My idli recipe was requested, and I am happy to have a reason to note it down here in as much detail as I can. Idlis- those fluffy, savory, fermented rice cakes- are an iconic food of Southern India. I grew up in Southern-adjacent Maharashtra in Western India. Idlis are very popular in Maharashtra too. My guess is that they were introduced locally by the ubiquitous cheap and cheerful Udipi vegetarian restaurants that dot the urban landscape.
It is easy to see why idlis would be widely embraced beyond their native lands. The batter is made in vast quantities and idlis can be steamed in batches, ideal for feeding hungry hordes. Warm and hearty, idlis are traditionally eaten for breakfast. They hold well at room temperature and can be packed for picnics, trips and lunch boxes. Being plain and bland, kids like to eat them just as they are, but idlis can be served with a variety of chutneys and sambars and other sauces to dress them up in all sorts of flavors. Edited to add: Idlis also happen to be naturally vegan and gluten-free.
I grew up eating idlis not only in these restaurants but also ones made in Maharashtrian homes. While idlis are easy to find, fluffy, meltingly soft homemade idlis can be far more elusive. Unlike cooks in Southern India, Maharashtrian cooks are not steeped in idli culture and lore and skills from the time they are toddling around gumming a ghee-smeared idli. We did not grow up eating idlis for breakfast Sunday after Sunday, and with a vat of idli batter sitting in the fridge at all times. Making good idlis is something I've had to work on and figure out for myself. As it happened, I married a man of Southern Indian ethnicity and have picked up some idli tips (and a grinder!) from his family members along the way. (He's not a big fan of idlis. Whatever.)
There is quite some method and mystery to the idli making process. It is a little bit like making sourdough bread. The number of ingredients are deceptively few, and the method seems straightforward enough. But breads and idlis seem to have a mind of their own. Ingredients might be few but the factors are many- TIME is a big ingredient and then there is temperature, humidity; even the microbial activity in the kitchen comes into play. It is far easier to make a curry with 17 ingredients and get it right the very first time. Making good idlis takes some persistence and tinkering and luck. I've written posts about idlis before but these days I no longer need to add poha to add fermentation.
1. The ingredients
Idlis need only three ingredients but those ingredients are very specific ones and cannot be substituted, not if you're going for classic idlis. All of these are sold in Indian grocery stores and last for months in a cool, dry pantry.
1. Gota urad dal is urad dal (black gram/ matpe beans) that has the black skin removed and so appears white in color. I only use the variety that is round and whole, not the variety where the two halves of the dal are split. The special culinary property of this dal is that when ground or cooked it has an unusual thick, sticky texture. This makes it a key ingredient in idli and dosa batters.
2. Idli rice is a specific variety of rice optimized for use in idli and dosa batter- it is a starchy, medium-grained rice and is processed/parboiled to reduce the soaking time needed before grinding and to gelatinize the starch.
3. Methi or fenugreek seeds are ground into the batter to aid in fermentation and to obtain a good batter consistency.
2. The equipment
Idli batter is traditionally made with sheer muscle power and a manual grinding stone. The modern version of this contraption is the electric wet grinder where large conical or cylinderical stones churn together to pulverize the rice and lentils- an advantage of stone grinders over machines with steel blades is that less heat is generated in the grinding process. A wet grinder is one of those single-use kitchen appliances- not to mention a very large and heavy one. Many cooks rightly question whether it is worth investing in one of these.
Several years ago, my husband's cousin replaced her large Ultra Grind wet grinder with a more compact and newer version of the same machine. We happened to be visiting her and she offered to hand down her older machine which was in excellent working condition. I jumped at the generous offer and packed that beast up and nonchalantly checked it in at the airport on the flight home. TSA was baffled at this ridiculously huge and weird appliance with literal granite stones inside it; they opened the package and examined and X-rayed it from every angle, then apparently gave up and sent us, and the grinder, on our merry way.
