Food talk
Idli from the North

Pushpesh Pant on askali, a speciality from Himachal Pradesh, which was traditionally cooked on stone

They look like idli but do not melt in the mouth. There is a pleasant bite and more than a hint of bedavin in the aftertaste that lingers. The sweet avatar recalls to mind the joys of the old-fashioned pua redolent with saunf. The walnut kernel on the top is a bonus. As a matter of fact they are not steamed, but baked. Let us give a clue — it is cooked on stone but is not the patthar kebab from Hyderabad. Enough of the riddles what we are waxing eloquent about is askali, a specialty from the Himachali repertoire that deserves to be better known. We were introduced to askali by our niece-in-law Abha Bhandari during a New Year bash at Dhaula Kuan near Paonta Sahib and we had no inhibition about packing a casserole back with us. Traditionally the askali are cooked on a stone crafted for this purpose.

The slab has small depressions in it making it look like a flat idli maker. It is pre-heated for hours like an oven and girdled with clay not to let the heat escape before the guests and the family are treated to the hot bakes. We are told that like in the case of idli, recipes vary from region to region and family to family. What doesn’t change is the wholesome goodness. Excellent replacement for the breakfast staples or refreshingly different addition on a festive spread.

Incidentally you shouldn’t let the lack of the exotic stone askali maker cramp your style. The good-old idlimaker works just fine. Remember how in days gone by the pressure cooker was pressed into service as an oven? If you have no health concerns you can really splurge while bidding the winter goodbye dunking the askali in hot melted ghee before popping them in the mouth.


Rice flour 75 gm
Flour (whole meal or suji) 75 gm
Chana dal (soaked overnight, ground to paste) 100 gm
Green chillies (chopped fine) two to three
Ginger (chopped finely) one inch piece
A sprig of green coriander (chopped fine)
A large pinch of garam masala
Salt to taste

For the sweet askali
Sugar (dissolved in hot water) 2-3 tbsp
Saunf `BD tsp
Walnut kernels (for garnishing the sweet askali) 5-6

Obtain a thick batter of pouring consistency by sifting the two flours together and mixing it with sufficient quantity of water. Let it stand for about half an hour. Mix well with chopped ginger, chillies and coriander along with the salt and garam masala. Pour into idli maker and make a small hollow in the centre by pressing with a spoon and pour in the chana daal paste diluted with a little water. In case of sweet askali, this is the time to add the sugar syrup and saunf. Top with walnut kernels. Place the idli maker in the pressure cooker without water and cook for about 15 minutes. Enjoy the savouries with chutney and the sweet ones with honey. May this be winter of your content.