This post is about Idli. And Dosai. And potlucks. And international friendships. And claustrophobia.
Ask anyone who's spent time at Sadhana to relate some of their best memories to you, and there are a few things you'll definitely hear:
- Dance parties and bonfires
- Living, eating, working, and playing with a group of amazing if eccentric people from all over the world
- Wiping with your hand.
- Tropical fruit salad for breakfast every morning (papaya, pineapple, pomegranate, banana, guava, chicoo, orange, coconut, cilantro, mint...)
- Skipping first work during the week or breakfast on the weekends to bike into town for Idli and Dosai.
Four of those things are self-explanatory, one is awesome but, unfortunately, unspeakable, and one may be a mystery to some of you. It's this last one that I'd like to explain.
When we think of Indian food, we generally think of stuff like tandoori, vindaloo, palak paneer, aloo gobi, channa masala, etc, served with raitha, naan, roti, paratha, and chapathi, and maybe a lassi at the end. What we aren't usually aware of, though, is that this stuff is all north Indian, and not representative of the country's cuisine as a whole. North Indians have left home and spread around the world a bit more than southerners - there are surely historical and political reasons for this, such as Delhi being in the North, but I really have no idea - and, thus, so is their cuisine.
Due to the different climate, and particularly the difference in rainfall, the south grows different crops and eats different fare. The dependable monsoons, and the water they bring with them, make the environment more suitable for rice and less suitable for wheat. This is why, in Tamil Nadu, naan, roti, and chapathi are generally found only at slightly largel "hotel" restaurants. When you want to run down the street and find the closest, cheapest, hole-in-the-wall, this-is-what-people-who-work-in-the-fields-eat, sort of place, idli and dosai are what you get.
For lack of better comparisons, I'd say that dosai are more or less rice pancakes and idli are...ehr...rice muffins? Anyway, without further ado, here's what they look like, and then there's how you make them:
1) Mix long-grain white rice and urad dahl, 2:1. (1 cup of rice and 1/2 a cup of dahl will make enough batter for about 20 idli, or maybe 6 dosai.)
2) Soak for 24 hours. Make sure to put in plenty of water, since lots of it will get absorbed. (You can start with hot water to make sure it all gets soft.)
3) Blend mixture together until it's a bit foamy and not too grainy. Add water slowly, lest it get too runny.
4) Add more water and soak for another 24 hours. You should be able to smell a little sour scent - this means it's fermenting properly.
The batter can be preserved in this state -if the ambient temperature isn't too hot, you can leave the batter out for a few days, while if it's warm, you can store it for a week or so in the fridge.
To turn the batter into idli:
5a) Start boiling a bit of water in a large pot, or pressure cooker if you have one.
6a) Use a little bit of oil to grease your idli steamer trays (visible in my hands there.)
7a) Spoon out a bit of broth into each idli mold.
8a) Stack your trays up and start steaming. Be vigilant about the water level - if it touches the idli, they'll get soggy, but if it all evaporates, you'll probably burn the pan.
9a) In a non-pressurized, covered pot, it should take about 10 minutes. I suppose less in a pressure cooker.
10a) Take them out, slide them out of the tray, and start over at 6a).
Or, to make dosai:
5b) Heat a little bit of oil in a thick skillet.
6b) Drop in a ladlefull of batter - not too thick.
7b) Fry, flip, and fry again.
That's the end. Now all you need is something to eat them with. I suggest...
Inviting 25 friends and telling them each to bring something Indian-ish. Chutney, sambar, curry, any of the north Indian stuff mentioned above.
It will help if a third of them are from the motherland.
Clear off your computer desk and set out a buffet.