Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rava Vegetable Idli (Steamed Semolina Cakes with Veggies)

Idlis used to be synonymous to breakfast as I grew up. My Mom could make these soft, spongy puffed-up, steamed dumplings with her eyes closed and one hand tied behind her back. As we were growing up, day after day we cringed as we looked at the inevitable, same breakfast dish staring at our face, loaded with Idlis. What helped maintain peace and crush any rebellion from us kids, was their versatility. They could be paired with a dry chutney, or a wet chutney from fresh ground coconuts or a hefty Sambar. And everyone had their favorites which Mom used against us effectively to curb any retaliation.
Idlis are made from grinding rice and black gram, soaked overnight,  in a 2:1 proportion and leaving it to rise overnight, for a lightly fermented batter reminiscent of sourdough. But as simple as it sounds, its never easy to create the perfect Idli. A slight mistake in the amount of water added while grinding, a slight difference in the texture, a little temperature change while fermenting, or a slight variation in the proportion of rice and grams- any one of these factors is good enough to make the Idlis not turn out right. But most kids from my generation have had their Idli Makers (or Moms) to turn to in case a doubt arises, so I guess, that's how we could make them, just like that- almost.

Authentic Veg Idlis that needs a 2-day prep. (But so worth it!)

When making the actual Idlis can require a lot of trial-and-error and practice, there is always a version which the Idli-cravers can try their hand at and is practically fool-proof. Presenting the Rava Idli! (*drumroll*)
Rava Idlis are made from Rice Semolina, and no gram at all. The texture and the fermentation effect is achieved by adding another main ingredient called the "fruit salt". A lot of googling and binging later I am still clueless as to how the practice of adding these to Semolina started, but I have a gut feeling it actually originated somewhere in Gujarat in the mind of a very smart Gujju lady (they are natural cooks....they can boil water, add some spices and call it soup, and believe will be a GOOD soup!) I could be wrong, but where else has anyone seen a digestive aid (Eno) used in so many dishes? No, definitely not the traditional south, where cooks cling on desperately to antiquated (but tried-n-tested) methods and gears! Its the same reason I own a table top stone grinder after more than a decade in the U.S.
Coming back to the fruit salts...these have always been in the medicine cabinet of every Indian, since my parents time, the American equivalent of Alka Seltzer. The main ingredient in Eno is Sodium bicarbonate aka baking soda and Citric acid, but its the unique fruity taste that makes it a perfect cooking aid to a lot of the Instant breakfast items.
But using fruit salt, is the only way you could achieve it, so if you still havent tried using this ingredient, I'd suggest you make a trip to an Indian Store and get your fruit salt which is sold under the brand name Eno and also grab a Idli Steamer set, because you cant have idlis without an Idli Steamer.
This recipe is pretty simple and will make about 16-24 Idlis depending on the size of the Idli steamer.
Feel free to add any veggies like french beans, peas, spinach, carrots, beet root, onions or even tomatoes, but make sure they are all diced in the same size to cook evenly.
Remember, this is a quick recipe and highly perishable. The batter wont get spoiled if you get leftover batter from making idlis and you decide to refrigerate it. But, once the fruit salt bubbles are gone, the idlis wont rise. So ideally use up all the batter and have leftover idlis which can be warmed up later and will taste yummy the next day too.

2 cups Semolina (Fine Rava)
1 cup thick plain yogurt (moderately sour)
salt to taste
1 1/2 tbsp fruit salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp oil/ butter
1 tsp urad dal (black gram)
1 tsp chana dal (split bengal gram)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
3 green chillies , finely chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
1 tbsp finely chopped onions/shallots

1/4 cup finely chopped spinach
1/4 cup finely chopped carrots
1/4 cup finely chopped french beans


Mix the semolina with the yogurt using a wire whisk. Add salt to taste and just enough water (about 2 cups approx.) to keep it thick and creamy. Keep it aside, to soak, for about 30 minutes.
In a small fry pan, heat 2 tbsp oil/ butter and add the dry tempering ingredients first. When the mustard seeds splutter and the black gram turns brownish, add the green tempering ingredients, and stir well for a minute.
*In traditional recipes, I have seen the tempering is poured into the semolina batter, but I prefer to lightly saute and half-cook the veggies in this same tempering, saving us another tablespoonful of oil. *
Add all the chopped veggies (except spinach) and turmeric into the pan and stir well and cook in medium heat for about a minute until they are a little cooked. Now add the entire contents of the pan into the Semolina batter. Throw in the chopped spinach. Stir well until the veggies, tempering and the batter is uniformly mixed. Taste the batter and adjust the salt if needed. if the batter is too thick, add a quarter cup water and stir well.
Get your Idli Steamer ready and the Idli Steamer plates greased lightly. And only when everything is ready to go, add the fruit salt to the batter. Sprinkle a few drops of water to activate it and stir gently to disperse it all over the batter.
Now, using a ladle or a big spoon, pour batter into the greased idli molds and steam cook them for about 6-8 minutes on medium high heat. After 6-8 minutes, remove the mold, cool for a couple minutes and then using a thin knife scoop out the idlis.
 Serve hot with coconut chutney/ sambar. Enjoy!

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