Hello! I want to share a delicious, savoury breakfast of Healthy Quinoa Idli! Idli is a traditional South Indian breakfast of fermented lentils and rice batter which is steamed in shallow, round containers. It looks like small white pillows, the flavour is mildly tangy and texture is spongy and soft. My in laws are from Madhya Pradesh and for them idli was something magical made by special techniques in South Indian houses! My grandmother in law would call it ‘jasmine blossoms’ and was extremely fond of it and always made me make it for her when I came to visit. However most South Indian homes in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have idli almost everyday for breakfast. My mother doesn’t even bat an eyelid at the thought of making idlis as is it such a routine. I wanted to create a healthier version of these idlis as they usually are quite rice heavy and hence I came up with the an easy and healthy addition of quinoa to make this healthy quinoa idli.
How is this different and healthier than traditional idlis? After a lot of trial and error I have discovered the perfect recipe for fluffy idlis using less rice and substituting quinoa instead. Quinoa is rich in protein, fibre and iron and is a better ‘grain’/ pseudo-cereal to consume. I use quinoa in proportion to the rice and lentils to ensure a more protein packed breakfast. Read more about the benefits of quinoa in my article on Grain free Eating.
Now the main aspect of making idlis is the fermentation. There are a few traditional steps like using a stone grinder for the lentils and grains to be ground to a perfect texture and the special idli box and trays where mounds of idlis are steamed. However you can manage to make idlis even with a blender and in small cups placed in a steamer. It is quite forgiving! What you cannot manage without is the fermentation. My recipe for the healthy quinoa idli places great importance on the fermentation as well. The fermentation occurs naturally from the air and its best friend is heat and humidity. Hence if you live in a warm and humid city, then idli making is a cinch! If not, then worry not because I have many tips to assure you make the best idlis at home, no matter how cold or dry a day it is!
I first started making traditional idlis when I moved to London after my marriage. My mother used to make it so easily that I never really thought it would be difficult, but I was very wrong! I really struggled with creating the warmth required to ferment the the idlis. I did so many crazy things to mimic the warmth and humidity to get the batter to start fermenting. The craziest was putting the heater on in the room overnight along with the humidifier just for a bowl of idli batter! It would take me 36 hours to make the fermented idli batter from start to finish and even my mother suggested I buy the ready made store batter! However I refused to do so. Being a South Indian, I took it personally and wouldn’t stop till I achieved the perfect batter! Long story short, I figured an easy trick to ferment the batter using the oven and a bowl of steaming water!
Basic Fermentation Steps for Making Fluffy Healthy Quinoa Idli
- It is important to soak the lentils, rice and quinoa for 7-12 hours in warm water. The longer you soak, the faster it ferments. I usually soak my lentils and grains first thing in the morning. I make sure the water is warm to hasten the soaking process.
- Drain completely using a colander, rinse then grind with water (details on amount in the recipe below) till smooth with no bits.
- Place in a large bowl (double the size of the batter), cover loosely (just to prevent any critters from getting in). It should not be air tight. Now if its a warm day (28-30C and above at night time) then you can happily leave it on your kitchen counter top the same evening you soaked the lentils and it will ferment overnight and be ready for breakfast next day.
- If its a cold day or you live in a country with cold climate, then you will need to use your oven. If you have a bread rising feature in your oven (warms the oven to 40C) then place the batter in the oven with the warming feature on for about 3-4 hours. Place a bowl of boiling, steaming water under the batter in the oven. Leave it to ferment overnight. It should have risen over the the next 12 hours. If it hasn’t fermented after 12 hours, or you would like it to rise more, then add another bowl of steaming water under it and keep the oven light on for another 6-8 hours. If you leave it for too long then the idlis may taste too sour.
- If your oven does not have the bread rising feature then pre heat your oven to 100C for 20 mins then switch it off the heat but leave the light of the oven on. Place the batter in the oven with a bowl of boiling hot, steaming water underneath it. Leave it overnight in the oven for 12 hours and your batter should have fermented by next morning! If it hasn’t fermented after 12 hours, or you would like it to rise more, then add another bowl of steaming water under it and keep the oven light on for another 6-8 hours. If you leave it for too long then the idlis may taste too sour.
- You know your batter has fermented when it has a distinct, sour smell and has risen or increased in size. Since I am now in HK, the weather is very warm and humid and I have stunning results with the batter sometimes overflowing out of the vessel!
How to make Healthy Quinoa Idli?
- This healthy quinoa idli recipe is made with only three ingredients white quinoa, urad dal (lentils) and short grained white rice. I have kept the ingredients white to ensure the classic white idli look. However feel free to use red or brown rice, red or black quinoa and whole black urad dal.
- The lentils used is skinned urad dal which is white in colour. I fully encourage you to use whole urad dal with the skin. It will have a better fibre content because of the skin. However if you like your idlis to be white then used the skinned white version.
- Again I use white quinoa for the colour as well as I find it gives softer, fluffier idlis. You can use any coloured quinoa of your choice.
- In HK I have found idli rice in my Indian shop which is a short grained slightly thick rice. If you can find idli rice then its good. Or else you can use any type of rice you can get your hands on.
- Make sure the batter gets fermented, which means it has risen in size (ideally doubled), has a sour and tangy smell.
- If you do not have an Idli box or Idli steamer, then place them in heatproof shallow, small bowls and place in your steamer.
- Once the steaming time is done, leave it for 20 minutes to cool and set a bit. Do not be tempted to eat it immediately as it will be quite sticky and difficult to manage. As it cools it becomes harder and sets well.
I have also shared a simple coriander coconut chutney recipe which tastes delicious with the healthy quinoa idli. You can also eat it with steaming hot sambar on a lazy Sunday morning! I do hope you take the plunge and make this healthy quinoa idli recipe at home today! If you make idlis already then try this healthier version with reduced rice and a healthier grain like quinoa. Let me know what you think of this recipe in the comments below!
For more innovative recipes using quinoa try my Healthy Quinoa Upma recipe, Rajma Quinoa biryani, Healthy Pineapple Quinoa Fried Rice and Quinoa Falafels. Other Healthy Indian creations are Healthy Low Carb Tikki , Kale and Mint Chutney and Healthy Indian Chaat. Tag your creations on Instagram or Facebook using the #meghnas and tagging me as well @meghnas_ so that I can reshare your creations on my account!