Thursday, March 15, 2012

Idli, Dosa, Chutney: Brunch Perfection

V and I enjoy having friends over for casual gatherings on the weekends. Typically, people tend to meet for dinner on the weekends, but dinner-time is not at all my favorite time for entertaining. I'm an early bird who is up and about at 5 AM (yes, even on the weekends; especially on the weekends when there are so many fun things to look forward to). By 6 in the evening, I am pretty tired and crabby and not much fun to be around.

Brunch or lunch is my preferred social hour. You do your cooking in the morning, enjoy your friends and still have many more hours left in the day to relax or do something else.

A couple of weekends ago we had just such a gathering scheduled and I made my favorite brunch trio of idli, sambar and chutney. Our friends offered to bring along a dish. I always say yes to this gracious offer- potluck style equals less work for any one person. And I never worry too much about what-goes-with-what. We might end up eating some strange combinations of dishes but everything is always delicious. This time our pals brought over sweet french toast with maple syrup and juicy strawberries.

The camera candidly captured the table laid out with brunch- idlis, chutney and sambar. And a platter of cookies in the background for dunking into tea.
Pillowy challah french toast with sliced strawberries- brought over by our friends.
Idli, sambar and chutney is a trio that I have made so many times before (and posted so many times I've lost count), but never the same way twice! I keep tweaking the idli recipe to make them fluffier, fiddling with the sambar recipe to make it more like the kind from Udipi restaurants and varying the chutneys because there are so many to choose from.

1. The Idlis

For several years, I made idlis using recipes that call for idli rava. But there is such a difference between a good idli and a fantastic one- once you have eaten the latter you get spoiled for life. In my hands (meaning, there are surely ways to make the perfect idli with idli rava but I don't know what they are), the fluffiest idlis come about when you use a special variety of rice sold as idli rice- this rice is parboiled. My idli "aha" moment came last summer when V's aunt visited and I watched her make idlis with parboiled rice. Busy with baby and all, it was only now that I got to try my hand at it. If you have an electric stone grinder and if you have access to parboiled rice, you need to read these two posts from the The Yum Blog. I followed their proportion 1 (adding a fistful of poha for better fermentation), and followed all their excellent tips for grinding the batter. Even on that cold weekend, the batter rose gratifying well and the resulting buttery, fluffy idlis made me weep with joy. No exaggeration.

Update on March 18, 2012: In a comment on this post, Arch suggested that I try Vani's soft idlis. This weekend, I did and yes, this is an incredible recipe! The only difference is that I soaked the parboiled rice, ural dal and poha all together and ground them all together too. The idlis turned out soft and wonderful. So all in all, I think parboiled rice and poha make for successful idlis in my hands.

Idli stand- with molds to make 16 idlis at a time


2. Udipi Sambar

This time around I tried the Udipi Sambar recipe from Peppermill. A recipe from sweet beloved Miri; she is no longer with us but continues to be part of my life. Read her post for a lovely description of why this sweetish, coconut-laced version of sambar is beloved among those of us who ate at Udipi restaurants in Bombay. Here is my adaptation of Miri's recipe.
Udipi Sambar
1. Pressure cook 1/2 cup toor dal. Mash it well and set aside.
2. Heat a little oil in small pan. Add the following ingredients in this order and fry them, then cool and grind to a thick paste (in my case it was more like a wet powder).
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 2 tsp. urad dal
  • 2 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • Few curry leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh/frozen coconut
3. You're ready to make sambar. In a large pan, heat 2 tsp. oil. Temper it with
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds 
  • 1 tsp. urad dal
  • Pinch of asafetida
  • Sprig of curry leaves
4. Add vegetables- I used chunks of red onion this time. Batons of drumsticks, carrot, baby onions, cubes of eggplant, pumpkin all work well. Stir fry for a few minutes. Add salt, red chili powder, turmeric, tamarind paste and jaggery to taste. Add a cup of water, cover and cook for a few minutes.
5. Now stir in the masala paste and toor dal from step 1 and 2. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavors and consistency before serving.

