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Battle With Batter

Discussion in 'Snippets of Life (Non-Fiction)' started by jskls, Dec 12, 2018.

  1. jskls

    jskls IL Hall of Fame

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    Battle with Batter

    Most of us love idlies. It’s just simply white and pure like a jasmine flower. It requires no skill in making it (or so I thought) After reading Sambar’s story I thought this will go well with Sambar. It’s my story of getting perfect idlies that took me at least a decade to master. (feel free to stop here)

    In many families in the southern part of India idlies are a daily staple. I remember my mom making it frequently. It was the last meal of hers we had. I wanted to try making batter at home while in middle school. I myself ground the idli batter using the stone grinder. My grandmother had only stone grinder. After the pain I was left with I didn’t try that again. There used to be a store where they would grind the batter and give. I tried that too. Somehow I was not comfortable with the way it was done and so I stopped that. After that we never thought about idlies for a while. Ratna cafe Idli vada sambar became our Sunday breakfast ritual later.

    Now when my marriage was fixed, first question I was asked was do you know to make idlies. Why would someone even ask that I thought! How hard can it be? and I said no big deal. I will learn. They laughed and said you are marrying into a family where not a single day will go without idlies here. I did not bother much then. When someone asked me what to buy as a wedding gift I happily asked for a grinder.

    Now in the foreign land I set my experimentation with idli batter. Initially we used to use only uncle ben’s parboiled rice and jasmine rice. Imagine how sticky it would have been. No Indian stores in the town. So no luxury of indian raw materials. I soaked parboiled rice/jasmine rice urad dal and ground the batter too. I was told to warm it in the oven for fermentation as we lived in one of the coldest place.. It was my first time using the oven. The person who gave me the recipe forgot to mention that I need to switch the oven off before I put the batter in. So I let the batter in the oven to warm at 300 F for few hours and when I checked for fermentation, I had a big baked idli cake that I didn’t know how to even dispose. What a waste of effort and materials.

    I did not give up on my failed experiment. I kept experimenting over and over with different proportions and different types of rice until one day I saw a video of spiritual Guru. He mentioned ” what is in idli. just 4:1 and you measure with your hand and grind”. The video was about some spiritual talk but it gave me a clue. It’s the hand. It’s all in the hand. I have seen that when my mother-in-law grinds, the batter ferments well within hours and those idlies are very soft and fluffy.

    On one fine day, As a final experiment I asked my husband to rinse the rice and dal for me . After I ground the batter again I requested him to use his hands to mix salt. He refused. Obviously right! Then I offered another suggestion. Use your hand to put salt but wipe the spatula with your hands before mixing. (of course clean washed hands). Voila! the next day my fermented batter was overflowing in the oven. My happiness knew no bounds at last finding a trick for fermentation. Cleaning the oven was not a big deal. I had found the perfect recipe for soft fluffy idlies. From then on no more idli failures at home. My hands were not up for fermentation and it took me decades to figure it out. Oh there ends my battle with the batter.
     
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  2. Rihana

    Rihana Finest Post Winner

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    Good one, jskls. Your battle and the eventual victory is well described.

    I immediately remembered all the idli racks, pressure cookers used for them, regular cooker container used before we could afford idli rack, Gits Instant Idli too in the U.S. and in 3rd or 4th India trip buying the mini-idli's rack. Button idli? Just last month gave away a few racks and kept just two, which also got some raised eyebrows from the family. What do they know about childhood memories of poking a thick needle to clear the holes in the idli racks as maid servant used to wash them.
    My neighbor knows not yet, but she just got a new side job. : ) Have done the batter exactly like she does, but my idlis never come out like hers. Now I know ... : )
     
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  3. Amulet

    Amulet IL Hall of Fame

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    Ratna Cafe is in Cheeniya's neighborhood. Aren't they the ones with "bottomless" sambhar. When women/girls go there, (which was rarely done) we have to go to the "family room"; not many restaurants had this facility. So families make do with take out idlies, and give up on the bottomless sambhar. The firangi equivalent of this deal is the unlimited breadsticks in one chain restaurant in USA called Olive Garden.

    The making of idli batter is a disappearing art in southern india. Labor intensive procedure, the waiting for fermentation, busy lives, Idli batter sold in plastic bags, easy Idli takeout places, all contribute to this. Only the foreign gone desis anguish over the difficult thing, for a nostalgic whiff now and then.

    The second generation, born in foreign country to Indian parents, would look at the title of this snippet, and ask "Is this a story about a Pitcher in baseball ?".

    We have come a wrong* way.


    *I wanted to orientalize the font of that word.... but could only italicize
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2018
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  4. Viswamitra

    Viswamitra IL Hall of Fame

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    Dear Lakshmi,

    Your mention of Rathna Cafe idlies make me think what I need to do next when I go to India next. Whenever we go out in India to eat, the first order is always idlies and sambhar because making idlies here in the US is a big process.

    We never had a problem of not fermenting well and the problem is the opposite at home. I am the first one to wake up in the morning and invariably, I see the batter crossing the border of the huge vessel like illegal immigrants from Honduras crossing into the American border. My wife has given me many strict instructions including not to stop the fermentation process by stirring the batter before it is time to put into the fridge. How can a good husband who wakes up early in the morning watch the kitchen counter top smelling with so much batter spreading its wings outside the border of the huge vessel? Guess, who ends up cleaning it? Sometimes, I have seen the batter overflowing inside the oven and unfortunately, I need to sit down on the ground to clean up the brand new oven I spent fortune when we remodeled the kitchen.

