Friday, April 6, 2012

Thought of Food 9: Making gluten-free multi-grain bread --- the idli way

I have been busy dealing with my science: so I am not writing blogs on general subjects, even if I may get the impression from Indian news avenues that there are so many things going wrong that I can blog about. It is futile bitching about the state of affairs when that is all that we seem to be good at. In any case, I do not think my blogs help in bucking the trend.

What I am worried about is my sugar level which is at an unhealthy high. My rather unsuccessful pursuit of my science gives me high blood pressure. I cannot eat the way I like. I am plus seventy and it really should not matter. Yet, I am continuously thinking of food.

This blog is a continuation of my earlier efforts (Thought of Food 3: A "Maharashtrian" Bread; Thought of Food 5: Multi-Grain Bread for Desis) to make a healthy breadThe blog may be a little long (which is not unexpected). If one has to cut a long story short, the final gluten-free bread that I made is shown below.

When commencing this blog I searched the net for gluten-free bread. The trouble with many gluten-free bread recipes is that the breads do not conform easily to images of ordinary bread that we have trained ourselves to use for working up an appetite. I came across a well thought out blog which nicely gives some of the hurdles in making a worthy gluten-free bread (GFB). This blog also gave a recipe which seemed to be as close to what giving a bread that is desirable ( The recipe here uses egg, tapioca or potato starch, and a gum (Xanthan, which increases the viscosity of the dough). As one can see the effort is to add things that would not make the GFB soggy as it actually is most of the time.

The recipe
After a little bit of experimenting, I think I have come up with a recipe for bread that is easily adaptable to Indian cuisine, especially the South-Indian ones who make idlis as their regular food. I use all the healthy grains except wheat and the ordinary rice used for making idli. I have been making the bread for the last three months and I have survived for the better with apparent (from the way I feel) loss of blood pressure, better sleep, no stomach disorder and very little pumpern (see Epilogue)

The recipe that I give below is eggless, gum-less, starch-less, and (essentially) flour-less, starting only with whole grains. The making of the dough is, in a way, similar to the making of our good old idli dough.

The traditional ingredients idli dough has two essential components, urad dal (black gram or Vigna mungo without its black skin ) and parboiled rice which helps to make the dough gelatinous and starchy.
One can always use whole Urad with the black skin. The only problem is cosmetics due to black fragments left after it is ground. Decorticated whole Urad is preferred.

The two grains are soaked in water for a few hours and ground in an idli grinder usually mae out of stone. A version of the traditional grinder that we were used to as children is shown in the left of Fig 1. It may be looked upon perhaps as the first portable version of the water-mill or the flour mill, though it can be hardly called the lap-top kind. It is usually kept outside the house which usually has a garden fed by the local drainage and kitchen and other waste. The person grinding the dough (usually a grand old lady of the house) has the grinder placed between two stretched feet while squatting on the ground, pours the soaked dough in the cavity rotates the inner stone with one hand pushing back the dough into the cavity of the idly grinder with the other. In the process considerable amount of air along with air-borne bacteria is mixed in and the dough is soft and fluffy. There are mechanized version ot the traditional idly grinder (Fig 1 right, always click to expand picture) which are used in closed confines of a restaurant fed by the vapours from cooks and waiters, or run outside road-side food-chains and stores when the achine mixes in roadside exhausts of vehicles of machine and animal kinds. It is then kept overnight in a half-filled vessel. The dough ferments and rises and is then ready for steaming into idlis the next morning.

(see and
Although I have used the stone grinder for this blog, one could as well use other routes for making the dough including what we call "electric mixer". There is no alternative, actually,, to the traditional stone grinder. The grains are lovingly sheared so that the flavour remains. They are not smashed and chopped and heated which kills the flavours, perhaps meaning that the wild yeasts are killed.

