Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fermentation of foods in Winter

As long as we stayed in Mumbai, we just did not realize how the hot humid weather there helped us. No, I don't love the balmy sweaty weather for all its physical discomforts. But as they say, there are two sides to a coin. In this case, I just discovered the other side of coin.

In the hot and humid weather, it is so easy to ferment foods. For a South Indian, fermentation is an important step in cooking. And not being able to do it is very frustrating. I did not have to give a second thought about batters not fermenting, curds not setting, etc. Instead, sometimes I would have to worry about the batter not just fermenting rather souring. Then we moved to the US and we still did not have to consider these things because we were based in the South-West where it was warm. And from there we moved to the North-East and with that came a lot planning for these kinds of foods.
I learnt through experience that my dosa and idli batters don't ferment and curds don't set in the cold because temperatures don't cooperate. During winters, I learnt that, the batter rises if put into an oven overnight with the bulb left on. First, I would switch the oven on at minimum temperature for about 5 minutes then switch it off leaving only the bulb on. Then I would put the vessel (steel vessel) with batter in the oven and would check it only in the morning. So the minute I entered the kitchen I would check the batter and if it needed a little more rising I would switch it on for about 5 minutes again. This way the batter had some more time to rise till we were ready for breakfast.
The other way was to keep the batter near a heater vent. With each blast of heat from the vent the batter was on its way to a good bubbly rise. At my sister's place, the vent in the dining area was on the floor and we would place the vessel conveniently on it and the batter would rise beautifully in about 4 to 5 hours time. 
The same process can be adopted for setting yogurt or curd, again do remember to use a metal container and not a plastic one. I am speaking from experience - my plastic container melted and additionally, I had to clean all that spilt split milk. My over zealousness made me raise the oven temperature and right then I got distracted and forgot all about it. And I came back to a half melted container with white liquid dripping through the wire rack and collecting at the bottom of the oven.
Sprouting pulses is also not easy if the temperatures are low. Again, after draining the water, wrap the pulse in a moist cloth and keep in a container and keep this in an oven. Warm the oven at minimum temperature for a minute or two and the warmth and moistness will coax the pulses to sprout.
I am reminded of those days now, with winter having set in here. A few weeks, I ground some rice for appam and looked forward to a breakfast of soft  appam and stew. But, what I got instead was a flat thick dosa like pancake with no sponginess whatsoever. That reminded me of how I fermented the batter in the US and adopted the same here. So keeping the vessel with batter near the heater, in between gas burners and in the warmed oven, is now a regular feature. And yes, try and grind the batter in the morning, giving it enough time to perform! Now, my idli batter looks light and airy and I am smiling in glee.

This post is to all those who struggled, worked a way around and won, however small the victory!

Just ground idli batter

Fermented idli batter

Our breakfast - Soft idlis with coconut chutney and podi

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