Owning this grinder, and giving it precious countertop real estate, was THE thing that allowed me to be a regular idli-maker. It has been the gift that keeps on giving. The grinder has a large capacity and makes enough batter at a time to make 48 or more idlis. Even with the grinder being electric, just lifting the stones out and cleaning out the container needs strong arms.
(I have successfully made dosa and adai batter in my hi-speed Vitamix blender. However since I've owned this grinder, I have never attempted idli batter in the blender.)
In separate bowls, soak the ingredients for 6 hours. Some people soak the dal only for an hour. I get best results with longer soak times. Everything in my idli recipe is standardized, simply because of doing it dozens of times, and I tend to start soaking at noon, and grind the batter at 6 PM (after dinner) to be able to make idlis the next morning.
- 1 tbsp. fenugreek/methi seeds
- 4 cups idli rice
- 1 cup gota ural dal
Methi first: I start by adding the soaked methi seeds and the soaking water into the grinder. Grind it for 10 minutes or so, until the methi seeds are pulverized and frothy.
Dal next: Then add the soaked urad dal all at once, and 1/2 cup of so of the soaking water. Let the grinding commence. As the urad dal breaks down, keep an eye on it and add water 2 tbsp. at a time to help the grinding process along. In 20 minutes or so, the urad dal becomes a frothy smooth paste that is almost the consistency of whipped cream.
At this point, I scoop out the dal/fenugreek paste into a large container (I use a lidded stock pot), as much of it as I can without worrying about getting all of it out.
Rice last: Then I add the soaked rice to the grinder and start grinding it. Again, adding a little water when needed, I grind the rice down to a paste, only it won't be as smooth as the dal paste and retains a grainy texture. Stop and scrape down the sides of the grinder as needed.
Now I open up the grinder, remove the stones, scraping down as much batter from them as possible, and then empty out the batter into the container where I previously added the dal paste.
I add about 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt to the batter and mix it in (a spatula will do; no need to use your hands unless you prefer to).
The idli batter you're going for is of the Goldilocks variety- not too thick and not too watery, about a cake batter consistency. The "feel" for this comes about with some trial and error. The best idlis come about when the fermented batter is the right consistency to begin with and when you don't need to add water the next day before steaming the idlis.
|A peek into the grinder|
|After fermentation and a stir|
6. Steaming the idlis
|Freshly out of the steamer|
I've had to figure out how to make good idli's with a lot of experimentation and misses. If I had such a detailed, simple and clear post to follow in the beginning, it would have been so much easier!
I would use urad gota and idli rava in 1:2 ratio. I come from Andhra and we prefer the grainy texture of idlis that are made with rava. They can still be soft and can melt in the mouth.
I've made a few changes in the past few months. I've substituted 1 cup idli rava with 1/2 cup whole moong and 1/2 cup fine wheat fada which I needed to use up. This changes the color, but the flavor and texture are the same.
Accompaniments are so fun! I love making podi's - They are great for weekday breakfasts. Indira's idli podi has been the staple in our home for many many years now (from Mahanandi blog). I also make a podi with roasted chana with jeera and red chillies. My kid eats hers with sugar sprinkled on top.
Have you ever tried idli batter based dhokla?
Anu- Thanks for the note! I started my idli "career" with idli rava but back in the day it never gave me great results, so turned to idli rice and never looked back. But I do miss the idli rava texture and it would be good to try again.Delete
Love all the variations you have been trying! Podis are so great, I love idlis with Maharashtrian peanut chutney too.
I don't own dhokla plates but I will have to remember to buy those on my next trip to the "big Indian store" and try idli batter in dhokla form!