3. A fresh verdant chutney
I use a coffee grinder as my "mixie" and it works for the most part but the coconut chutney made with fresh frozen coconut never seems to be quite as silky smooth as I would like. The idea for using coconut milk instead of fresh/frozen shredded coconut came from Vaishali's post from many years ago. This recipe will give you beautifully smooth chutney in any old blender.

Cilantro Coconut Chutney
1. Blend together and scrape into a serving bowl:
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed and roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 chopped hot green chili (or green chili paste to taste)
  • 1/2 cup dalia or roasted chana dal (phutane in Marathi)
  • 1 mini can coconut milk (5.6 oz. or 2/3 cup)
2. Make a tadka or "tempering" with:
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. urad dal
  • 1 tsp. chana dal
  • Pinch of asafetida
  • Sprig of curry leaves
3. Stir in:
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh lemon juice
Anyway, this brunch was a labor of love and so utterly rewarding. Our friends had never tasted idli before and looked quizzically at these snow-white steamed cakes but a few bites later, I heard things like, "Why can't I stop eating these?".

That weekend was special for another reason. It was the first time Lila rolled over, leaving us speechless with delight. So that makes it two milestones- Lila taking the first step towards mobility and me making idlis that I am proud to share. That Monday, when co-workers asked the perfunctory question, "How was your weekend?", I could say with absolute sincerity that my weekend had been just perfect.

71 comments:

  1. Brunch looks delicious,...idli is something which I have to still learn :)

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  2. Brunch looks awesome and inviting Nupur!! Ever since we had Baby Dear, my philosophy for entertaining has dramatically changed. It also makes a huge difference that we finally moved into a home where the kitchen is literally the centre of it all. Now, instead of fussing over colour-coded napkins and pristine silverware, I'm more than happy to have our friends gathered over the kitchen island, munching, chatting and pitching in; while I dish out one homely dish after another straight from the stove. A casual brunch and hearty is definitely tha way to go - and I've certainly aiming to try your trio when we have friends over in a few weekends. That, combined with rich coffee simply sounds divine to me at the moment!!! :)

    - Meena

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    1. That sounds so lovely- gathering around the kitchen island with good food and good friends.

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  3. Growing up in a North Indian family I do not have the expertise of cooking the delicious idli and dosa. The brunch looks tempting and I wish I could just dunk one idli in that cilantro chutney and gulp it down!

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    1. I wish I could share them with you! For real and not just virtually :)

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  4. Wow ! Perfect idlis are really something unbeatable ! You should also try the mallige idlis, super soft ones, See Vani's mysoorean blog for the recipe...
    I love that bucket of sambar, reminds me of the wedding halls in Bangalore...
    Congratulations on Lila's milestone :) Its so much fun to see them grow !

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    1. OOh I am definitely going to try Vani's recipe next. I can see how poha adds a definite softness to the idlis. The bucket is my favorite- a gift from my mother.

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  5. That sambar bucket is sure an eye-catcher.. Love the way you have laid out ur recipes.. I love idli/dosa with chutney/sambar anytime.. my kind of comfort food..
    http://krithiskitchen.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thanks! May I request you not to add your blog URL to the comment? Those who want to look at your blog can find it by clicking on your name. Thanks for understanding.

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  6. The dinner table looks so festive. I suck at making idlis and do not have the contraption to grind but love them so get the Idli batter from the Indian grocery store. Not the same thing I know and can very well imagine how glad your guests must have been.

    Miri's sambhar recipe looks too good.

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    1. Idli batter from the Indian store is a perfectly good option! Living in St. Louis, good batter and good idlis are not that easy to come by, which makes me very glad to make my own.

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  7. I have had some really 'fantastic' idlis and I am SO spoiled for life! LOL! I have lost the battle with idli batter but looking at the idlis in ur pic makes me want to try one more time! Serving Sambar in that adorable little bucket is such a lovely touch...reminds me of the wedding pangats and those south indian mess style restaurants.

