Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Idli Steamer

idli steamer- through ages


            The origin of the favourite breakfast item, ‘idli’ (sometimes spelt with a fancy ‘y’) is not known. The name is said to have its origin in the Tamil phrase ‘ittu avi’ (ittu-‘laid’ or ’kept’ and avi- ‘steam cook’ i.e.  ‘kept or laid steam cooked’)


             It is logical to surmise it is a simplified variant of the ‘Kanchipuram idli’

(or kudalai idli – name based on the  flower basket of bamboo thatch and leaves used to steam cook the dough). For centuries, the preparation was confined to temples, especially in North Tamil Nadu, where these idlis provided an all-time, any-time alternative to other offerings that were plain rice based and had an advantage in terms of some keeping qualities, remaining fresh up to another day, a boon for many pilgrims. Also the idlis were wholesome in terms of carbohydrates, proteins and fat content.


            The dough is a ground, wet- mix of rice, urad dhal kept fermented through over night storage. It is then spiced with jeera, pepper, salt, chopped dry ginger topped with a generous helping of pure ghee, This mixture, is poured to fill a few bamboo knit flower baskets- small cylinders of 4-5” dia and a foot long, open only at the top- These are kept hung inside a huge earthen pot that is filled with some water to generate the steam needed to cook the dough inside the porous baskets, The pot had a lid with holes that can be plugged or kept open to regulate the steam.


              To day’s idli is a simplified version for popular consumption, sumptuous enough and easy on the purse. Mass consumption, basically as a breakfast item happened as a result of commercial activity and urbanization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that encouraged the ‘tiffin’ ( fillers between meals) habit. Coupled with coffee drinking, promoted by many coffee- clubs (primitive restaurants) idlis were actively supported by the growing urban middle class. Politics or poetry, movies or music, career or counseling- every thing got lined up over a plate of steaming idlies and hot coffee. So much so that   idli habit got spread as an all time safe refreshment – a day long affair in Nandyal-AP ( ‘Idly Ramiah’ as the joint was fondly known) to a 24 hour mass ritual in the business areas of Madurai.


                 As the main item is an ever-green formula (some sanctity and respect got attached to this fluffy white entity), the sizes vary these days, from the ‘big brothers’ in Andhra to the ‘mini-idlis’ in some urban cities. The side dishes have also come a long way. Originally the fare was confined to a coconut-gram mix chutney, sambhar ( usually with onions) and some chilly-dhal in gingely oil paste, Now you get some variety of chutneys and powders– mint, coriander, tomato and dhal, you name it you get it!       


              The utensils varied in shape and make according to consumption. From earth pots to brass cauldrons and iron pans to cozy stainless steel containers. The vital unit, the trays with shallow, hemi-spherical pits with perforations/ holes to allow steam percolation have not changed in shape. Years ago, wet cloth was spread over the pits to facilitate easy removal, but now light greasing of the trays does the trick.


                 Left over idli dough, further fermented, needed dilution and hence got converted as ‘oothappams’. Further refinements in the dough led to the ‘dosas’ that have become  popular, so popular that a new genre of non-vegetarian fare has appeared, but that is another story altogether- a biography with more ‘masala’, one would tend to muse.   

references and acknowledgements:


>http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/ET_Cetera/Idli_saga_A_study_into_the_origin_of_the_idly.Idli - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia>

> Mr. veera vijaya raghagavan and his mom from chennai who is a treasure trove of information

Pressure Cooker

One of the most commonly seen appliance seen in the Indian kitchen is the pressure cooker.It has brought about a radical change in the lives of homemakers and chefs since its introduction.The higher temperature causes the food to cook faster; e.g., cooking times can be reduced by 70 percent.Since pressure cooking depends on the production of steam, the process cannot easily be used for methods of cooking that produce little steam, such as roasting pan frying and deep frying. People claim that the pressure cooker is easy to cook with in comparison to other modern gadgets - it is certainly versatile. Pressure cookers can be used to prepare a wide variety of different recipes, covering most cooking styles and foods. Also more than one preparation can be done in it simultaneously. It is truly a boon in the kitchen.

Pressure cooking is a method of cooking in a sealed vessel that does not permit air or liquids to escape below a preset pressure. Because water's boiling point increases as the pressure increases, the pressure built up inside the cooker allows the liquid in the pot to rise to a higher temperature before boiling

Pressure cookers are generally made from aluminium or stainless steel.
A gasket forms an airtight seal which does not allow air or steam to escape between the pan and the lid; the only way the steam can escape is through a regulator on the lid when the pressure has built up
To seal the gasket, some pressure cookers have a breach lock with flanges that interlock when you turn and tighten the lid on the pot.Others, like Hawkins have slightly oval lids and openings. With these, you insert the lid at an angle, then turn the lid to fit the pot. A spring arrangement, in Hawkins' case the lid arm with a hook to the pot arm, holds the lid in the right place. When cooking, the pressurized steam inside keeps lids tightly on.
The food to be made is placed in the pressure cooker, along with some amount of water. The vessel is then sealed and placed on a heat source.When the water reaches boiling point at atmospheric pressure it begins to boil, but since the steam produced in the pressure cooker cannot escape the pressure rises, consequently raising the internal boiling point. Once the pressure increases to the designed amount above air pressure a relief valve opens , releasing steam and preventing the pressure from rising any further.

