Idli, an ancient South Indian delicacy, is now gaining popularity all over the world as a gut-friendly breakfast. Various studies conducted by renowned institutions across the globe state in unison that idli is one of the best breakfasts. Idli is a soft spongy steamed cake made using naturally fermented rice & lentil batter, and it is the most common breakfast in South India.
Health benefits of idli:
- Assimilation of nutrients: Fermentation of idli batter makes the minerals found in rice & lentils available that are otherwise unavailable. (Phytic acid found in lentils usually binds iron & zinc in it and is broken down during fermentation resulting in the release of these micro-nutrients.) Hence we can enjoy the benefits of rice & lentils to the fullest. Besides these nutrients, B Vitamins & Vitamin K are also made available as the by-products of fermentation process.
- Immunity: Since we prepare idli with fermented batter, each idli contains millions of good bacteria. Doctors here advise patients, who are on antibiotics, to take idli as it helps to replenish with good bacteria that are killed along with disease causing bacteria. So, this probiotic idli is beneficial mainly to kids, or sick to improve their immunity.
- Healthy gut: Probiotic idli protects us from disease causing microbes to grow in our intestines and thus making our immune system strong. So clearly healthy gut means strong immune system which in turn promotes our overall well being.
- Weight loss: Idli with sambar is beneficial for a significant weight loss as this meal contains less carbs & fat but loaded with protein, vitamins & minerals. The nutritionist in our gym used to recommend us to take 2 idli with a cupful of sambar regularly for breakfast and to our surprise we all find this diet very effective in weight management.
- Easily digestible: Fermented batter is predigested (broken down into simple compounds) by good bacteria present in it. Thus steamed idli turned out to be even more light to digest. So we can serve idli to anyone including infants, old, or even to sick without hesitation.
How to prepare idli:
Generally, we prepare idli by steaming idli batter poured into an idli plate similar to a muffin tray. Some prefer to bake the same batter in a muffin tray. But I feel that cooking fermented batter at a high temperature would lead to loss of vital microbes in it.
- Grease idli plate with sesame oil.
- Pour the batter into the dents and steam for 8-10 min.
- Take idli plate out of the steamer and let it stand for 2 min.
- Run a wet spoon along the edge of idli to scoop them out one by one.
- Transfer them to a hot casserole.
- Serve hot with chutney and/or sambar.
Side dishes for idli:
We prepare a number of side dishes like chutney, podi, gothsu, sambar, etc. and these play a huge role to elevate the humble idli to a whole new level.
Considering the health benefits of idli we can make it liked even by the kids & teens by adapting simple changes without affecting its nutritive values. (I don’t like the idea of deep frying them as served in restaurants.)
i) Shaped idli:
We can prepare these in different or unusual shapes mainly to draw the attention of kids.
ii) Fortified idli:
We can enrich idli with vegetables, greens, nuts, legumes, etc. and make them hearty. Weight watchers & the people who like to have wholesome breakfast prefer to take them for breakfast. The key to make fortified idli appealing is to add firm & crunchy ingredients like nuts, green peas, stems of green leaf vegetables, etc. So we can avoid ingredients that turn mushy when steamed like gourds & fruits.
iii) Sweet idli :
We can also make healthy cakes by adding jaggery syrup (or any sweetener except honey), fruits, dry fruits, etc. into the batter. But we may need to add more sweetener to overpower the sourness.
- We prefer to place the idli plate (or bowl) filled with batter only when the water inside the steamer started boiling and then we simmer for about 5 minutes to prevent the nutrients loss. Also if we continue to boil the water in high flame, it will reach the rolling boil and then the water will get in contact with the batter.
- It is always better to avoid using any additives like ENO salt, etc. (that are useful to speed up the fermentation process) as we can not enjoy the health benefits to the fullest.
- For a fluffy idli, we have to use a deep bowl (or plate with deep cavity) rather than shallow bowl.
- We can also make idli even more nutritious by replacing idli rice with other traditional rice varieties as shown below and you may check out my other idli recipes here.