    And a BIG hurray for Lila's first roll over! :) Please give us a glimpse of her, its been so long since her first picture!

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    1. Try, try again :) Seriously, it can take a while but one day it all clicks and you'll make great idlis.
      I love that adorable little bucket too, it is from my mother who has an eye for these sorts of things!

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  8. Thanks for sharing your success with idlis Nupur. My idlis used to come out fairly well and then God knows what but something happened and they just refuse to rise. And I totally refuse to add baking soda or eno to them to force them to rise. I will try your recipe with parboiled rice. I don't have a wet grinder though. Do you think using a good quality blender would work? I had noticed parboiled rice was much harder to grind in regular blenders. But hopefully Vitamix will stand upto its reputation and do what it needs to do :)

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    1. Oh Vitamix is a class apart- I don't own one and have never tried it for idli batter but I would say it is worth a try!

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  9. I see that your idlies have a raised edge (mold with deeper indentations?), much like the ones in the Udipi restaurants, whereas mine have a sharp edge. Would you care to share what your idli maker/stand looks like? Which make/brand? Thanks!

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    1. My idlis do have a sharp edge as far as I can tell. I'll definitely post a picture of my idli stand in a few days (please check this post next week for an update).

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    2. Thank you! I'll be on the lookout.

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    3. Thanks for posting a picture of your stand! Your stand is definitely much better than mine - making for a substantial idli. My molds make the idlis look like convex lenses.

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  10. Loved reading your brunch post Nupur. I'm so not a morning person, I wish I was though.
    I found that par boiled rice makes better idlis especially in cooler weathers after trying the idli recipe from Dakshin cookbook. I never gone back to idli rava since. Adding poha is a great tip. Will try that next time.
    Love ur sambar bucket.
    Chutney with coconut milk is such a yummy recipe. I can never find good quality fresh or frozen coconut and usually end up making peanut chutney instead.
    Congratulations on Lila rolling over. This is the just the beginning for many many more milestones ur little one is going to cross. I still remember my son rolling over on super bowl sunday 4 years ago when Giants won the cup. Sweet memories to remember forever.
    Enjoy ur upcoming weekend.

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    1. Pavani- definitely try adding poha. I think it breaks down into simple sugars faster and gives the yeasty beasties something to munch on right from the get go.
      I have to try your peanut chutney!

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  11. Congrats to Dear Lila for turning over! Can she go back on her back? Little S used to get stuck half way and the look on his face! hahaha! I am a cruel mom, I used to watch him for a good half a minute or so and then help him over.

    I use idli rava to make idlis, I have tasted rice idlis at my friends, they become gummy and stodgy, turns me off. I prefer my idlis spongy and 'raval'. Using boiled rice in a mixie would mean the death of the mixie! I must look into getting a grinder.

    I make chutney out of only dalia ( http://acookatheart.blogspot.com/2010/01/spicy-dosa-easy-chutney-and-memories-of.html ) try it !

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    1. Lila goes over on her back occasionally but mostly hollers for one of us to turn her back over!
      These idlis were not gummy, I promise :) Come over and I'll prove it to you! But I completely understand that "raval" idlis are amazing too.
      I want to try your dalia chutney very soon.

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  12. That is the best bunch one could have! Idli with sambar chutney and coffee and I am in heaven! Love the picture of your brunch table.

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    1. Thanks! I need to learn to make good filter coffee. We stick to chai for now.

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  13. Hi Nupur! Thanks for posting these recipes. I have always wanted to get the perfect sambar recipe and here it is. Cannot wait to try it out.

    p.s. All your pictures look gorgeous! :)

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    1. Thanks Jagruti. The sambar recipe is awesome, and I hope you get to try it.

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  14. The brunch trio looks superb..one of my favourite breakfasts. Loved the 'badli' serving the sambar and also the recipe for the chutney..will try..specially when I get lazy to scrape coconut..Congrats on Lila's new milestone..almost feel your enthusiasm..but it also means you now have to be careful..naughty days ahead :)

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    1. Yeah, V and I are saying, we'll have to start cleaning the floors now ;)

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  15. Should the title be Idli,Sambar,Chutney?? Was hoping to see some delicious dosas also(based on the title). :) Brunch looks yummy though.

