Sunday, February 27, 2011

How to Eat Like a South Indian

Daddy, me (3yo) and Mommy
the year we came to the US
I have to admit that while I love cooking – both Indian food and otherwise, I am quite intimidated particularly by SOUTH Indian cuisine.

Most likely because I grew up in a South Indian (Malayalee) home, eating some of the tastiest meals of my life! – Fish Curry, Appam (rice pancakes), Coconut Fish Curry, Chicken Curry, Payasam (vermicelli pudding), Fish Fry, Dosai (rice crepes), etc. etc.  

With memories of those lovely meals are also flashes of the blurred image of my mom darting throughout the kitchen, grabbing a host of different ingredients from here and there – then crushing, roasting, frying, blending, sautéing, simmering, steaming – seemingly almost all at once! 

To top it off there were several “gadgets” she used, the likes of which would never be found in a North Indian home, let alone an American or European home. Ever heard of a “puttu maker” or “idli steamer” or “seated coconut grater”? I thought so. : j

One of my most favorite combinations is Idli (fluffy rice cakes), Sambar (tangy vegetable stew) and Coconut Chutney. This meal is not complete unless you have all three components. While I stood watching my mom or other aunties in their kitchens, I remember making a mental note that making any of the three would be too complicated to attempt.

But finally, my craving for the delicious tangy, coconut-y, spicy meal got the best of me! I had to try my hand at making this.


There was no way I was going to grind the idli batter from fresh rice (like my mom has). So I did the next best thing –  I bought a “Gits” brand Idli mix from my local Indian store! : j But one thing still stood in my way – I didn’t have the big clunky idli maker! Out of desperation, I googled “how to make idlis without an idli maker” and found almost nothing. Then, I happened upon a post by TesatHome on making idlis.  She had the genius idea of using your rice cooker and cupcake liners. I expounded on that with the addition of cookie cutters to give the idlis a nice shape. And it turned out amazing – Take a look!


Gits Idli mix – prepare according to directions

1. Set up rice cooker with a  colander or steam basket over top. Or on a stove top fill a pan with water and place a flat bottom colander over it (careful to not let the water touch the colander) and place a lid over that.
2. flatten out a couple cupcake liners and set them in the steam basket
3. place the cookie cutter on top of the cupcake liner
4. spoon idli mixture in to the cookie cutter(s) *optional place a cilantro leaf, tomato, ground coconut, etc as garnish in the middle of the batter*
5. cover and steam for ~10 minutes or until no longer runny/raw
6. be careful when removing cookie cutters from steam basket and pop out idlis – TA DA!


I have a secret – I like restaurant sambar better than my mom’s homemade version.  Is that terrible? I just really loved the Sambar Ive had, especially at Udipi Palace , a great Indian restaurant chain in the US.  This was another intimidating dish that I never thougt I could make and only recently attempted.

I found a great recipe online at  for the not-so-top-secret, delicious Udipi Restaurant Sambar recipe. No prepackaged Sambar powder here – I was doing this for real.  Yikes!! Honestly, it was several more steps than what my mom or mom-in-law do but it definitely was the Udipi Sambar that I love! (drumsticks (the long green vegetable seen below)  and all!)

Coconut Chutney

If I was going through the trouble of making Idli and Sambar, I HAD to make coconut chutney too! Here is a (surprisingly) simple and deeeelish recipe! Part of the recipe is actually cooked (tempered/tadka) and then added to the fresh coconut. This is definitely the secret to authentic coconut chutney!

Please excuse me while I go stuff my face.   again.


  1. This really looks fantastic, I love Coconut looks really tasty!

  2. lovely post idlies cute shapes of the idly
    sambar and chutney always make things better :)

  3. What an interesting post! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Your pictures are amazing! Stunning. I'm a huge southern Indian food fan also. Specially I like dosa, in San Francisco they have a restaurant with the same name. Highly recommended!

  5. What a cute idea to make idlis. need to try it soon and am sure my son is goona love it... !

  6. thanks to all for the sweet words! I will eventually have to invest in an authentic idli maker because these were just too yummy and I plan on making several at a time : j

  7. Cute idli shapes, I would love to have this yummy combination for breakfast.

  8. That's such a cute photo of you and your parents.

    Shari from

  9. This is my favorite too. We buy it from a nearby South Indian cuisine restaurant all the time. They are delicious and yours look better than theirs. I love the pic of you and your mum and dad. Old pictures like this are priceless!

  10. I love your blog and would like to pass on this award to you , go here for the details

  11. Thank you again to all for the encouragement!

    @Shabs - Thank you! Im very flattered : j

  12. This was such a great post! I've had idlis in a restaurant before but have never attempted to make them before. It makes me a feel a bit better that you grew up with them and were sorta daunted too. Solid job conquering the idli battle :)

  13. I never had idlis before. This all looks delicious! I love all the flavors. You are so cute in that photo with your parents:)

  14. The picture of you with your parents is so beautiful. It's make me wanna take more family photo :)
    The cookies cutter idea is really amazing! I will try that next time I make idli :) Sambar is my favourite Indian dish... yours looks so delicious :) This post makes me so happy :)

  15. Thank you for sharing this interesting post.

  16. My best friend is Indian and opened up my eyes to all sorts of amazing Indian food (mostly Gujarati and South Indian) that I never saw in restaurants. There's 1 restaurant near me that serves idli and sambar but only on weekends. But when I went in on a weekday I was so disappointed that they finally made it especially for me =D.

  17. haha, love the idea of cookie cutter! those idlis look so darn cute! :)