Kanchipuram, a city in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is famous for its magnificent temples, beautiful hand-woven silk sarees and delicious Kanchipuram idlis.
Kanchipuram idli was first made in the kitchen of Sri Varadharaja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram. The tradition of making the idli in the temple has continued to this day and is served as Prasadam to devotees. The traditional idli is cylindrical in shape, about a foot long, and the dried mandharai (Bauhinia purpurea) leaves in which it is cooked add to its flavour.
The following recipe is an adapted version of the original. Slight variations are made in the proportions of the ingredients, and baking soda is added to make the idlis softer and fluffier, without sacrificing the flavour and essence of the dish.
½ cup/110g urad dal (skinned and split black gram)
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
¾ cup/170g idli rice
¼ cup/60g raw white rice
2 tablespoons thick plain yogurt
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon dry ginger powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons gingelly(sesame) oil or neutral flavoured vegetable oil
2 tablespoons ghee
2 tablespoons cashew nuts, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
10 to 15 fresh curry leaves, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon asafoetida
Vegetable oil for greasing the moulds, or dried mandharai leaves for lining the moulds
Wash the urad dal and soak with the fenugreek seeds in water for 3 hours. Wash the rice and soak in water for 3 hours.
Drain the urad dal. Using a wet grinder, make a smooth batter of the urad dal, adding about 1 cup/250ml water. Transfer to a large bowl.
Drain the rice. Using the same wet grinder, make a slightly coarse batter of the rice, adding about 1 cup/250ml water. Transfer to the bowl. Add the yogurt and salt and mix.
The batter should have a medium-thick consistency. Add a little more water, if necessary. Cover and let the batter ferment for 10 to 12 hours or overnight. The fermented batter should have increased 1½ to 2 times its original volume.
When ready to steam the batter, mix the baking soda in 2 tablespoons water and pour over the batter. Add the ground ginger and pepper. Mix well. Heat the oil and ghee in a small pan and add the cashew nuts and stir gently until they turn golden. Add the cumin seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida and give the pan a good stir. Remove from the heat and pour over the batter. Stir to combine.
Bring the water to the boil in a steamer. Line the idli moulds with the mandharai leaves, or grease the idli moulds with the oil.
Pour the batter into the moulds and steam for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of an idli comes out clean.