Rava Idli: Semolina Steamed Cakes
Idli has been my comfort food since childhood. Hot idlis out of the steamer, dipped in veggie-loaded sambar and spicy chutneys give me unparalleled joy! For those of you who do not know what an idli is, it's a savoury cake made by steaming fermented batter. The batter is usually partly rice and partly urad dal (whole skinless black lentils) or semolina (sooji or rava). Rava idli is the one that is made with semolina fermented with curd (dahi) or yogurt.
I usually resort to rava idli when I do not have the time to make the typical rice and urad dal batter, which takes a longer to ferment in a colder region like Canada as compared to the tropical Indian subcontinent. This south Indian delicacy is perfect for any meal, but I love it as breakfast or brunch. As rava idli is slightly on the heavier side as compared to the regular idli, I usually prefer it in a day-time meal than the night. However, if my meals in the day have been lighter, I do not mind indulging in dinner occasionally.
Rava idli owes its birth to the now famous south Indian food chain, Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR). As the staple idli-ingredient, rice became scarce during World War II, MTR experimented to use semolina with curd to create an idli batter. This gave us the famous rava idli. Typical from the state of Karnataka in India, rava idli is usually served with tangy runny potato curry and coconut chutney.
The fact that food shortage resulted in the invention of rava idli intrigues me a lot. I wonder how many times innovation has been driven by necessity more than curiosity. And, the answer is uncountable times. Rava idli became famous. But there are countless creations that we perhaps make in our kitchens resorting to the unavailability of an ingredient, but fail to document it or take it for granted.
What kitchen equipment do I need to make rava idli?
You would need an idli steamer or an instant pot or a pressure cooker. This recipe uses an instant pot, which is an electric pressure cooker. You will need an idli stand or a trivet on which you could keep steel cups/bowls in which you would shape the idlis and then place inside your steamer/instant pot/pressure cooker.
How long will it take to make rava idli batter?
Rava idli uses an instant batter implying that the batter does not take a long time to ferment. After mixing semolina and yogurt with water, ensure that you leave the batter undisturbed for at least 20 minutes. If you can keep it for an hour or two, it's great but not a necessity.
If you did not already know, fermentation produces good bacteria which is beneficial for health.
I have tried making the batter with Greek yogurt, and I haven't been quite satisfied with the results. I recommend using curd. However, if you don't have access to curd, use a plain unflavoured yogurt. I use Astro Bio Best yogurt for my recipes that require the Indian dahi as an ingredient, and the result is always good.
Let the curd and semolina react and naturally ferment the batter for about 1 hour or at least 20 minutes. If you keep the batter undisturbed for a longer time (say 1 hour), you need to add less baking soda later.
I recommend using coarse semolina and always dry roasting it (if it's already not roasted) on very low heat for about 3 minutes, cool it and then use to make the batter. This helps in puffing up the semolina and the tempering helps the flavour.
While mixing water into the batter, I recommend using your clean hand than a spatula or spoon. I feel this helps the batter ferment better.
Do not be scared to add more water to your water. Semolina is very forgiving in terms of the water added to it as compared to rice or lentils. Your batter will turn out fine despite adding more water. LESS WATER IS A BIG NO!
1 cup coarse semolina
3/4 curd or plain yogurt
For tempering the semolina: 2 tsp neutral oil, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp chana dal, 1 tsp white urad dal (optional), 1/4 tsp asafoetida, 1-2 green chilies finely chopped, 1 inch ginger minced, 5-6 curry leaves (you can skip if you don't like the taste or don't have access), 8-10 cashew nuts (optional)
fresh coriander leaves chopped
salt to taste
1/4 tsp baking soda
Place a pan or kadhai on low to medium heat, and add oil.
Once the oil is heated, add the ingredients mentioned for tempering semolina, one by one.
Let everything crackle and then lower the heat.
Add the coarse semolina and then toss it for about 3 minutes on low heat. Turn off heat, remove the pan from the stove and let it cool.
Add the curd or yogurt into the tempered semolina and use your clean hand to mix everything well. Into this mixture, add some water. Start with half cup of water, and add more if needed. Note: The consistency of the batter should not be runny, it should be like a pancake batter or thicker. But, don't worry if you added more water. Semolina will soak up most of the water! See the pictures in this post to get an idea of how the batter should look like finally.
Add the coriander leaves, and let the batter rest for about an hour or at least 20 minutes.
Check the consistency of the batter. It would have soaked up a lot of water. Add about 2-3 tbsp of water and then add the baking soda. Give a good mix but do not overdo it at this stage. Note: Over working the batter after baking soda is added can tend to flatten the idli. To help it rise well, don't over mix after adding the baking soda.
Grease the idli plates with oil and ladle the rava idli batter onto them. Meanwhile add half cup of water to your instant pot, and switch it on. Activate steam mode. Note: I usually leave the last plate on the idli stand empty as it tends to touch the water. You can also place a trivet and make your idli stand sit on it.
Place the idli stand inside the instant pot once you can see the steam emerging.
Close the lid of the instant pot, and steam cook at high pressure for 3-4 minutes, keeping the valve in venting position. Set a manual timer and then switch off the instant pot when the timer goes off.
Let the steam escape naturally (should take 3 minutes) or manually release it. Open the instant pot. Your rava idlis are ready to be devoured!
I love having it with some tomato chutney or a veggie-sambaar. A sweet and sour potato curry will also be great as a side!