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Memories of ‘akki roti’ and how to use rice flour

Did you know gluten-free rice flour is the best dusting flour while preparing rotis?

(Left) Akki roti; and a plate of sweet and savoury sweet nombu adai.
(Left) Akki roti; and a plate of sweet and savoury sweet nombu adai. (Photographs by Nandita Iyer)

Going to south Bengaluru from Whitefield in the pre-Metro days was an event in itself—it took nearly 2 hours at rush hour compared to 55 minutes by the Metro now—which is why I remember the day I made that trip even after 10 years. But there was another special reason that made it memorable. It was the first time my friend Nandini got me to taste her mom’s legendary akki roti. Made with rice flour, dill leaves, spices and peanuts, it is the kind of dish that you can eat even if you are feeling full. Akki roti is an example of how a simple ingredient can be elevated to an unforgettable dish, using flavours and techniques.

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Another south Bengaluru food pilgrimage happened last weekend, with a bunch of people from my writing group. Vikram Chandrashekar, a member of our writing group who knows the ins and outs of south Bengaluru and the local thindi (snack) haunts, kindly agreed to take us on a thindi /breakfast walk on a Saturday morning. Sixteen of us set out to eat the best thindi south Bengaluru has to offer—idli-chutney and khara baath-kesari baath from Brahmin’s, masala dose from Upahara Darshini, shavige (rice vermicelli), gojju avalakki (poha) and a surprise sweet dish (that many in the group sampled for the first time) from South Kitchen. It was halbai, made using rice and sugar, and flavoured with green cardamom. It is a kind of steamed pudding or halwa cut into squares and served as is. While traditionally halbai is made by soaking and grinding rice, it can be made easily using rice flour and substituting sugar with jaggery for a more complex sweetness. It is also made with ragi flour, wheat flour or semolina.

Rice flour is one of the essential groceries stocked up in my kitchen. I swear by rice flour as the best dusting flour while preparing rotis. It works 10 times better than sticky wheat flour and a small quantity goes a long way in smoothly rolling out rotis in seconds. The other thing I commonly use rice flour in cooking is as a thickener in dishes like kuzhambu, which is a tamarind-based dish to be had with rice. Tamarind purée acts as a thickener to some extent, but adding a spoonful of rice flour mixed in a little water, gives the liquid some body such that it mixes well with the rice and does not run off to the side of the plate.

My favourite sweet-savoury combination of dishes starring rice flour called nombu adai is made annually for a festival called karadaiyan nombu that the women of some communities in the south celebrate in the month of March. The sweet adai has slivers of coconut in it, and when topped with ghee and eaten hot, it is delectable. I remember serving this to my grandmother when she was visiting us in Bengaluru. I did not have coconut at home, so I substituted it with tiny slivers of apple. When I told my grandmother about this sneaky substitution, she was all praise for my resourcefulness.

Talking about substitutions, I once baked an orange cake in my early baking days. The burst of citrus fragrance in the air gave hints to its deliciousness. The second I touched the knife to cake, it crumbled into a pile of umm…crumbs, that tasted great. I realised that I had accidentally substituted refined flour with rice flour as they both looked the same in jars. Hundred per cent rice flour cakes may taste great but they won’t have a structure that plain flour gets from gluten so it’s best to stick to flatbreads or steamed dumplings, recipes for both you’ll find below.

Makes 4 rotis

1 cup rice flour
Three quarters cup water
Quarter cup raw peanuts
Half cup chopped dill leaves
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
Oil to cook


Heat the water in a pan. Add crushed peanuts, chopped dill, chopped chillies and salt. Bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for 2-3 minutes to let the flavours steep into the water. Add in the flour. Do not stir it. Turn off the flame and cover with a tight lid and keep aside for 10 minutes. This allows the rice flour to partly steam cook.

Using a spatula mix the flour well into the liquid. You can also remove this into a dish or bowl to make the dough. Sprinkle some hot water if the dough is too dry. The dough should be soft and easily spreadable. Take a palm-sized ball of dough and with wet hands pat it over a greased banana leaf or cling film until it is thicker than a paratha. Poke a few holes into the roti with your fingertip. Transfer it over a hot pan and cook each side for around 5 minutes, adding a few drops of oil in the holes. Cook on a low flame until golden spots appear and it turns crisp on the outside. Serve hot as is or with a chutney of choice.

Makes 12

1 cup rice flour
Half cup water
3 tbsp cooked lobia or black-eyed beans (not mushy)
1 cup crushed or grated jaggery
2-3 tbsp fine slivers of coconut
Half tsp green cardamom powder
1-2 tsp ghee


Take the rice flour in a pan and toast over a low flame for 1 minute.

In a pan, combine the water, lobia, jaggery, coconut and cardamom powder. Bring this to a simmer. Once the jaggery melts, add the lightly toasted rice flour to this with continuous stirring to avoid lumps. When the flour has absorbed all the liquid, turn off the flame. The dough for the adai is ready.

Allow to cool slightly so it is easy to handle. Divide into 12 portions. Grease a square of banana leaf or cling film with some ghee. Press each portion lightly and make a hole in the centre with your finger tip to resemble a somewhat flattened medu vada. Prepare a steamer setup or an idli steamer on the side with some water at the bottom. Once all the adais are shaped and ready, keep in a greased steamer basket or idli steamer in one layer (do it in two batches if needed). Steam for 10 minutes. Serve hot with some ghee on the top.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). She posts @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.

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