Idli-dosa batter is like a hidden treasure that we can produce from scratch any time. A special bit of fun about being a South Indian outside of South India is the way you can win people over with the most staple of staple foods, idli and dosa. And for the truly smitten (and aren’t they all?), idli-dosa batter.
The ratio I generally use is: 1 part brown rice, 1 part millet, and 1 part whole urad (or split urad provided it is with peel). Urad dal is called black gram in English but there is literally never any need to use the term “black gram” because no one who uses urad dal calls it by an English name. It is called minapappu in Telugu but there is no store that sells minapappu that would not understand the term urad dal. SO this is an item for which the English name is relevant ONLY for ONE purpose and this is to remind you that black gram is BLACK. Do not buy black gram that is white. You may find the notion of white black gram absurd and yet there in the store you will see bags ranging from 800 grams to 4 kilograms containing a white substance and yet labelled “black gram” or “urad dal.”
IGNORE THE WHITE STUFF. Find the black gram that is black. It may be split or whole. The peel is black and the inside is white. That is the legume you want. Now that you have obtained the key ingredient of the celebrated idli and the even more famous dosa, you may remember this ingredient as urad dal or minapappu. As mentioned earlier the English name of this ingredient is irrelevant, unnecessary and utterly a waste of time to know EXCEPT for the purpose of obtaining the correct color.
EAT THE PEEL. You know it is good for you. The fiber, the dark colors, the fermentation, the wholeness. IT IS IN THE PEEL.
Fortunately for my friends, they have never eaten white idlis or white dosas so when I make them with my whole grain batter that is what they know idli and dosa to be. Secondly although the majority of people in India use (white) rice along with the urad for making idlis and dosas, I have joined the small but growing number who use millet in this batter. In India there are many varieties of millet readily available and some are more suited to idli batter than others. I find that Kodo Millet, Little Millet and Barnyard Millet can be used alone or in combination, with no need for rice in the batter. When using other kinds, such as Finger Millet, Pearl or Proso Millet, I think it is better to use equal parts of rice and millet in the batter. In the US I can get only one kind of millet easily, that is proso millet. Hence the ratio 1:1:1 for rice-millet-urad.
So many of my friends have gotten hooked on dosas that I recently when on a batter bonanza and soaked 4 cups minapappu, 4 cups millet and 4 cups brown rice. I took this picture before soaking the rice.
Usually I grind everything together but this large quantity was too much to put into my grinder at once, so I did each one after the other.
I actually did not have enough rice yesterday when I ground the minapappu so I got more early this morning, soaked it for a few hours, ground it and mixed it right in. Everything else had had time to ferment so I thought it would be okay for the ground rice to go in right away. Maybe the idlis would have risen more had the rice fermented as well but anyway. Reader, I made them. While the idlis were steaming away, I put the rest of the batter away – some in a large bowl which I put in the fridge and the rest into bottles for sharing with friends.
I got to work calling folks to let them know I had batter ready for them. One friend surprised me by saying that she had made some today too, so I could pass along her jar to another friend in need. Ah, how it warms my heart <3. Bel Air is not only making dosas, Bel Air is making batter!