Long journeys with family in Tamilnadu are not complete without idlies dipped and drenched in spicy milagai podi and sesame (gingelly) oil. Everyone eagerly waits for their packet of these idlies wrapped in banana leaf that in turn is wrapped in some old newspaper and tied with a jute string. The banana leaf imparts its own flavor to the idlies making them the most sought after delicacy during travels.
They not only stay good for a long time, but also get better the longer they sit. Four of these idlies with a cup of good water make a very satisfying meal for people, young or old, poor or rich. In our family, we also love to have a cup of homemade yogurt to wrap up and call it a meal.
I’ve moved away from India several years ago to live in a place that is so far far away from home (Chennai), yet, this habit of packing spicy idlies for travels has stayed with me, inherently. When you stay away from home, it sometimes gets really difficult to enjoy the authenticity of the tastes and flavors of home food. You know what I mean, when I say ‘home’ here. Indian food for that matter is quite complex because of the distinct and special masalas that every dish demands.
The Indian grocers here in the US are doing a fabulous job of bringing masalas of every kind and origin to you. However, these commercial products can’t get any closer to what your mom or grandma can make at home, obviously. Some people are not very picky or particular about the traditional taste or flavor that has to go in to their food, but for some others, it is a big deal. It sure is, for me. There used to be times when I was very dependent on my mom to send me all those masalas that were often used in our family cooking. I have now slowly grown up in to making many of these myself.
Idli Milagai Podi is one of the several things that I always make at home. I began to develop this recipe trying to mimic my mom’s, but have gradually landed in something that has turned out to be a favorite for many that have tasted it. I’ve also learned to roast the lentils in an electric oven which simplifies and quickens the process considerably. With this method, you do not have to baby sit the lentils and wait until they turn golden brown uniformly. All you need to do is pop them in a oven, set the timer, turn it on and switch to the next task in your never ending list of things to do :).
Prep Time : None
Cook Time: 15 mins
Wait Time : 15-30 mins
Yield : About 2 cups
1 cup chana dhal
1/2 cup urad dhal
10-15 dry red chilies
2 tbsp black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sesame (gingelly) oil
1/4 teaspoon hing (Asafoetida)
1 teaspoon grated jaggery
Preheat oven to 375 deg F.
In a large sheet pan, toss chana dhal, urad dhal and sesame seeds in sesame oil. Spread the lentils in a such a way that almost all of them are in contact with the pan. Pop in the oven and allow them to be roasted, for about 8 mins. The lentils would have started to turn slightly golden brown. Take the pan out and give it a good mix with a wooden spatula. Add the red chilies now, spread them evenly and throw the pan back in the oven for another 5-8 minutes or until the lentils are roasted to a nice red brown color. You’ll also get a strong flavor of the roasted lentils and chilies coming from the oven.
Turn off oven, place the pan on a cooling rack (or wooden coasters) and let it cool. Once cooled, transfer the lentils to a mixer (or spice grinder), add salt, hing and jaggery and coarse grind. Transfer the podi into an airtight container.
While serving, mix the podi with some good quality sesame oil or ghee and enjoy with idli, dosai and paniyarams.
1. The baking duration could differ from oven to oven. If you watch the roasting process closely a couple of times, you’ll know the duration your oven needs.
2. The extent of coarseness of the podi is your preference. Stop the mixer when you think you’ve reached the right texture of the podi.
3. I add some tamarind also occasionally. If you’d want to try it, add it along with the lentils to be roasted in the oven. One tablespoon of chopped tamarind would be good for this recipe.
4. You can always roast the lentils on your stove top, if you don’t want to use an oven or don’t have one.
5. The shelf life of the milagai podi is really good, but try to use it within in a month.