These sound so good.....I am salivating as I read!!!ReplyDelete
Frances- I am sure you have eaten idlis when you were in Bangalore! And if not you will definitely have to try them next time you're in India. Or you know pop by my house :)Delete
Thanks for such an interesting post - I don't know if I have ever eaten an idli but am now curious to do so, esp as they have a bit of fermentation which always adds great flavour - I am not sure I would get into idli making but loved reading about how you do it - and it does sound similar to sourdough in being so few ingredients but more about method than ingredients.ReplyDelete
Johanna- look for Southern Indian restaurants in your city. I am sure there will be one somewhere in your vicinity. Idlis (and other Southern Indian fare from that family) is so worth seeking out!Delete
Thanks for the recipe, I have been checking your blog regularly since you announced you will be posting this recipe next!! I have been faithfully using the Mysorean cloud idli recipe you had mentioned many years ago, since then just like you I have also graduated and now juggling work/family, but have stuck to your recommended recipe. I also resonate with your story about idlis in Maharashtrian homes as I am from Mumbai. I have relied on many your recipes over the years (since at least 2007), they are like getting trusted experimental protocols! I am excited to give this idli recipe a try soon!
Anuja- Thanks for the sweet note and for being a regular reader for years! You can see how I have been trying to make good idlis for literally decades! :DDelete
I had a question about steaming idlis in instant pot, do you boil the water in the prior to adding the idli stand or the water in there is cold? In that case the total steaming time would be 10 mins + the time taken to heat up the water in the pot.Delete
I let the water boil before adding the idli stand. Yes, if you're thinking of total time needed for steaming, you'd have to include the time needed to warm the water. But I'm usually thinking of steaming time as the time that the idlis are encountering the steam- which is 10 minutes (or actually a bit more since the instant pot valve needs a few minutes to come down after you turn the steam off). Hope this is making sense :)Delete
Can u tell me which brand of idli cooker r u using as I m hesitant to use aluminum ones?ReplyDelete
Vandana- you mean the idli stand? Mine does not have a brand name at all, it is just a generic stainless steel one that my mother bought for me 20 years ago from one of those steel kitchenware shops that has pots and pans stacked from floor to ceiling!Delete
Its late here but couldn't resist saying that it takes a lot of effort to write down a detailed recipe.Have been following your blog almost from its early days and want to say your efforts are appreciated.ReplyDelete
Will read the post in detail later.
Thanks Anon!! :)Delete
As a proper South Indian, we can make idlis and dosas as well as North Indian would make rotis :)
A few tips to your readers from my experience:
Your ratio of 4:1 is probably the most common ratio. Adding about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of poha or cooked rice helps with the fermentation in cold countries. This is not done in India at all.
After my oven light broke down, I learnt with trial and error that pre-heating to 350 degrees and turning off the oven and placing the batter in always works well for me.
I also find soaking the rice and dhal overnignt or for longer periods of time work better.
I use a thick non stick ladle (to avoid the scraping sound), or any ladle would do to scoop the batter out as the grinder is running. You can pretty much scoop to the last drop. Just something to make it easy.
I also take about 3/4th of the urad batter out and add it back with the rice and add the salt and let the grinder do the mixing for couple of minutes in the very end. Just to make it easy for myself.
I always grind the batter while cooking a meal, so it doesn't look like a separate chore.
I love making idlis as it is more a symbolic tradition of a south indian household, but no one in my family like it either. THey prefer dosas too.
Thanks for your tip about the dosa/adai combo. I am going to try that, as no one in my family likes adai either.
Another thing that is common, is to mix Ragi flour/barley flour/buckwheat or wheat flour or a combination to left over idli/dosa batter and make multi grain dosas. You will need about a cup of idli batter for about 2 cups of flour. The multi-grain dosas will be delicious. The idli batter will help to roll out the dosas like normal dosas and will be crispy. It will take a little longer to cook.
SS- And here I am struggling to make idlis as well as rotis ;) Thank you so much for taking the time to write all these helpful notes! You rock!Delete
I used to add poha routinely, but found that it hastened the fermentation too much. So the batter was frothy before it got a chance to get that nice tangy flavor. Figured out that in my kitchen (and living in the South where it is pretty warm most of the year), no poha works best.