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    1. You're right of course! *headdesk*
      I'll try to be more careful about proofreading.

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  16. My friends are mostly night people, which is a shame because I'd love to spoil them with a brunch. I just love how informal, casual and full of comfort food brunches are allowed to be, and yes, crazy recipe pairings work perfectly.

    Thank you for this guide. I have recently discovered dosas and I adore them, but I've never made nor eaten idli so far. I'm off to study a few links now :)

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    1. I know- some of my friends are night owls too, and I tell them to just roll out of bed and show up to eat.

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  17. Lovely spread there..eventhough I make the trio every week, I would love to gulp it down if somebody makes it for me..Never get bored of Idli's:)..I suggest you to try vadaicurry, which is also an excellent combination for Idli and dosa..:)

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    1. Oh yes vadai curry!! I've never tasted it but seen it on other blogs and boy, it looks incredible. Thanks for the tip- I will try it soon.

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  18. Nupur - The brunch picture looks so inviting! I recently learnt the art of making 'decent' Idlies. They are edible and spongy. It takes time, but with trial and error, you improve bit by bit. I recently learnt adding Idli Rava instead of grinding whole rice makes the Idli grainy and not pasty. This brought about a lot of difference in the texture. We prefer Idli-Sambar for dinner (funny enough!) and also enjoy Idli Roast for leftovers the next day around.
    Congratulations on Lila's rollover milestone.

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    1. Isn't it funny how we all find the method optimal for ourselves? Idli rava just never worked that well for me, and using parboiled rice doesn't make my idlis pasty. Whatever works :) Idli roast is a wonderful idea- thanks for reminding me of it!

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  19. It is a delight hearing about Lila. Your brunch is one that neighbors should be falling over themselves to be a part of.

    I do agree I love my early mornings and I prefer brunch or lunch for gatherings and prefer sleeping early too.

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    1. Oh yes the neighbors are only too happy to come over for brunch and take home leftovers if I offer them! I sleep ridiculously early these days. I mean like 9 PM :D

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  20. The spread look fab Nupur! My idlis come out sticky if I use idli rice. What's your idli-patra like? I notice the shape of the idli is different :) I will give this recipe a try for sure though!

    Congrats on Lila's milestone. Kids grow up so fast!

    -Preeti

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    1. My idlis did not turn out very sticky for very reason. Hmm. I'll post a picture of the idli patra in this post later this week for sure.

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  21. I absolutely LOVE idlis, and your post made me hungry for Idlis. I use both the idli rava and idli rice, but I use idli rava only if I get "Udupi Brand". I think that is the best idli rava of all since I have tried many different brands. However, even if I make idlis using idli rava, I soak rava overnight just like rice. Thankfully, I have never had a problem with idlis - always turn out very soft. I also have Miri's sambar recipe in my bookmarks, now will make it next time I make idli/dosa. Coconut chutney looks yum! Never used coconut milk in a chutney before (though have heard of it), but will try it now. And of course your sambar bucket - it is SO cute!

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    1. Aha- thanks for mentioning the brand. These little details make all the difference.
      Yes, the sambar bucket is super cute :) my mother has an eye for cute kitchen stuff so thanks to her I have this.

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  22. Nupur, what a delicious spread-- I wish I could have been there! I've been so busy and off the radar that I only just found out about Miri-- it is incredibly heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing her post: I was always a big fan.

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    1. I wish you were here too, to enjoy this meal with us!
      Yes, Miri's news was just heartbreaking. My heart still feels so heavy.

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  23. Two questions - can I grind the batter in a food processor? If yes, would the dal and rice need to be ground together?

    Have you ever tried making idli in a microwaveable poack maker in the microwave?

    Thanks,
    Ruma

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    1. Ruma- no, a food processor just isn't powerful enough, in my experience. I have never tried making idli in the microwave either. They do reheat beautifully in the microwave.

