Soft and fluffy idlis are easily digestible and make an ideal breakfast
Idli with sambar and coconut chutney is the classic South Indian breakfast. South Indians tend to be particular about their idlis. The steamed rice-lentil preparation must be neither too fluffy nor too rubbery, neither too fermented nor too bland.
Idli is an ancient food, but the modern steamed black gram-rice fluffy patties would surely puzzle our ancestors. In the 11th Century AD, the warrior-minister-poet Chavundaraya gave the recipe for idli in one of his works. He described soaking black gram in buttermilk, followed by grinding it into a fine paste and mixing it with cumin, asafoetida, curds, coriander and pepper. The Manasollasa, the Sanskrit encyclopaedia of art, architecture, dance, music, ornaments, food and drinks, love and lust, written in the 12th Century AD, describes the idli as being made with black gram flour rolled into small balls, fried in ghee and then seasoned with spices.
Three big idlis (100 gm) contain around 130 calories. This is an astonishingly low number of calories for a modern dish. The rice and lentils complement each other: one makes up for the amino acids deficient in the other. Idlis are fermented and then steamed, and the soft, fluffy white patties are among the most easily digestible of foods. Therefore, it is an ideal food for infants, the elderly and the convalescent.
Idlis can be too easily digestible for some people. Diabetics, for example, need low glycaemic index foods like chapattis and whole wheat bread rather than idlis for breakfast. Fibre-rich foods and whole grains are digested slowly and release glucose at a slow and steady rate into the bloodstream. Idlis are much like polished rice when it comes to dumping glucose into the circulation.
If you are on a diet, the idli is one of your best friends. A word of caution: Idlis are low in calories, but they also sit lightly in the stomach. It is just as possible to binge on idlis as it is to binge on oily foods. In fact, people who watch their calories with other foods tend to not think about how many idlis they are eating.