What we dont seem to know well enough is what makes the batter ferment without adding yeast. The answer is that there obvious (and most unsatisfactory answer) is that there is wild yeast. It is almost like saying --- like Crick and Orgel did in "Directed Panspermia", ICARUS 19, 341-346 (1973) --- that the origin of mankind is due to the intelligent seeding from aliens in outer space which is almost equivalent to saying that Jesus is the son of god because Mary is a virgin. It seems that wild yeast is everywhere and life is sustained in a medium of wild yeast --- just like some physicist would talk about ether if not the Higgs' boson by which the universe is controlled? Whatever it may be, the theory of "wild yeast" is useful in explaining why the dough is not successful:-
In United states --- as well as in home of resident Indians who would like to be or have been non-resident Indians --- fermentation of the idli dough is becoming a problem. The water is chlorinated, table salt is iodized and both these are not friends of wild yeast.
The homes have central air-conditioning many with hypo-allergenic filters, reducing the supply of the "wild yeast".
Urad dal (black gram) and Fenugreek seeds draw the wild yeast from air. So do not wash Urad Dal or Fenugreek seeds, as it will wash away the collected wild yeast.
Decortications processes for Urad dal involves introducing moisture to remove the skin. The split Urad has a problem. The pulse is split mechanically that generates heat and destroys much of the wild yeast see (

My initial interest was to make bread using mainly millets since most millets are free of gluten or toxic lectins. They also do not require extensive amounts of water for their cultivation and therefore so so so environment friendly. I also wanted to try urad dal as a source of yeast for fermenting the dough and adding as well a gelatinous binding property that works so well for idlis. At the same time I was afraid that the bread may not work so well so I used wheat also. So myfirst "idli bread" went something like this.

Idli bread no 1.
Jawar (sorghum) : 1 cup
Bajra (millet) : 1 cup
naachni (finger
millet) : 1 cup
buckwheat : half cup
wild rice : three-quarter cup
amaranth seed : half cup
barley grain : half-cup
fenugreek seeds : half cup
Urad Dal
(black gram) : one cup (white,Decorticated)

The mixture was washed and soaked in water with aboout half an inch of water above the grains (Fig 2, left) for about six hours. I used boiled drinking water hoping to get rid of chlorine. We ground it in the idli grinder (Fig 1, right) for about twenty minutes hoping to keep the grains a little coarse. It was scraped off (Fig 2 middle) the grinder and then left in a vessel, the consistency of the dough being rather thicker (Fig 2, right, click to expand picture always) than the typical idli batter.

The dough that I had made had not risen enough overnight, or so I thought. It was sour in taste, like a good idli batter and one thought immediately of sourdough batter that was initially used in traditional bread-making. The traditional sourdough used the an earlier sourdough and which depended on yeast, say, from beer. I was also not sure whether it was going to make a good bread. It was also rather wet and sticky. So I added some whole wheat flour (about another cup or so) kneading it in slowly along with an yeast batter using flour, molasses and milk (see my earlier blog "Thought of food 5:). I also added the usual salt solution, some carraway seeds (shahi zeera), cumin seeds, and the Bengali's mustard oil (one heaped table spoon, magnesium in mustard is good for reducing blood pressure?).

The final dough for this bread had the usual consistency (Fig 3 left), it rose well on keeping for an hour (Fig 3 centre) and baked to give reasonably good-looking breads (Fig 3, right) of different shapes and a good-ish spongy heart (inset of Fig 3, right).

This first bread got a reasonably appreciative response at a cookout of cooking enthusiasts, that was organized the next day by the NGO Anthara.

Idly Bread no 5
Ingredients almost the same as idli bread no 1 without wheat grain and a cup of oats ro be added to batter at the end.

I kept making various versions of this bread without any substantial change. I used the whole black gram without decortication. Within the first few breads, I stopped using wheat grain. It was giving a cement-ish consistency to the dough which seemed to be un-necessary. Since it was summer, I reduced the amount of millet (by local Maharashtrian tradition) and replaced it by naachni or ragi (finger millet). I did not require fenugreek. The final dough required kneading-in a cup of naachni flour. I continued to add yeast batter (see top inset of Fig 4 right), using naachni flour instead of whole wheat flour.

The last dough that I have used before writing this blog had no wheat and less of millet. The batter that I got (Fig 4 left) after grinding was nice and fluffy (we dont know why exctly). I added less than a cup of naachni (finger millet) flour as well as the yeast batter using naachni. I had also found that instead of adding flour it helps to add a cup of oats flakes to the final dough. It was left to stand for an hour so (Figure 4, centre and right; don't miss the wall clock in the insets giving the time). The dough rose quite substantially in an hour.

