heat)

¾” knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 teaspoon coriander powder *

1 teaspoon ground turmeric *

½ teaspoon dry mango powder * or to taste

½ teaspoon garam masala * or to taste

Up to 1 cup water

2 large potatoes, boiled, peeled, crumbled

¾ cup petite peas, fresh or defrosted frozen peas

1 Tablespoon shiro (white) miso powder or paste


Tomato Pepper Onion Stuffing

1 teaspoon black mustard seed *

1 teaspoon urad dal *

1 large onion, medium dice

1 cup tomatoes, medium dice

½ cup bell peppers, any color, medium dice

1 teaspoon ground turmeric *

½ teaspoon cumin powder seed *

1 teaspoon coriander powder *

½ teaspoon hot red chile powder, more if you like heat

2 potatoes, boiled, peeled, crumbled

½ cup cilantro, chopped

Water as needed

1 Tablespoon shiro (white) miso powder or paste


*Available online or in South Asian groceries

Hint! Dry roast and grind your own cumin and coriander seeds for the greatest flavor.

toasting spices for garam masala


Directions


Idli

Rinse the rice. Transfer to a bowl and cover by 2” with fresh unchlorinated water. Rinse the urad dal and fenugreek seed. Transfer them to a different bowl and cover by 2” with fresh unchlorinated water. Set aside to soak for 8 hours.


Pour off – but save - the excess water and grind the rice in a high-speed blender. Run for several minutes until quite smooth. Add just enough of the soaking water to grind the rice but only as needed. Set aside. The rice batter will be a little gritty and the consistency of a pancake batter.


Pour off – but save – the excess water and grind the urad dal and fenugreek seeds in a high-speed blender. Add just enough of the soaking water to grind the dal but only as needed. The batter should be very thick, quite smooth and frothy. The creamier the dal batter, the lighter and airier the idli will be.


In a large bowl combine the two batters, stirring well. Cover and set in a warm spot, like an instant pot set for yogurt or an oven that can maintain a temp around 100°F/38°C. Ferment for 14-20 hours, depending on the ambient temperature, or until the batter has risen considerably, almost doubled, thickened, and is actively bubbling.


Potato Pea Stuffing

Boil the potatoes until tender but intact. Cool slightly, peel, crumble them crudely with a fork or your fingers.


In a large skillet heat the mustard seeds and curry leaves for a minute until fragrant. Add a little splash of water and stir in the ginger, green chile, coriander powder, turmeric, and peas. Cook for a minute and stir in the potato, mixing well. Add very little water as needed. Stir in the mango powder and garam masala. Turn off the heat and stir in the miso, mixing it well. Taste to correct seasonings as you like. The consistency should be dense with a crumbly texture.


Tomato Pepper Onion Stuffing

Boil the potatoes until tender but intact. Cool slightly, peel, crumble them crudely with a fork or your fingers.


In a large skillet dry roast the mustard seed and urad dal for a minute until fragrant. Add the onion, tomato, and peppers and cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Stir in the cumin and coriander powders, turmeric and chile powder. Cook for a minute and then mix in the crumbled potato. Add a bit of water, if needed, if the mix is overly dry. Remove from heat. Stir in the cilantro and miso, mixing well. Taste to correct seasonings as you like.


Stuff and Steam the Idli

Wet your muslin liners and squeeze out all the excess water. Line the idli rack, pressing it to conform to the idli cavities. Fill each cavity with a tablespoon of batter. Add a teaspoon full of one of the stuffings, pressing it with the back of your spoon deep into the batter. Top with a little more batter to cover the filling. Do not overfill the cavities; they need room for expansion or the rising batter will adhere to the rack above it.


Fill the pot with 1-2” of water. Stack the filled idli racks on the center pole. Steam for 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before opening to avoid scalding yourself. Remove each rack and allow to cool for easier handling. Gently peel the muslin off the back of each idli and plate.


Serve warm on their own or with your favorite dips or chutneys.












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Cathy Katin-Grazzini

Plant-Based Chef, Nutritional Coach, Culinary Instructor

86 Regan Rd, Ridgefield, CT 06877  USA

tel. 203.438.4952

ckgrazzini@gmail.com

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