    I love my mother-in-law so much because she truly treats me like a son and her brilliant sense of humor makes me laugh so much everyday. However, occasionally she tells her daughter, "we haven't had idlies for a while" and those few moments make me wonder why in the word she would suggest that to her daughter?

    How can one night make so much difference to the batter? Nowadays, when I think of the process of making idlies, the nice looking idlies don't come in my dream but what threatens me in my dream is the fermentation process. Orion ended up fracturing my wife's left elbow several years back and hence she can't lift the big grinder. I have to help her move it to the counter top to grind the batter, tilt it to collect the batter in the vessel and clean the heavy stone grinder. But all that pain disappear, when I taste the soft idlies.

    However, I have to add if the batter is in the vessel fermenting inside the oven, I wake up 3-4 times in the night to check the status of batter fermenting. All that effort is worth because when we buy batter from outside, those idlies don't come out well.

    That is our battle with batter.

    Viswa
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2018
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  5. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    Sambhar, Tea, and now Idlis.
    Foodie that I am, I am enjoying seeing so many delectable posts.

    @jskls
    The idli batter battle memories are numerous.
    I used to buy jasmine rice from the local Korean store, roast the rice and soak in hot water. This would give me the "parboiled" rice.
    Then grinding it in the Oster blender little by little to not heat up the motor.
    Grinding Urad dhal was an art in itself. I used ice cold water, grind for a few seconds, let it rest a few minutes, and repeat till the batter was frothy and light.

    Oh yeah, then the fermentation ... oven with lights on, pressure cooker with towel around it... so many trials and errors.

    Eventually I would make the idlis with the topmost lighter batter and the next two days would be dosa with the heavier batter.

    Now, with Ultra and Indian parboiled rice, the battle has reached some truce.

    Thank you for another mouthwatering post. What next? Vadai?:D
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2018
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  6. Scorpio707

    Scorpio707 Platinum IL'ite

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    Hey Laks, good to see you. Hope your doing good.

    I love idli, our weekends incomplete without it. And btw it's not me who does it alright :), my DH is a pro in it :biggrin: from soaking the lentils to fermentation it's all on him. I take the easy way out by only adding the salt before keeping it for steaming :lol:.

    As for baked idlis it's not new to us , we've encountered it not once but a good four times. We don't sulk in repeating the whole process all over again, after all it's idli :D.
     
  7. jayasala42

    jayasala42 IL Hall of Fame

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    Very lovely write up about idlies ,The narration itself is mouth watering and brings to memories our trials and errors in making idlies.
    Now Murugan idli kadai is becoming more popular than Rathna Stores.The batter we buy in stores works well mostly for Dosas.
    In 1970, my daughter's first birth day was celebrated.We had arranged for cooks. Tiffin idli, kesari was to be served at 7. 30A. M. and meals at 11.30.
    The previous day cooks were supposed to come in the evening at 6 P. M. ,grind idli batter. Time passed on. There was no vicinity of cooks. No phones also. At about one o' clock midnight two cooks made their presence.I told them to drop the idli item and prepare pongal or upma for breakfast. But that person stubbornly refused.He was after making idlies only. We had been asked to make ready the dry rice powder in the flour mill nearby.

    He soaked thecoarse rice powder . Urad dal was soaked just for 30 mts.The soaked dal was ground to a puffy consistency.He ground the soaked rice powder for just 5 mts, mixed them together with the needed salt.

    It was nearing 4 A. M. With regular paraphernalia, he lighted the oven( kottai aduppu. ) He kept the half filled big vessel of idli batter on the burning oven for 15 -20 mts.He kept the vessel down and placed a big plate (thambaalam ) on the vessel and tied a big dhoti around the vessel.

    He started preparing coffee decoction,kesari, etc.I was worried about idli as though there was no other issue in the world. As there was only one bath room, guests who had arrived from our native place started taking bath.As planned, hot mallipoo idlies were served at 7.30.
    That was the day I learnt that the correct warmth is the most essential thing needed for fermentation.In places like Madras weather helps us. Even then idli batter used to cheat us when guests are expected.We have read too many jokes and stories about stony idlies as well as too soft idlies that could not be traced from idli racks.We heard about'kushboo idlies in which tender coconut was added or tender coconut water used to be added.
    My sister-in-law used to make hard idlies and argued that idlies should be only hard and it should be broken and eaten and that is the correct'patham'( consistency for idlies.
    We can write mahaathmiyam of idlies, vadais and among the sweets about Mysore pak and not Mysore paa of Krishna Sweets. Though it is soft, in our family no one likes Mysore paa from Krishna Sweets. They like the porous, inner reddish mysore pak, not very hard but can be broken easily.
    Jayasala 42
     
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  8. Amulet

    Amulet IL Hall of Fame

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    Mahaathmiyam !! I have not heard that word in ages ! Nice. :yum:
     
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  9. Amulet

    Amulet IL Hall of Fame

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    I have posted my way of making filter coffee.
    [​IMG]
     
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  10. poovai

    poovai Platinum IL'ite

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    Me too, outsourced idly batter grinding and fermenting assignment to my DH. :biggrin::biggrin::biggrin:

    Over the years, he mastered the technique of making 'idly batter'!
     
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