Monday, August 23, 2010

Vegetable Idlis

This story goes to Of Chops and Chopsticks hosted this month by Desi Soccer Mom.

'I will make my children engineers'

“It is not a Friday, but, it is a Fry-day” mumbled Rajni as it was one of the most chaotic days she had in recent times. She felt everything - absolutely everything and everybody was conspiring against her. To start with, the maid was on leave. The baby-sitter did not turn up. So, she had to request her neighbours to take care of her naughty son for few hours. Thankfully they obliged! At college, she had a heated argument with her Head of the Department over promoting one II Yr student. Rajesh (husband) called up to say that he would be travelling over the weekend and that he would be heading directly to the airport from work. Plus there were internal assessment papers to be corrected, weekly grocery to be purchased, fancy-dress competition in her daughter’s primary school, friend’s son’s birthday party and so many endless things.....

After finishing all her lectures, she drove home hurriedly. As she was entering she heard the land phone ring. It was her tailor, Shabana, saying she would be a little late, however, she would definitely deliver the embroidered salwar kameez today. Rajni was happy that atleast something was working in her favour. As she picked up her deeply-asleep son from her neighbour’s house, she realised she had some time for herself. Treating herself to a hot cup of tea, Rajni limply dumped herself into a chair.

Her mind, in the name of relaxation was sauntering aimlessly. Of all the things she was thinking, one of them was Shabana. She always nurtured a soft spot for her in her heart. Shabana, a typical burqa-clad young woman from old Hyderabad was Rajni’s tailor. Shabana always carried with her an infectious enthusiasm and a noticeable twinkle in her eyes, which unknowingly camouflaged the daily hardships she underwent. Her hands had the dexterity to metamorphose even the most morbid looking scraps of cloth into the most beautiful salwars and embroidered sarees. She was truly talented, but however not lucky enough to make big money. Her husband, who had gone to Saudi Arabia in search of a job was missing for almost six years. Married at an age of fourteen and with two children to support, she was struggling all by herself to raise them respectably. She lived with her aged mother, who was again dependent on her. Shabana would passionately say, ‘One day I will make my children engineers’. She used to give the whereabouts of her husband to each relative visiting Saudi Arabia hoping for some news about him. But, none of them ever gave her any answer. Shabana was very positive that her husband would return someday and take care of all of them. She used to call Rajni ‘didi’ (elder sister), and Rajni really liked being called that way rather than the perfunctory ‘madam’.

A loud wail from her son suddenly brought her to the real world. Leaving the unfinished cup of tea on the table, she ran to pick him up. Also it was four and was time for her daughter to come home from school. The day dragged on with its usual monotonous synonymity. Suddenly it was eight and dinner was yet to be made. She remembered the potful of idli batter chilling in the fridge. While the idli batter had to be undoubtedly exhausted, the reality was that children would stage a mass exodus from the house whenever they saw those white balls of steamed batter. They despised the mere look of greased idli plates as they knew what lay ahead. They would frown, make a fuss and succeed in inveigling bowlfuls of maggi noodles from Rajni.

She groped for dinner ideas and suddenly a brilliant one struck her. She thought of chopping some vegetables and adding it to the batter, introducing some colour and hopefully some more taste. Before the children got ravaneously hungry, the idea had to be implemented. If she succeeded in this, she would be able to trick the children into eating those vegetables which they would otherwise willingly tolerate only on their 'fruits and vegetables' picture book.

"Children, please play outside the kitchen, mummy is working with fire and heat" begged Rajni as she was tossing the tempering in the heated kadai. Her son loved the sound of mustard seeds splutter, the hiss of the cooker and the roar of the mixie. He would drop anything he would be doing and run into the kitchen whenever he heard the "Shhhhhhhh" sound the vegetables made when added to the hot kadai. Amidst all this, Rajni set the cooker on the stovetop remembering to take off the cooker weight and waited in anticipation, both for the idlis and for Shabana, who was supposed to deliver her new embroidered salwar kameez.