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  24. looks yum,, I always make idlis with idli rava.. will now try with parboiled rice..
    Congrats on Lila rolling over.. :) It's such a joy watching them grow..

    -Trupti

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    1. Trupti- if you get soft idlis with idli rava then there's no need to change that! People seem to have better luck with one or the other.

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  25. Hi Nupur
    Glad to hear that she has rolled over. Waiting for my son to do that too. Love how the sambhar is served.

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    1. Congratulations on your little son!

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  26. Yay! She rolled over! Waiting for my little one to do the same.

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  27. Nupur, The Idli Sambar Chutney combo looks delicious!!!

    Did u grind both the rice & urad dal(and poha) together as in the link for idlis u provided??? I have always thought grinding it together does not give a good idli outcome. Please let us know.

    Yay for Lil' Lila!!! Cant wait to see a pic of Lila!!

    Thanks
    Aruna

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    1. Aruna- I did soak and grind the rice, urad dal and poha all together and was happy with the outcome. Lila says hi :)

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  28. I had a Q about Idli steaming.The yum blog that you followed for your idlis mentioned that you steam idlis only 5 mins?? how long did you steam them and what was the resting time before you took them out?Also did u add salt to your batter while fermenting?Thanks

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    1. Shilpa- I steam the idlis for 10 to 12 minutes. And yes, I did add salt to the batter while fermenting.

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  29. the blog mentioned boiled rice which I am assuming they mean is parboiled rice.
    where do you buy your parboiled rice from? also how much poha did you use?

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  30. Since we had lil A we do so many more brunches as it works out much better. Congrats on Lila's new sleeping schedule. I have used Shilpa's recipe for making idlis and they come out so delicious. I love them.

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    1. Yes, brunch or lunch is the best way to entertain but get some rest at the same time!

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  31. Ooooh..looks delish! Putting this on our breakfast menu for this weekend. I don't make idli/dosa often, need to correct that asap.

    -Anu

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    1. Anu- thanks! These days I am so in love with idlis I make them practically every weekend.

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  32. Okay, this is probably a huge cheat, but [I think] I had some kind of idli made with Cream of Wheat at a potluck once. Have you ever heard of this? Is it possible to make a halfway decent version this way? I have some Cream of Wheat to use up . . . .

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    1. Cream of wheat is very similar to an Indian ingredient called rava, and rava is used to make a kind of idlis. So not a cheat, just a variation :)
      If you want to use up your cream of wheat, here is a recipe for rava idli: http://madteaparty.wordpress.com/2006/11/04/instant-gratification-rava-idli/

      However, you need special equipment (steaming molds) to make idli. If you want, you can make one of these other rava dishes instead: a risotto-like upma
      http://www.aayisrecipes.com/2006/06/22/green-peas-upmauppittu/

      or rava dosa: http://www.sailusfood.com/2008/04/09/rava-dosa-a-photo-tutorial/

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  33. Bucket sambar rocks!!! Enough said. :)

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  34. Desi and Videsi breakfast at one table. Must have been fun. Everything looks so delicious, dinnertime is just a few hrs away and I wanna it all for dinner tonight :) How is your baby doing?

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    1. Baby is doing great, thanks for asking! She loves sucking her thumb, rolls over from back to tummy and likes board books. How is your little one?

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  35. I like the new design!
    I am spoiled here for idli batter because we live in an old Tamil neighbourhood and lots of stores sell fresh idli-dosa batter every morning. So I just go out and get some for the day. Pilu loves idlis so we're having them quite often these days. But there's also a lot of parboiled rice around here, so I should try the recipe.
    Nothing like brunch, truly - and both idli brunch and eggs and toast brunch are among my favourite meals.

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  36. And hey, thanks for the mention here. I noticed several hits to the idlies post and they're all from here. Thanks again and glad you liked the recipe :)

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  37. I tried the sambhar and the chutney recipe. It was amazing. I loved the chutney but hubby liked the sambhar. I made idlis using idli podi. Check out my post if you get a chance.

    Thanks
    Suparna

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