Were I to tell you that this recipe is highly reminiscent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you probably wouldn’t believe me, but it’s true. Idli, from Southern India, are soft cakey rounds that are oddly like white bread but pleasantly sour and made entirely from fermented rice and beans. Almond butter is more nuanced than peanut but either would work well, and the chutney is infinitely more vibrant than jelly. Combining these ingredients also came to me entirely serendipitously. About a decade ago I planted a little persimmon tree at the corner of my house, where it received next to no light and even less water. I vaguely remembered it was there, but it never bore fruit and never grew. This past season we trimmed back nearby trees and fixed the sprinkler. I happened to be poking around in front of the house mid October, and what do you know? Three gorgeous fuyu persimmons, crisp and sweet and ready to go on the idli I had just steamed for breakfast.
In terms of cost, I bought a large bag of basmati rice for $5.99 and beans $2.99. To make the idli batter, I used about a dollar’s worth of rice and 50 cents for the beans. The almond butter was already in the cabinet and the persimmon, free. So breakfast for me, just a cup of the batter, of which I had about 7 cups, so that means this cost 21 cents. I tested it a few times to get the cooking time right, so let’s be fair and say 63 cents to test and 25 cents for the other ingredients – a shallot and a few raisins, a spoon of almond butter. Eminently affordable, unusual, and quick. The only thing you need to start ahead of time is the batter, but it takes very little effort.
2 c basmati rice
½ c urad dahl (tiny white black gram beans with the outer coating removed – not lentils)
Spring water or filtered tap water
½ tbs butter
1 tbs almond butter
Then generously butter a small bowl about 4 inches in diameter and pour in some batter, about half way up. Place the bowl into a steamer and cook for 12 minutes. A smaller bowl will take a little less time, larger more. Remove from the steamer and let cool for a few minutes. Run a knife around the perimeter to loosen the idli and turn out onto a board. Slice the idli horizontally so you have a top and bottom, like a little bun. Spread the almond butter on one side.
2 tbs neutral oil
1 small shallot
1 knob of ginger
1 small fuyu persimmon
About 20 golden raisins
1 tbs vinegar
When you put your idli in to steam, peel and chop the shallot and start to cook gently in the oil. Peel the ginger with a spoon, slice and dice finely, then add to the pan. Chop the persimmon finely and add. Likewise chop the raisins and add them. Splash with vinegar. Ideally this should be cooked just enough by the time your idli are done, about 12 minutes. Or let cook a few minutes longer if necessary. Put a good dollop of the chutney on top of the almond butter, close and serve up, just as you would a PB&J sandwich.