Way back in April 2014, I had started a series on ‘Power Packed Pancakes’. The introduction post focussed on how having Dosai/Dosa batter at home can be a stress free affair, and the importance of including whole grains and millets for a Healthy Lifestyle.
How far the post was successful with regards to a stress free read …. not for me to decide.
From Power Packed Pancakes, now, its time to move on to Power Packed Idlis or Steamed Cakes. What the Tamils call Idli is generally described in English as Rice Cakes. Specifically, these are Steamed Rice Cakes. This time, the steamed cakes are with Millets and no Rice included. Hence, they are truly Power Packed and Healthy.
I don’t prefer to mix Rice in the Millet Idli batter, especially if the purpose is to cut down the Rice intake. A pack that reads ‘Whole Wheat Bread’ or ‘Brown Bread’ in the shelves of supermarkets, tricks the consumer to believe it is 100% original Whole Wheat bread. The soft and tasty bread is certainly a combination of White flour and Whole Wheat, or many a times 70-80% whiteflour with the inclusion of Wheat Bran.
Rice is a wonderful Grain, in comparison to the empty caloried White Flour. But, I’d like to keep my Millet Dosai or Idli, without the inclusion of Rice.
Hence, I use the best suited Millets for Idlis, as simple as that. Other Millets which don’t turn out soft and fluffy (that’s expected from a Steamed Cake), can be made as Dosai. The batter is rigidly the same, devoid of Rice.
Why are we talking about Rice here?
Well, there a two basic ways of making Idlis with millets. One – making the Idli batter with Millet and Black gram and NO Rice at all; the other is to substitute one portion of rice with millet. Certain Millets like Thinai (Foxtail Millet – one of the oldest millets of the Tamils), Samai (Little Millet), Varagu (Kodo Millet) or Kuthiraivali (Barnyard Millet) are best suited to make fluffy soft Idlis, with NO Rice at all. A few others like Kezhvaragu (Ragi/Finger Millet) or Kambu (Bajra/Pearl Millet) don’t create the best steamed cakes with millets alone, they need the addition of Rice.
But, Horse gram, which is a lentil and not a Millet, should be treated like the black gram in Rice Idlis. That’s why, Rice and Horse gram are blended to make Steamed Cakes.
This series aims at providing an alternative way to incorporate millets in our diet. Having included them in our daily life style for several years now, I strongly feel this has been one of the healthiest changes I’ve adapted. Also, one that makes me stay very close to a few of the countless traditional foods of my soil. Especially, when there is written literary document that proves these were consumed by my ancestors several thousands of years ago.
It has been a slow and steady journey for me and a patient journey for my readers. Thanks a ton, for travelling at my pace, encouraging me to do what I’ve been doing.
When I sit back and think, the commitment of not endorsing junk foods and not blogging on unhealthy stuff has never faded. That I wouldn’t post a recipe, which I feel is unhealthy for my family; and wouldn’t cook any junk, that I wouldn’t prescribe to my readers, has been a norm that I set for myself.
In my quest to explore various versions of traditional foods, I felt THINAI / Foxtail Millet would be an apt food to post for my 200th.
Thinai is among the oldest millets consumed by Tamils. Sangam Literature, which dates from 300 BCE to 300 ACE, mentions Thinai, alongwith a few other millets and rice varieties, used by the ancient community.
Bamboo rice, Red rice, Foxtail, Kodo, Finger Millets, Black gram, Horse gram are a few rice, millets and lentils mentioned in Tholkappiyam (the most ancient Grammar Text of Tamil Language) and Sangam Literature.
With my quest to cook more, and write more and more on the traditional foods of the Land I belong to, I chose to do a post on one of the ancient millets of Tamilnadu.
It is the outcome of an urge to cling on tightly to my roots (quite strong with at least 2500 year old heritage), and transferring the wealth and knowledge my ancestors passed on to me through generations, to my offspring and others.
Thinai – Two Ways for the Sweet Tooth
Including Millets in our everyday diet is one of the most recommended health formulas of the 21st century, and hence, the internet overflows with the health benefits of all. Name it and you get it. Benefits of Thinai/ Foxtail Millet can also be found very easily in the net.
Any happy occasion demands a dessert. Why not 2 sweets for 200? That’s why I thought of making a Payasam and Sarkkarai Pongal with Thinai.
The basic ingredients are almost the same – Thinai and Jaggery; Payasam has the inclusion of coconut milk and Pongal doesn’t have the milk to bring it to thinner consistency.
Thinai Payasam and Thinai Pongal
As mentioned above, the Ingredients for Payasam and Pongal are almost the same, with the addition of coconut milk in Payasam.
The basic steps in making Payasam and Pongal are again, almost the same. In simple terms, a thinner mixture and addition of coconut milk makes it Payasam; a thicker version with the glow of more clarified butter, makes it Pongal.
Hence, the procedure below might be repetitive. Yet, for better comprehension, I chose to make different recipe presentations.
THINAI PAYASAM – Ingredients (serves 3-4)
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
thinai/foxtail millet – 1/2 cup
vellam/jaggery – 3/4 cup
chukku podi/ dry ginger powder – 1/2 tsp
elakkai podi/cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
nei/clarified butter – 2 tbsp
mundhiri paruppu/cashewnut – 10-12 pieces
thengai pal/coconut milk – if freshly squeezed -1/2 cup thin second milk and 1/2 cup thick first milk; if using canned coconut milk – 1 cup thick, add extra water accordingly
Method of Preparation
Wash Thinai and Pressure cook with 1 1/2 cups water.
How I cook – After the first whistle, reduce flame to sim and switch off after 2 whistles
2. Boil jaggery with water to dissolve and remove impurities. Strain and keep aside
3. Squeeze milk from fresh coconut, separate thin second milk and thick first milk
4. Over sim flame, keep the cooked millet in a hard bottomed pan or in the same pressure cooker, in which it was cooked
5. Time to add strained jaggery water- Check if you would need the whole jaggery water. Add 3/4th of it and add more if needed
Extra jaggery water, if retained can be used for various other purposes
Stir well after addition of jaggery water
Add dry ginger and cardamom powders
Let the millet cook in jaggery water and the spices, and thicken
Fry cashew nuts in nei/clarified butter till golden; Add to the cooked thinai-jaggery pongal
When the jaggery is well incorporated in thinai, add coconut milk
Be careful not to boil the Payasam too much after adding coconut milk, as it might curdle