There are a few hallmark dishes that are specific to certain state, region and community and in fact becomes a part of their identity. For instance, Sarson ka Saag & Makki ki Roti combination and butter chicken is specific to Punjab. Bengalis are known for their love for fish. And when one talks about south Indian cuisine, it is idli and dosa or vada that first comes to the mind. But its fascinating when one comes across people who belong to a particular region or community, yet do not enjoy a famous dish of their state. I have met Bengalis who do not enjoy eating fish and prefer chicken instead. I have friends who are south Indian yet avoid idli at any cost since they find it bland, despite the accompaniment of coconut chutney and sambar.
And if I speak for myself, even though I am a Punjabi, I can’t stand the taste of butter chicken or butter paneer. So, once this one friend that I had at college, who used to hate idlis, brought a tiffin filled with small broken idli pieces which she appeared to enjoy without complain. Looking at my puzzled expression, she explained that this was a jazzy idli dish and she absolutely loved it. I was rather confused. She offered me to taste the dish and I fell in love with it instantly – It was nutty, spicy, hot, aromatic and so good on its own. And I could then understand her love for it 😊
Here is how you can turn a simple idli into something scrumptious and which needs no accompaniment of a coconut chutney or sambhar. I go easy on the heat coz not everyone likes their dish hot and for this reason I serve it with some green chutney for those who want to enjoy it with some kick of chilies.
1½ Desi Ghee or any Cooking Oil
2 tsp Peanuts
½ tsp Mustard Seeds
1 Whole Red Chilies, split in four pieces
1½ tsp Urad dal (Ivory Lentils)
2 tsp Chana Dal
1 Green Chili, finely chopped (mine was hot and I didn’t even need to add red chili powder)
1 medium Onion (optional), sliced
2 tbsp Green Peas, boiled
1 sprig Curry Leaves
¼ tsp Turmeric Powder
½ tsp – ¾ tsp Sambar Powder (adjust to taste)
½ tsp Amchur / Dry Mango Powder (adjust sourness to taste)
Salt to taste
Break idlis in bite size pieces and set aside (I make three to four shallow vertical cuts and break it using hands. Then I break the horizontal pieces into three to four pieces. I keep the look rustic by avoiding the knife to cut the idli)
Place a frying pan on high heat and add two teaspoon of oil. Tip in the broken idli pieces and fry till the idli turns golden in color. Remove the idli pieces on a plate and set aside.
(Frying idlis is purely an optional step. You can skip this if you wish to. I fry it for the reason that it helps idli pieces hold their shape better when the tempering is added to it)
Place the pan again on heat and add ghee and add peanuts and cashews. Fry on medium low heat, stirring continuously, till the cashews turn golden. Using a spoon, carefully remove the peanuts and cashews on a plate lined with absorbent sheet.
On medium heat, in the remaining ghee, add the mustard seeds and broken dry red chilies. Once the mustard seeds begin to crackle, add the chana dal. Fry for ten seconds and add the urad dal as well. Fry till the dal just begins to turn golden.
Now tip in the chopped green chili and sliced onions (add more ghee if required) and fry till the onions turn translucent. Add the curry leaves and green peas. Stir and cook for half a more minute.
Lower the heat to minimum and add salt, turmeric powder, amchur and sambar powder. Give a stir and then sprinkle some water, (a tablespoon or two), to avoid the masala from burning. Stir everything well.
Add the broken idli pieces and gently mix and stir everything well to ensure that all pieces are nicely coated with spices. Add a little more water, may be a sprinkle, only if required.
Once done, switch off the heat, cover the pot and allow the contents to sit for 10 – 15 minutes for the flavors and spices to get absorbed by the idli pieces. Lastly, add the peanuts and cashews and mix everything again. Serve hot or at room temperature in individual bowls.
Serves – 2 (approx 3 idlis per person)