Foods are cooked much faster than other methods,and with much less water than boiling, so dishes can be ready sooner. Less energy is required than when boiling, steaming or oven cooking, particularly if multiple foods are cooked at once. Since less water is necessary, the foods come to cooking temperature faster.The food is cooked above the boiling point of water, killing all germs and viruses.The pressure cooker can also be used as an effective sterilizer, for jam pots and glass baby bottles for example, or for water while camping.

With pressure cooking, heat is very evenly, deeply, and quickly distributed. Many pounds of vegetables or meat can be quickly cooked with just a cup of water - immersion of the food in boiling water is not necessary.

Since foods need not be immersed, vitamins and minerals are not leached(dissolved) away by water. Since steam surrounds the food, foods are not oxidised by air exposure at heat,so vegetables do not lose their colour and vitamins on heat.

The pressure cooker speeds cooking considerably at high altitudes, where the low atmospheric pressure otherwise reduces the boiling point of water and hence reduces water's effectiveness for cooking or preparing hot beverages. This is especially useful for mountain climbers at very high altitudes, reducing cooking time and fuel requirements.
Mountaineers and winter campers find the pressure cooker a very valuable tool for melting snow and ice. In an ordinary pot, melting snow is very slow because the water evaporates more than it melts. In a pressure cooker, not only is the steam kept in, it transfers heat to the rest of the snow and water very effectively.

Some food toxins can be reduced by pressure cooking. A Korean study of aflatoxins in rice showed that pressure cooking was capable of reducing aflatoxin concentrations to 12% to 22% of the level in the uncooked rice.

Devika Singh
Deepti Khosla
Gaurang Nagre

Kitchen Knife

History of Knife

Knives are one of the oldest and most useful human tools. Our ancestors used sharp stones or wood pieces to do what knives today do. They were used to cut, prick and carve and stood as a symbol of bravery. With the invention of metal, there was an evolution of the most used human tool, knife. As civilization advanced, various types of metals used in making knives (through the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age) emerged.

With the advancement of the technology and the discovery of guns, however, the knife lost its place in battle fields. As time evolved, knives are adopted to be used in the kitchen.

Anatomy of Knife

A Point: The very end of the knife, which is used for piercing
B Tip: The first third of the blade (approximately), which is used for small or delicate work
C Edge: The cutting surface of the knife, which extends from the point to the heel
D Heel: The rear part of the blade, used for cutting activities that require more force
E Spine: The top, thicker portion of the blade, which adds weight and strength
F Bolster: The thick metal portion joining the handle and the blade, which adds weight and balance and keeps the cook's hand from slipping
G Finger Guard: The portion of the bolster that keeps the cook's hand from slipping onto the blade
H Return: The point where the heel meets the bolster
J Tang: The portion of the metal blade that extends into the handle, giving the knife stability and extra weight
K Scales: The two portions of handle material (wood, plastic, composite, etc) that are attached to either side of the tang
L Rivets: The metal pins (usually 3) that hold the scales to the tang
M Handle Guard: The lip below the butt of the handle, which gives the knife a better grip and prevents slipping
N Butt: The terminal end of the handle

Types of Knives

  1. General knives
  2. Meat knives
  3. Small knives
  4. Cheese knives
  5. Japanese knives
  6. Chines cleavers
  7. Specialty knives

Group members:

Biswa Bikash Singh
Subash Chellamuthu
Tejesh Goregaonkar

Orange Juicer

Appliance: Orange juicer

Today, orange juicer is one of the most common forms of juicers found in every other Indian household. Citrus juice is easiest to extract even without the help of manual equipment. For example, lemon juice can be extracted just by squeezing it with fingers. But then, over the centuries technology has been improving every day and now, hundreds of different citrus juice extractors or simply, juicers are available in the market. Ranging from manual lemon squeezer to electrical orange juicers, orange juice is now so easy to extract with great efficiency of extracting juice out of up to 70 oranges in a minute.

Above: you can see the photo of the orange juicer toy we got from Suchitra as a start up to be looked more into this product

I have still not been able to find when exactly was a real orange extractor invented, but i have come across a patented design of an orange juicer dated 1944 in America (http://www.google.co.in/patents?id=GQ9kAAAAEBAJ&pg=PA1&dq=citrus+juicers+commercial&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=0_1#PPA2,M1)

It has details of the product, supplemented with drawings. It would be nice to have a look at it as it is a real bulky design as compared to the sleek designs of modern world, for example one designed by Philip Starck (can be seen in the photo below).

My next post would be about the information we gather at the Vessels Museum, Ahmedabad. I hope to get some information about a orange juice extractor there.

Following areas shall be looked into for our research:

  1. · Product function
  2. · Product history: invention and evolution of the product through ages
  3. · Product form in today’s kitchens
  4. · Fads
  5. · Designer products
For this assignment we’ll be following the methodologies mentioned below:
  1. · Data collection through web search
  2. · Data collection from books, journals, etc.
  3. · Vessel museum at Vishala, Ahmedabad
  4. · Interviewing the kitchen appliances shopkeepers
  5. · Interviewing orange juice vendors about their experience with the juicer.
  6. · Interviewing old grannies about their experience with orange extraction during earlier times.
  7. · Interviewing professional juice makers such as in restaurants, hotels, and other food outlets.
  8. · Photographic analysis of the various forms of the juicer.

Group members:

Gunveen Kaur

Manjari Chaudhary

Swetal Khaire