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 itself. 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.
In fact, the idli batter has become such an essential part of our lives that we just can’t thrive without it 😀 . It gives a relaxing feel that if nothing at all, at least dosa can be made.
With this batter around you can always be confident of preparing something even at short notice. Be it the extended time at shopping or sudden guests at home.
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We use the wet grinder which is basically a stone grinder to make the batter. This 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. I have been using the Elgi Ultra grinder, for over 8 years now. 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. These days readymade idli batters are available in most shops dealing with Indian food products.
Breakfast and dinner in South India are generally called “tiffins” and comprise 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. Idli batters usually comprise grain and lentil which is soaked, ground, and fermented. With this batter, apart from idlis, you can prepare South Indian breakfast recipes like Dosa, Uthappam, and Paniyaram. Click here for the batter recipe.
The most typical grain used is rice, though millets and wheat are also used occasionally. The lentil is always the urad dal. 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 are a large variety of chutneys, which are dips made by grinding the 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.
In Kerala homes, ishtu is one of the most popular side dish for idlis and dosas apart from the regular chutneys and idli podi.
Apart from this, the other popular breakfast items made from rice are Pongal, idiyappam/nool puttu, appam, and puttu. The wheat-based dishes were predominantly chapati and poori.
The main and the side dish combo was always such that it provided the necessary carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals to kick-start the day.
Some people even prefer to have cooked rice mixed with some lentil-based gravy for breakfast or a kanji which is a porridge made from grains. I always had cooked rice with ghee, dal, and rasam for breakfast while going to school, as that was easier to consume when I always ran out of time.
….to be continued