Interesting that you soak rice and dal even longer than me!! Will try.
My kids love idlis as much as they like dosas (as do I). I mean who wouldn't love crispy dosas? But idlis are naturally made without oil (well that little oil spray doesn't count) and in a batch so they will also be in rotation in this semi-South Indian household ;)
The adai dosa combo tastes so much like dosas (like more flavorful and more golden than white) and has been a great way to get the family to eat a variety of pulses.I will be trying the multigrain dosas for sure! Thanks :)
Your post has me craving for idlies SO SO badly!! When we moved to bangalore from US 4 years back, the only thing I was excited about was the south indian food (lol). After my local marathi food, south indian food is my next fave as far as indian cuisine goes. I spent the first year in bangalore sampling all the udipi eateries in my neighborhood and the ones close to office and now have a set of handful ones I frequent regularly (the pandemic is responsible for me being deprived of idlies for 6 months now). On a whim I had bought a stone grinder that I used to perfect the idly technic, used it for 3-4 times and came to the conclusion that the washing up and the heavy lifting was not worth it :-( and I gave it away to my house help. I now make idlies very very rarely in my heavy duty mixer-grinder when the son feels like eating otherwise my neighborhood eateries satisfy my cravings. My Bong husband does not like most of the fermented foods and especially idlies so it is not a norm for me to make it often! My favorite way to eat them is with soupy coconut-corriander chutney or the fried idly with curry leaves and chillies. Im salivating! My next door neighbor who is from mangalore treated us to an elaborate idly breakfast last week and I was in food heaven :-) Your idlies look so yummy! I think I am going to soak some rice and lentils to make them for the weekend.ReplyDelete
Neha- Being in Bangalore you truly have access to the most amazing idlis. And I am sure idli batter can be bought in stores on every corner too. So I can completely see why you wouldn't go to the trouble of grinding your own.Delete
I lived in Bangalore for a summer internship (couple decades ago!!) and ate my way through the city. I still remember the spiciest meal ever- I literally wept through it- at an Andhra restaurant called Bheema if I remember correctly.
Thank you for the detailed post. As a South Indian, like V, I am not crazy about dosas or idlis. Maybe too much of a good thing does this to you. But after reading your post, I was tempted to soak for idlis today :). Quick question, do you use the IP lid when steaming idlis. I find the that does not work for me.ReplyDelete
Sangeetha- it must be a case of "familiarity breeds contempt" or too much of a good thing! I make my idli-dosa ritual about once in 3-4 weeks which keeps it something we look forward to without getting to be an everyday thing.Delete
I do use the IP lid while steaming idlis. I set it to venting. What happens is that the valve DOES pop up even when it is set to venting (there's enough steam generated that it builds up some pressure I suppose). I turn the IP off after 10 minutes and let the valve drop and open it up. The idlis turn out perfectly steamed for me.
You're so right about the satisfaction of well fermented idli batter, nupur! Been grinding my own for nearly 7 years now and yet every time it feels like a worthy achievement :) past year I've been replacing 1 of 4 cups of my idli rice with 1 cup of whole ragi and the results have been good every time!! I follow nearly the same method as you but of late I've been grinding it all together (check out jeyashriskitchen.com how to make soft idli post) and I've been getting as good-as-grinding-separately-batter. At 30 minutes for the whole grinding process, not bad at all!ReplyDelete
YES! It is a little tingle of accomplishment each time :D Thank you for all the tips- I'll have to try with the ragi. Ragi idlis have a beautiful color and nice earthy flavor. Not to mention the added nutrition!Delete
What a wonderful post! I love idlis and for the longest time made them exclusively with idli rava. In fact I grew up eating idli rava idlis. My mom always made those and I love the 'ravaal' texture they have. And then, 5 years ago, I gifted myself a wet grinder (which was on my wish list for ever so long) and everything changed! I love my wet grinder, it's a tabletop version, a vertical one.ReplyDelete
My parents visited me 3 years ago and I use to regularly make idlis for them and my mom absolutely fell in love with the 'softest and bestest' idli she had ever tasted, she claimed! Her expression of delight, I still remember it so well. That and my Udupi style Sambar. My dad a frugal eater also overate, which is a rare compliment!
