Monday, 23 September 2013

CHENNAI CHRONICLES: This idli is fair and lovely, and well, it flies as well

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
The flying dosa of the ITC Grand Chola's Madras Pavilion
Three of the all-day restaurant's 14 specialty dosas 

The restaurant's colourful dispenser of
filter coffee does a pretty good job of
making the brew do the 'metre dance'
THERE’S nothing like a perfect dosai and idli to give your day that rejuvenating special pep, especially when you’re alone in a city, commuting between your hotel and your place of work. And when the idli is as light as the flying idli at the ITC Grand Chola’s Madras Pavilion, your day won’t get just a special pep, but a very special pep.
It takes a lot of courage on the part of a ‘North Indian’ hotel chain to lay out an elaborate ‘South Indian’ breakfast in a city that swears by its dosai and idli, pongal and thayir sadam. ITC Grand Chola’s Senior Executive Chef Ajit Bangera and his team have taken up the challenge with the seriousness it deserves. It would have been foolish not to do so. A dosa or an idli gone wrong would lead to serious consequences for the majestic hotel.
But the hotel has taken its chances by getting a little playful with its 14 specialty dosas, without compromising the authenticity of the original breakfast item. The fillings of the specialty dosas are as diverse as feather-light scrambled eggs (my personal favourite), or tangy soy nuggets (this dosa was invented for a guest recovering from a throat operation and therefore in need of a high-protein diet), or the sweat-inducing Nellore chillies, or roasted garlic, or even sprouts. Normally, when fillings such as these used, they ooze oil and make the crust soggy. The beauty of these dosas is that their crust doesn’t lose their crispiness despite the unusual fillings.
But the star of the table, without doubt, is the ‘flying idli’ (Philippe Charraudeau’s name for it has been inspired by its lightness!), which is as white as truth and simply melts in the mouth. At the core of the idli is the fragrant, lily-white, short-grained rice known as Ponni, which was developed by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in 1986. The lightness of the rice variety carries on to the idli. It also reflects the effort and the care that has gone into the idli. It shows in the recipe that I have added at the end of this post. Try it out at home and see if your idli flies.

Ponni rice, 1 kilo
Urad dal, 300gm
Salt to taste
Soak idli rice and urad dal separately for two hours.
Wash the rice and dal at least six to seven times.
Make sure the idli rice and urad dal appear clean when you add water to them. No milky residue must be left over before you put the two in the grinder.
Grind the urad dal to a very fine paste.
Grind the idli rice to the consistency and texture of semolina.
Mix the two well along with salt.
Let the mixture rest for 12 hours at an ambient temperature of 28-30 degrees Celsius.
Now line the idli tray with a clean cloth and pour over the mixture into the mould.
Steam the idlis for 20 minutes per batch. Serve steaming hot with chutney, podi (‘gunpowder’), ghee and sambhar.