Friday, 10 July 2015

Idly Didly

Yes, ferementation is cool. So many things can be fermented - from dairy to carbohydrates, vegetables, wine, soy and even meat! Today we are making a simple fermented Indian bread, known as an idly. These little round cakes are super for sopping up your curry gravy, and you can be sure that your body is getting all the goodness they contain.

Before we try making our idlys lets look at why grain-based carbs are good for you, IF prepared in a traditional way (i.e. fermenting the grains to release their goodness and make them digestible).

Some 'historians' claim that Carbs were absent from traditional diets, particularly hunter gatherers. But this misses the point. Grains have been harvested by man for at least 6,000 to 10,000 years and has been pointed out, humans would have worked out after the first few thousand years that grains just weren't working for them. The lack of respect for traditional diets smacks of smug pre-1960s era cultural superiority and scientific reductionism.

Carbs, in the form of whole grains and related seed foods, are not absent in healthy traditional diets – even in the diets of hunter-gatherers. What researchers often overlook is the fact that seed foods (grains, legumes and nuts) are prepared with great care in traditional societies – by sprouting, roasting, soaking, fermenting and sour leavening. These processes neutralise substances in whole grains and other seed foods that block mineral absorption, inhibit protein digestion and irritate the lining of the digestive tract. Such processes also increase nutrient content and render seed foods more digestible. For example, in India rice and lentils are fermented for at least two days before they are prepared as idli and dosas. In Africa the natives soak coarsely ground corn overnight before adding it to soups and stews, and they ferment corn or millet for several days to produce a sour porridge called ogi.

I made Idlys for the first time myself recently to go with a little south Indian feast I had prepared. You can make them too, it's the easiest fermented bread I know.

Go to any Indian grocer and get yourself some urad dal: tiny, white, slightly oval peas. The other thing you will need is rice. Parboiled works well.

To make: Simply take 2 cups of rice and 1 cup of dal and soak each separately for 2-3 hours. You can do this before bed. After they have soaked, drain them. Get out the bamix or food processor and grind each the dal and rice to a chunky paste, adding water as neccessary to form a very thick batter. Mix dal and rice together and leave to ferment at least overnight. When you see the mixture really bubble and froth, it is ready.

Take an idly mould (or some muffin tins - but only fill them up 1/3) and steam the idlys for around 10 minutes. Serve with curry and chutneys. Yum. These are particularly popular for breakfast in Southern India (Kerala) with fried banana, coconut chutney, chickpea and toor dal and vegetable curries, all served on a banana leaf!

Above, left: Idlys; Left: South Indian Feast that I prepared from top left, clockwise: South Indian (Malabar) King Prawn Curry (I used fresh Australian Green King Prawns), Fragrant Rice; Coconut Chutney; Brinjal Curry; Paruppu Usili (ground dal curry) with Green Beans.