All said and done, we made a trip to Matunga, got the rice, removed the wet grinder from storage and set to work. The recipe we use is my grandmother's. Originally from Tricchur - Kerala, my grandmother lived in Mumbai since before Independance, so her recipe is very much suited to batter making in Mumbai. It has always yielded the yummiest, fluffiest idlis in the world !
Today we had idlis with Karela (bitter gourd) Sambhar and red chilly coconut chutney.
Our Wet Grinder- its been through enough wear and it shows.
The inside of a wet grinder. Look at all that stone, it ensures not even a grain of rice will slip through.
Thathi's original Idli batter
3 cups Surti parboiled rice (old)
1 cup black gram dal - spilt and washed (so its basically white urad dal)
Salt to taste
A Wet Grinder
Separately soak the rice and dal overnight with enough water so as to cover all the rice and dal.
The next morning drain the water from the rice and dal.
Put the rice and dal in a wet grinder, with a cup of water. Switch the machine on and let it grind away.
Keep adding water as needed so that you get a nice thick batter. Be careful that the batter doesnt get too thin otherwise you can only make dosas with it.
The batter should be extremely fine and not grainy at all, this takes about an hour in the wet grinder.
Pour the batter into a bowl.
Cover with a muslin cloth and keep it ovenight, preferably in a nice warm place, so that the batter can ferment well. In mumbai and other coastal reagions the batter takes about 8-12 to fermen well. However if you are in a colder region or at a higher altitude then this can take longer.
Once the batter is nice and fermented - you can make your idlis. If you want to make dosas with this batter, just pour the required amount in another bowl and thin it out with water.
The final idli batter should look like this.
Idli batter differs from family to family, you need to find what is locally available and works for you.
They key to a fluffy idli is the fermentation, which is harder to acheive in the cold, and at higher altitudes. A good way to kickstart the wild yeast is to stir you batter by hand. Also try keeping the batter in the oven, with the light on (the oven should be off though).
Some people put a tbsp or two of methi seeds in the batter, to make idlis fluffier. Because we are on the coast, we never needed to add them.
Another trick to get fluffy idlis is to line your steamer with a damp muslin cloth. Works like a charm.
Some people make their batter in the mixer, I think this worth a try if you don't want to invest in a wet grinder. Whatever you do, don't add baking soda to your idlis, that just awful.