India is a caste-ridden society. One of the castes is Brahmins. Traditionally, they were the scholars, preachers and educators. Now, Brahmins make up about 4 % of the entire population. Now, in the Brahmin class, there is a sub-category called Iyengars (pronounced eye-en-gars). Though there aren't many glaring differences between the sub-categories, there are subtle differences. Some of the subtle differences exist in the food.
South Indian food is mostly healthy with subtle flavors, steamed or cooked with a bare minimum of oil. One of the lesser known foods of the Iyengars is Ilai Vadam (Ilai means Leaf in Tamil and Vadam is a crispy snack - but in this case, the vadam isn't fried, but steamed).
It seems to be a dying food (if there's any such thing!). We love it in our house. Its a time-consuming activity, but so worth the effort. Basically, its a batter of rice and sago, mixed with green chillies and cumin. It is ladled over banana leaves and steamed until done.
This is going to be a pictorial explanation of the process.
(Steamed rice flour spiced pancakes on banana leaves)
Makes 25-30, depending on size
1 cup Raw Rice
1/2 cup Sago Pearls
4 Green Chillies
1 tsp Cumin Seeds
Salt, to taste
2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
15 Banana Leaves, each cut into half (you could also use saran wrap cut into squares or thin plastic sheets that hold up when steamed. I'm sure it's difficult to get banana leaves in most places, so you could use plastic wrap if you must.)
Soak the rice in water for 2 hours. Grind with water to a thick, smooth consistency. Cover and keep aside (leave it outside - do not put it in the refrigerator).
2nd Day Evening:
Soak the sago in water.
3rd Day Morning:
Grind the soaked sago with green chillies and salt to a smooth consistency.
Mix the sago batter with the rice flour batter. (The rice flour batter has been left outside for 3 days now and might have developed some dark spots - this is fine and is expected - it has not gone bad, and you don't have to throw it away! )
Add the cumin seeds and oil to the mixed batter.
Prepare a steamer. I used a tall steamer with about 2 cups of water at the bottom. Then put an inverted plate or bowl or any flat surface at the top. Make sure you have a close fitted lid.
Now spread about a ladle-ful of batter onto a banana leaf (you have to do this one at a time), in a circular motion (like you would for a dosa) and try to spread it as thin as possible.
Carefully lift the leaf and put it on the flat surface.
Close the lid and let it steam for about 2-3 minutes.
There will be puffed up little bubbles all over, which will flatten out after a few seconds.
You could just peel off the leaf and eat it. Or you could roll it up into a cigar-shape. Or, you could add some stir-fried veggies and roll up to make a steamed Indian-style spring roll!
I'm not sure if anyone reading this will try it, but if you do, kudos to you for trying something new. I hope you enjoy it as much as we love it.
This is as traditional an Indian food as you can get! :-) I wanted to tell everyone about it just to spread the word and hope that this beautiful dish doesn't die into non-existence.