As a kid, I loved to lick things. Lemons, saucers, faces, whitewashed walls, the works! By age 6, there were few things, save for wiggly worms (ew), that I hadn’t attempted to lick.
Looking back on this phase, I always recall my favourite thing to lick even though it was taboo. Actually, maybe it’s the prohibition that led me to enjoy it so much.
In a large open-top grinding machine, with two rough stones that went whirl and grrr, used to be a very large batch of idli-dosa batter my grandmother prepared religiously every week. My favourite pass-time was to distract her, which wasn’t tough, and dip my finger in the whirlpool of thick, fresh batter.
“You’re going to get worms in your stomach,” she’d say hoping to dissuade me, knowing full well my aversion to worms. “These worms will one day climb up your throat and come out of your mouth!”
But no number of threats, worm related or otherwise, could keep me from stealing a lick every time I went to visit. Until one day, when the machine stopped whirling, much like my grandma’s mind, which slowly drifted off to the land of “Aren’t you that girl who eats raw idli batter?” “Yes Amamma. I’m also your granddaughter.”
We didn’t have this machine in my house. Mostly because we really didn’t need that much dosa batter or people who wanted to eat it. So Mum started buying the garden variety batter available in shops that eventually turned into packaged rice powder.
Obviously, it wasn’t the same as my grandmother’s — raw or cooked. It lacked that rugged look, the crispy-around-the-edge crunch and the soft-and-puffy-in-the-middle texture. The store bought variety also came with a very tight, glutinous taste and plasticy sheen that just didn’t seem right. Or natural.
That’s when I gave up on idlis and dosas. Though I enjoyed a plate or three in restaurants, I really didn’t have much of an appetite for the sort you “made at home”.
But recently, when I was speaking to a friend in Singapore and she mentioned how her Mum, who had recently been to visit, had prepared a big batch of idli and dosa batter from scratch, the first thing I said was, “Wow! You actually invested in one of those batter grinders??”
“Definitely not,” she laughed. “You can make it in a mixer-grinder, you know!”
I obviously did not know that. So I wrote to her Mum and asked her for her recipe which she was quite happy to share — one part parboiled rice, half part urad dal, soak, blend, leave to ferment.
In the interest of trying something different and perhaps, making it a whole lot more nutritious, I decided to add some finger millets (ragi) to the mix.
It’s a long process, making the batter — Six hours to soak, 10 minutes to blend, another six hours for it to ferment. While the process, I learned, requires very little skill, save for the ability to measure properly, the wait to make your first batch of idlis and dosas requires a lot of patience.
Will the batter rise? Will it hold properly? Will it taste right? Would Amamma have approved?
Well, Ammamma would most definitely have not approved of my dipping my finger into the batter once the fermentation process was over. I had to, you see. So I could tell if it was just like hers!
What I tasted was amazing. The batter, neither too thick, nor thin, was light and frothy and tasted just like hers — slightly grainy and sour.
A test batch — in silicone cupcake moulds, I must add — was soft, fluffy and ridiculously delicious. If only I’d also made a batch of coconut chutney to pipe on the look would have been absolutely perfect.
I won’t ever find out if my grandmother would have liked my version of the idli-dosa batter. But to know that I can keep alive the memories of my childhood, in which she played a very prominent role, makes me very very happy.
Ragi Idli/Dosa Recipe
1 steamer/pressure cooker
Blender – the regular one that blends chutneys and sauces
3 bowls for soaking
1 pot large enough for the batter to rise
1 cup parboiled/idli rice
½ cup urad dal
½ cup ragi grains
– Boil the ragi for 15 minutes. Take it off the stove but don’t drain it. Just, leave it as it is for a minimum of 6 hours, maximum overnight
– Soak the rice and urad dal in two separate bowls too
– Blend the rice with a bit of water until it’s smooth and silky. Ensure that it is neither too thick nor thin. Repeat with urad and ragi. The ragi may have a few bits and pieces that remain but that’s okay because it brings a little nuttiness to the batter.
– Combine all three in a large pot and mix it all up. Cover and leave for 6 hours or overnight in a cool, dry place (not fridge).
– The batter will ferment and rise by a few inches and will smell slightly sour. It’s now ready to go into the steamer. – Boil the water in the steamer with the lid on. Place the idlis – in idli moulds or any cool mould of your choice – in the steamer. I used silicone moulds so didn’t have to grease them. They just popped right out!
– Steam for 10-12 mins or until a knife poked in comes out clean.
– Let it rest for a few minutes after it comes out of the steamer.
– The remaining batter can be stored in the fridge and used to make dosas too!
This post appeared in Bangalore Mirror on November 15,2014