I use 1:3 (gota urad : rice) proportion and that works beautifully. I usually soak the fenugreek seeds with the urad daal and have never faced an issue grinding them together.
You can also use our IP to ferment the batter. Set it on 'Yogurt' mode and done.
I can never decide if I like idli or dosa better, so I do equal justice to both. :)
And I also cannot decide if I like them plain, with chutney or sambar or rasam or with ghee-sugar (this is not a typo).
Fortunately, we all like idlis, except perhaps my son, who prefers dosa (specially schezwan dosa) over idli, but no complaints ever.
I must try your adai trick. I am not a fan of adais and this variation might just convert me.
Take care and stay safe.
Manasi- So true that idlis with Maharashtra are made with idli rava. That's what my mother used too. Never encountered idli rice until I looked into making it the Tamilian way. I suspect idli rava makes it much easier with grinders that aren't these specialized stone grinders.Delete
My parents also love the idlis I make. It is truly a joy to make and serve super-soft idlis to those who know the difference.
I have never served my kids idlis with sugar but they do enjoy idlis with a liberal smear of homemade ghee.
Thanks for sharing all your tips! Schezwan dosa reminded me of the incredible fusion and off-beat dosas served in India. So much fun. I think you will enjoy the dosa-adai hybrid, it has the best of both worlds to me.
Hi there - thank you for the detailed recipe. I have a few questions:ReplyDelete
1. Do you mix the batter after it was fermented? I noticed that when I mix it up, the idlis turn out hard.
2. Can batter that has been refrigerated be used to make idlis the next day?
3. How many cups of water do you add when grinding rice?
4. Have you tried fermenting the batter in the Instant Pot?
1. Yes, I do mix the batter after it is fermented. In the past before I had learned how to make good batter, I noticed that I had to be very careful and not stir the batter after fermentation in order to get decent idlis. Now that the batter quality is good, stirring after fermentation does not hurt a bit. The bubbles are trapped well in the structure of the batter.Delete
2. I always only make idlis the day the batter is ready with fresh batter, haven't actually tried to make idlis after refrigerating the batter. We always save the refrigerated batter for dosas etc.
3. I don't know the exact volume of water, because I add tablespoons as needed and keep an eye on consistency as I go along. This is what I mean by every person needing to figure out the technique for themselves, because the amount of water will be different based on many different factors.
4. I haven't but others in this comment section have mentioned doing so. I suspect using the instant pot would over-ferment my batter. 14-18 hours, which is a relatively slower fermentation is ideal for me to develop a tangy taste in the batter.
A lovely post Nupur. I am from Tamilnadu, so making this batter is a no big deal. The main note after I came to US is replacing Idli rice with another rice type just will not cut it in terms of taste. Lately, I have experimented with half Idli rice and half mixture of different types of millets and have had success especially in summer in terms of fermenting.ReplyDelete
I came to US over 16 years ago as a student back when Air India offered 70kgs of baggage for students. I brought Ultra wet grinder and mixie with me from India and had a fellow student who came with me on the same flight carry one the extra baggage. As a grad student with shared accommodations with roomates, some of them would make frozen corn curry in bulk and refrigerate it and reheat it and offer it when their cooking turn came. Whereas, I would be whipping Idlies and chutneys on my turn:) Quickly, I realized that offering to make Idlies on my cooking turn days was not going to get me any MasterChef awards with room- mates. My almost 10 year old now loves Idlies and he takes pride in being able to cook it himself (pours the batter in the plate and take it out and thinks he has cooked it). The batter is a true life saver. I have made waffles with it with success by adding jaggery for sweetness and my son loves it as well. Make kuzhi paniyarams (both sweet and savory). Another crowd pleaser is flavored mini cocktail Idlies ( I make different version of Podi and lemon Idlies). I have so many childhood memories of piping hot Idlies being removed from the cloth on Idli plate (cooking it on a Muslim cloth on a Idli plate and steaming it rather than on the plates in a pressure cooker, takes the taste to another level) and dunking 10-15 of them with Idli Sambar. That is heaven. Now, on to soaking rice and dal to make the batter this week.