I then lined the baking trays with mustard oil and poured the batter in after beating it a bit (Fig 5 left). I allowed it to rise for about forty minutes before baking in the oven at 225 C for about an hour. The bread came out cleanly and looked a bit rustic even though its flip side (first picture of this blog) looked as perfect as it could.

The bread was nice and crusty and made a lovely noise when sliced as a fresh bread almost as a fresh baguette would. It also sliced well (Fig 6 left) and looked well including having flakes of oats. The left-over dough made a good south-indian adai dosai-like or a Maharashtrian Thalipeeth-dish (Fig 6 center) that can be served with their usual traditional accompaniments. I preferred an half-fried egg (inset of Fig 6 center). The dough (with yeast and all) also makes good idlis (Fig 6, right) with their usual bland tastes waiting to be given a form of your choice (as usual).


A little bit of re-emphasis
The commercial food chains' emphasis on wheat products that are rich in gluten and other rubbish has been having a visibly harmful effect on the young. Its not that the newly rich and fashion-wise susceptible young people are not aware of the health problems in their food. Its just that they cannot be making the healthy food every day. What is alarming is that may be as high as 1 percent of the population in the United States are suffering from an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine because of gluten intolerance. This disease has the name celiac disease (see and arises from diets containing wheat, rye and barley. This means it includes white breads which rise well when they are gluten-rich, and many other instantly good-tasting foods such as pizzas and instant noodles, and beer which is made from barley. This is the food that young people, who think that they are upwardly mobile because of their hard work, eat comforting themselves that they require a 'little' relaxation of food control. Ignorance or neglect of this disease leads to alarming increases in the probability of getting gastrointestinal cancer (40 to 100 times higher) osteopoassis, diabetes.

On top of this, the new fear-word (see "The Lectin Report" is lectin that is a protein that recognises and binds to a specific type of carbohydrate in cell membranes. In some cases this binding disrupts the functioning of the membranes and damages the cell setting off a catastrophic cascade of immune and autoimmune disorders. The body has protections against these toxic lectins (e.g., glucosamine). It turns out that some cures of Celiac-Sprue related disease by the elimination of certain foods may also be due to these foods being high toxic lectin foods. An explanation that seems to me to be perfectly valid to such lectin sensistivity is that if our ancestors did not eat these foods and therefore develop immune system that could handle these txins then we have little chance of handling them ourselves. The safest route is to avoid food which has these toxic lectins and these include all soy and wheat products including oils from these substances. Soaking and washing of grains and sprouting them removes the lectins which could mean that cooking the grains would also do so.

What the young require, I think, is a standard grain-based sustainer, like gluten-free bread, or rice or idli, which they may then heighten by some salad, or gravy. It would of course be preferable if the bread is wholesome, soft like a regular bread, looks like a regular bread (brown or white) and which would last for some time so that once a few loaves are made one may use the bread for a few days (say, a week) without any fall in its edibility or springiness.

What is most preferable is that the grain be from the local soil and environment and is part of the food that has been passed on for generations. That's where the respect of the ancestors come and the real meaning of the term 'son of the soil' comes in. The good health of an immigrant really would require him not to immigrate --- at least after a certain stage of evolution?

When I first lived in France (at Bordeaux) we had two East-European scientists, who lamented the eating of the French bread, baguette, which did not fill their stomachs. So they carried with them a black bread which we called the German bread, which, they said, was more than three times the French bread, that is completely nutrition-less and completely unhealthy. I now know that the black bread is the pumpernickel bread. The antagonism between the French and the Germans began with their breads. According to one web site *... it was Napoleon proclaiming the bread was only fit for his horse ..." The Germans themselves do not seem to be unaware of the qualities of their bread as the very name pumpernickel suggests to the Germans (see Epilogue tp this article)

It is likely that the persistence with the pumpernickel bread in Germany is that the empirical evidence passed on through generations is that it is good for the health. This traditional bread has been ignored (see Epilogue) by some who prefer to use the white colour of the more commercially acceptable breads that one gets in the supermarket. The way the eating and storing of food grain has evolved is by itself a very important story that has in the way the bottle gourd and pottery from clay evolved in storing the grain. More important perhaps is the way the processing of the grain for food evolved. In Tibet/India and its descendants (south east, far east, Japan) the emphasis was on rice which was perhaps easier to process and store. In the western world, which would include the middle east and Europe (not USA, since it did not evolve), which we would now like to descend into, the vulgar (common) treatment of grains it was the unprocessed whole grains such as the bulgur or groat.

