Unraveling South Indian Food
“Looking for gluten-free food, then look to South India”
Seriously we South Indians can live our whole life gluten-free, given the variety of choices available. We do not use baking powder, baking soda or yeast for our daily cooking, though we rely on wild yeast found in the air. Through South Indian Food, I shall be dealing in depth with recipes relating to South India.
By South India, I mean the region encompassing the 5 Indian states of Tamilnadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra, and Telangana. The food in these regions is closely related, yet unique in themselves. Rice is the staple here, though other grains like wheat, millets, oats, barley are also commonly used.
When I grew up, wheat recipes were prepared once in a blue moon. But today, with westernization wheat occupies a predominant place in our cuisine. Wheat has gluten, which is a strict no-no for people with celiac diseases. Even people without celiac disease would benefit by minimizing their intake of wheat, as wheat gluten has a protein that irritates the human gut.
Our all-in -one batter
If you ever had the opportunity of visiting a South Indian house you should not be surprised to see a huge container full of batter in the refrigerator. This batter is used to make our routine breakfasts and dinners.
It is ground using a wet grinder which is an heirloom in most of our families, so much so the Government of the South Indian state of Tamilnadu distributed free grinders to all its residents.
The wet grinder is very powerful and can grind continuously for more than an hour. Presently I am using the Elgi Ultra grinder, and its 6 years old. Before the advent of the grinder, we used to manually grind the batter with the grinding stone which was a cumbersome process.
The batter lasts for about a week in the refrigerator. I normally grind about 1.5 kgs of rice every week. There is a special variety of rice used for this batter which is called Idli Rice. Some people prefer using Idli Rava which is the coarsely powdered Idli rice.
With this batter, apart from idlis, you can prepare South Indian breakfast recipes like Dosa, Uthappam and Paniyaram. Click here for the batter recipe.
Breakfast and dinner in South India are generally called “tiffins” and comprise of a variety of dishes made with rice, wheat, and millets. Lunch is a totally different affair and is heavier than both breakfast and dinner.
It almost always comprises of cooked rice, accompanied with gravies/curries to mix up the rice and side dishes.
The intake of meat is also limited compared to that in most parts of the world. In fact when I grew up meat was reserved for Sundays, though in certain communities the consumption of non-veg food is more.
South Indian Breakfast options
Idli is the most preferred, popular and healthy breakfast option for most South Indians. Idlis are made with a batter usually with grain and lentil which is soaked, ground and fermented. The most typical grain used is rice, though millets and wheat are also used occasionally.
The lentil is always the urad dhal. The batter after fermentation is steamed in special vessels called Idli cookers to give soft, spongy, rice cakes. These are usually served with an array of chutneys and/or Sambar in restaurants. At home, it is usually accompanied by one dip.
There is a large variety of chutneys, which are dips made by grinding the concerned ingredients to a yogurt-like consistency and tempering them. The most common chutneys use Onions, Coconuts, Mint & Corriander leaves either separately or in combination.
Chutneys can also be made with vegetables and vegetable peels. With the right amount of spice & tanginess, they taste divine. Sambar, is a liquidy dip made by cooking vegetables in tamarind sauce with boiled and mashed pigeon peas spiced with a special powder called sambar powder.
….to be continued