As I've mentioned before, the Indian restaurant chain Saravana Bhavan (SB, as I call it) is a slight obsession of mine. I have so many fond memories of childhood vacations in India eating there, and when a branch opened up in Paris a couple of years ago my world changed! We ate there or got takeout to go at least once a week (it didn't hurt that they were just two Metro stops away from us). Unlike most Indian restaurants in Paris, SB didn't tone it down for the average French palate and had a genuine mix of South and North Indian fare as well as lots of Indo-Chinese dishes, which I love! Here in Bangkok, there's no SB but unlike in Paris, there's plenty of good Indian food. But none of them serve up the curious SB dish known as kaima idli.
I'm not 100% sure (and correct me if I'm wrong), but it pretty much seems that kaima idli is a Saravana Bhavan invention. A chef at one of the restaurant's many locations must have been sitting around one day and staring at a plate of leftover idlis, wondering what to do with them. So the chef decided to chop the idlis into chunks, deep fry them and saute in a spicy sauce. Not a healthy invention by any stretch, but an absolutely delicious one. I had my first taste of kaima idli at the Paris SB and adored it, as did all of my Parisian friends who tried it.
After the success of the rava idlis that I made for breakfast last weekend, I knew that at least some of the leftover idlis had to be used to make kaima idli. To assuage my guilty conscience, I didn't deep fry my idli pieces, though a did use a good bit of oil. I also didn't use the same spices as the SB version or as much chili powder but chose to go with tandoori masala and some ketchup for a bit of sweetness and a slight Indo-Chinese flavor. You can really use whatever spices you want though, the recipe is totally forgiving. SB serves kaima idli with an onion raita and I did the same, mixing some yogurt with a couple of little spoons of the delicious mint and cashew chutney I had made earlier in the day and plenty of minced red onion. It was totally yum, and the two of us totally devoured it (well actually I devoured most of it and then practically licked the plate...*hanging head in shame*). Serve this as a snack or with pre-dinner drinks. Your guests will rave!
Serves 2-3 as a snack
1/4 cup canola or light olive oil
4 leftover idlis (regular or rava idlis), chopped into four large pieces
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
10 curry leaves
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
1/2 Thai bird's eye chile or 2 Indian green chilies, chopped
1 1/2 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon tandoori masala
Salt, to taste
Fresh coriander, to garnish
1. In a large and wide pan, heat the oil. When the oil is hot, fry the idli pieces, turning them so that they fry evenly on all sides. You want them to get golden brown.
2. Once the idlis are fried, place them on a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.
3. Use the same plan and lower the heat to medium. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves and cashews. Once the mustard and cumin seeds start to pop (should be pretty much right away), add the onion, garlic, ginger and chile.
4. Once the onions are translucent, add the chopped tomatoes and mix well. Cook until the tomatoes begin to break down. At this point, add the ketchup and water and stir well. Cook for a couple of minutes.
5. Add the cumin and coriander powders and the tandoori masala and mix everything together. Cook for a couple of minutes, and add just a bit of salt to taste if necessary.
6. Blot the idli pieces with another paper towel and then add to the pan, stirring so that the sauce coats all of the pieces evenly. Cook for about 5 minutes.
7. Remove from heat and serve garnished with fresh coriander, alongside some onion raita.