The pumpernickel bread is thought (as per the recipes on the internet) to be made from rye (Secale cereale)which has a short arm (1RS) in its chromosome that is thought to confer resistance to leaf rust, stem rust, stripe rust, powdery mildew, contributes to tolerance to abiotic stresses. In short, rye is something that will survive in the wild and must have formed an important part in the food chain of early men who had the advantage of learning to survive on natural food. However, it seems that in India such resistance provided by the 1RS gene in rye has "broken down in some wheat growing areas" (Kumar et al, Carylogia, 56, (2003). It ia perhaps because of this, that rye is not part of the traditional food chain in India and if we are to be true to our environment we should avoid the use of rye. Instead we should stick to our traditional non-wheat itesms such as bajra (sorghum), jawar (millet), ragi or nachni

Is there a poomph in the pumpern?
I have read ( that the part pumpern of the name pumpernickel is an onomatopoeic (if that is the word) description of the breaking of wind. It is pronounced as 'p&m-p&r, which I imagine is a pooom--prrrrr (?) description of breaking wind, the ratio of poom/prrr indicating the health of your exhaust system. In german, the onomatopeia would become clear when the u in pumpern has an umlaut on it. The nickel refers to Nichol the goblin, the old feast of Nicholas being the current Christmas. Imagine what the Ho! Ho! Ho! of Santa Claus could be if is accompanied by the sound of Nicholas?

It is perhaps another matter to discuss why a pumpern bread should call for good appetite. It is also perhaps another matter why the pumpern is usually associated with traditional foods of various regions (mooli or raddish in Punjab, sambar for the tam-brahms, sauerkraut for the Germans. The german cheeee that produces a good pumpern is usually served as "Handkase mit Musik" with my daughter minsisting that the musik is for the pumpern. Perhaps the absence of a proper pumpern is worse than a body odour, even if it is now decoded by the deodorant one uses. I suppose that a good pumpern could mark the end stages of a good digestive process for unhealthy foods. In that case one could perhaps naturally allow some pomp in the pumpern?

This was not to be.

As a mark of sophistry, the breads were to be white. The bran from the grains were removed since it made the bread black, besides giving good laxative properties and healthy gas, which may have spoiled the atmosphere in wealth-orgies. So the more wealthy preferred the white breads. This may perhaps explain why the Normans of French developed preferred their white breads and imposed it on the English Saxons while the German Saxons remained untouched.

I am an instinctive believer in the African connection, probably Ethiopian or Sudanese, to good human values that gave the people who designed and built the pyramids and other good things to Egypt and the rest of the world. Their food was probably with bran especially when made from their millets. The latter day Egyptians would prefer white to distinguish themselves from the black. So they perfected their katharos, their most prized 'clean' white bread that could be afforded only by the rich.

It is fascinating to note that in their search for the elixir of life, the philosopher's stone (a white powder that gave miraculous properties such as turning things to gold and curing cancer) the early egyptioans identified it by their Hieroglyphic, vowel-less language, the word mfkzt. There is considerable buzz in the internet on mfkzt (manna to Moses) on the rediscovery of mfkzt by modern-day alchemists, and its association with plausibility-giving fancy technical names such as mono-atomic high-spin noble metals including gold and platinum or ORMEs (Orbitally Rearranged Metallic Elements). One of the important names in this connection is one Laurence Gardner (hopefully, no relation to Martin Gardner) who writes (
Returning to ancient Egypt, we find further references to mfkzt at various sacred locations. One of these relates to the treasures of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III, as reproduced in a bas-relief at the Temple of Karnak. In the metals section, there are a number of cone-shaped objects. They are explained as being made of gold, but carry the rather odd description, "white bread".

Pumpernickel anybody?