Shabana appeared that very minute. She handed over the salwar kameez. There was something very unusual about her. The characteristic twinkle in her eyes was missing. She looked worn out. Rajni enquired if she was not feeling well. Shabana asked Rajni for a glass of water and broke down completely. She was sobbing inconsolably. Rajni quickly got her some juice. Just as Rajni had expected, the news was about Shabana’s husband. One of her relatives, who had just returned from Saudi Arabia brought with him the news that her husband quietly married someone else and had settled there. Shabana’s dreams had been shattered. She felt lost and hurt. Her future was blank. After uncontrollable weeping, she gathered herself back and said with renewed vengeance, “I will still make my children engineers”. Rajni hugged her and muttered, “whenever you need anything, let me know”.

Just as Shabana began to leave, it occurred to Rajni to ask her if she had her dinner. When she replied in the negative, Rajni gave her a quick dinner of vegetable idlis and some chutney. In all her confusions, Shabana commented, 'didi, your idlis are lovely. If you had not offered, I would have slept hungry since I was not in the mood to eat'. She quickly washed her plate. Rajni packed a few idlis for Shabana's children. Shabana took the idli packet and a few more salwars for stitching and left.

Rajni's kids ate their idlis without any fuss. They were yet to realise that this was one of mummy's newly found tricks to make them eat! Rajni kissed the children good night. With Rajesh travelling very often (which has become the case lately), she lay all alone on her bed. Images of Shabana’s crying haunted her again and again. Rajni felt truly sorry for her. She was angry with Shabana’s husband for letting down the innocent girl so cold-bloodedly. Rajni mentally thanked God for all that He had given her – an extremely affectionate husband, two cute and intelligent children, a good job, a great house among all other things. Rajni felt that her trivial troubles paled in comparison to Shabana’s hardships. She mentally resolved never to crib for small things again. However she knew internally that she would fume and fret the next time the baby sitter did not turn up or the maid wanted a holiday. Rajni sincerely prayed that Shabana’s children, just as their mother wishes would become engineers one day and do well in life. Just as she was thinking all this, Shhhhhhhhhhhhh. She fell asleep like a baby. She had had a tough day too.
Vegetable Idlis

Coming back to the recipe for vegetable idlis, these are are nothing but a healthy twist to our routine idlis. This recipe makes about 12 idlis.

  • Idli Batter : 2 cups
  • Vegetables (carrots, potatoes, capsicum, onions, peas, etc) – very finely chopped: 1 cup
  • Salt: to taste
  • Corriander (optional): 1 tbsp
  • Oil: 1 – 2 tbsp

For the tempering:

  • Mustard: 1/2 tsp
  • Chana dhall: 1/2 tsp
  • Urad dhall: 1/2 tsp
  • Jeera: 1/2 tsp
  • Green chillis (finely chopped): 1
  • Broken cashews: 2 tbsp
  • Curry leaves: few


  • Take a kadai and heat oil.
  • Add the tempering.
  • Add onions first. Let them brown slightly.
  • Add all other vegetables.
  • Half cook them on the kadai adding no water.
  • Adjust salt keeping in mind that idli batter also has salt in it.
  • Finish.
  • Garnish with coriander leaves if desired.
  • Once slightly cool, mix it along with the idli batter. Mix well.
  • It is very important not to let the batter sit for too long. Immediately pour into greased idli plates and steam for 12 – 15 minutes.
  • Serve with chutney of your choice.


  1. This Idli has really a very touching story behind, well written. BTW is it a true story, if so I too feel sorry for Shabana.

  2. Hey I really dint know that you had this hidden talent of writing too. A nice piece which evoked emotions of a woman who touches many lives in her way...

    Good job shobby!!! keep it going!

  3. That's a very well written piece. I love Shabana's spirit! Resilience is the name of the game!

  4. This was a very poignant story, and something that every mom can appreciate.

  5. very nice story Shobhana... really good !



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