Sizzling Chilli Idli

There’s nothing more OTT than being the table that orders the ‘sizzler’ in a restaurant; the loud crackling noise, the aromatic waft of spices and the annoyingly smug smiles on the diners’ faces. It immediately reminds me of how it feels to be on the receiving end as I sit there with my lacklustre Aloo Chaat, thinking, ‘Sizzlers are so overrated and tacky… but I’ll get one next time.

It’s a love/hate thing.

Whether it’s crowned with vegetables, paneer, cassava or meat, sizzlers are notorious for their sticky, spicy sauces made with plenty of chilli and garlic. It’s not something you’d order on a first date.

I’m not ashamed to admit I own a sizzler (purely for showing-off purposes) and although you know my first love in life is paneer, I’m sizzling up something more unusual this time.

Idli or South Indian rice cakes are made with ground rice and split urad daal which have been gently steamed. Because idli are so perfect fresh from the steamer, leftovers are often overlooked (at my house, anyway). I’m sure all those yummy South Indian ammas out there have some amazing recipes for using up idli leftovers.

Rather than feeling bad about throwing idli away, cube them up and use them in place of your usual sizzler ingredients.

Think about it, you shallow-fry fluffy rice cakes to get a crispy coating, then plunge them into a dark, spicy sauce tossed with crunchy peppers and onions. The soft idli pieces immediately suck up all those chilli-garlic flavours like sponges. All it needs is a squeeze of lime for the perfect finish.

Sizzling Chilli Idli
(Serves 4)

Ingredients

500g cooked and cooled idli, cubed
1 tablespoon oil
2 onions, peeled and sliced into strips
2 peppers (I used red and yellow), sliced into strips
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons grated ginger
4 green chillies, chopped
1 teaspoon tomato puree
2 tablespoons Sriracha (Thai chilli sauce) or any hot chilli sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons hot water
4 spring onions, sliced
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Oil to shallow fry idli
Lime wedges to serve

Method

1. Heat enough oil in a pan to shallow fry the idli until golden and crunchy on all sides. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large wok. Add the garlic, ginger, sesame seeds and tomato puree. Stir fry for a moment, then add the chillies, chilli sauce, soy sauce, hot water and sugar. Cook for three minutes.

3. Add the onions, peppers and fried idli. Cook for a further three minutes, tossing so the sauce coats everything. Remove from the heat. If you don’t have a sizzler, add the spring onions and serve now.

4. If you want to serve it on a sizzler, place your cast iron sizzler on a flame for five minutes. Carefully add the chilli idli, sprinkle with chillies, spring onions and sesame seeds and using the special sizzler handle, serve immediately.

Here’s how I make my idli:

Ingredients

200g rice
100g split urad daal (get it in your Indian supermarket)
1 ½ tablespoons salt
1/8 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/8 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
Oil for greasing pan 

Method

1. Wash and soak the daal for 8 hours.

2. Add washed rice, fenugreek seeds and bicarbonate of soda to the daal mixture and add around 320ml water. Grind into a batter.

3. Leave to ferment overnight. Add the salt just before you want to use.

4. Grease an idli maker and fill until ¾ full and steam for around 10 minutes. For chilli idli, you should fill a greased baking tin with the idli batter and steam for around 30-40 minutes, cool and cut into cubes.

You can keep the idli batter in the fridge for up to a week.

I love this so much, I steam idli batter in a baking tray the day before, just so I can make chilli idli the following day. I promise that once you’ve tried it, you’ll, like me, be creating leftovers on purpose. And buying a poncey sizzler.

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