Thank you for the lovely note! I enjoyed hearing of your experiences. So true that idli rice is a must for decent idlis, some portion can be replaced but there are limits, if you're going for the classic taste and texture.Delete
Too bad your roommates weren't fans of idlis! I had an all-American roommate and took turns cooking as well- we were both vegetarian and lived happily on spaghetti, chana masala, sloppy joes, fried tofu, dal and such hearty meals night after night.
Idli waffles is something I've never tried but what a great idea. Also haven't made "appe" in ages, you reminded me of those. Lemon idlis- you are a treasure trove of ideas!
It is not that my roomates didn’t like Idlies, they adored it. However, my effort of making Idlies didn’t equate with their frozen corn curries;) Waffles made out of Idli/dosa batter is crispier. You can make sweet as well as savory waffles. If you google for dosa batter waffles, you will get tons of ideas. Waffle puritans might not like it. All my son cares about is the waffle shape and when you have the batter readily available, it is a much healthier option and I earn a lot of brownie options for making waffles for breakfast. You can also search for mini cocktail Idlies and I was inspired by recipe posted by Rakskitchen. The lemon Idli recipe is same as what you would use for lemon rice.Delete
Hi Nupur : great post and love the comments too. Have been checking in every two or three days to read the newer comments ��. I agree with everything you've noted. Idli rice ✔, fluffy grinding the urad ✔, fenugreek✔✔ and using the ultra grinder✔✔✔ are all now standard for my idli protocol. I have been using 1:3 but last night I soaked per your protocol of 1:4 and I have a good feeling ����The batter is fermenting away so let's see.ReplyDelete
Saw one of those youtube things of a restaurant in bangalore which swears by 1:6 . tried it but it was too sticky not fluffy enough.
Another variation that is great is kanchipuram idli . I use 1:1 raw rice and idli rice . 1 urad+ 1 raw rice + 1 idli rice + heaped tablespoon of fenugreek. After fermentation add dried ginger powder then add a tadka in equal parts ghee and sesame oil of the following : cut coconut pieces, cashews, fresh ginger , green chillies,black pepper . Add to the batter and then steam...preferably on dhokla plates .
But when I've used it with day old regular idli batter too and added the rest of the ingredients and kanchipuram idli comes out fabulous ...almost like a upma and idli hybrid taste wise.
I have a relative who makes idli 365 days a year for breakfast. It really is the best !
Thank you for the lovely note, dear Janani! Fingers crossed for your new-ratio batter. But honestly if 1:3 works that's what I would go with, because I like the idea of using as much dal as possible.Delete
Really someday I want to go as a spy to the famous Udipi restaurants and learn some of their secrets! But yeah 1:6 is a bit extreme. I think 1:4 is the most common ratio.
I've made Kanchipuram idli years ago and would love to make it again! Really should buy some dhokla plates- they will get good use in my kitchen. And I love your tip for the day old idli batter- great idea and one that I will try for sure.
Idlis 365 days sounds actually pretty good to me. I eat blueberry steel cut oatmeal nearly 365 days a year so I can see the appeal of one favorite breakfast.
Aga bai Nupur, tuze kautuk kuthlya shabdat karayche ani kiti?ReplyDelete
Big hugs, you are TOO kind, Shubha!Delete
Hey Nupur ...ReplyDelete
How r u ... Dunno if u remember me ... I had kitchen gossip blog ages ago and used to folow ur blog then.... Now it's been many many years I'm not at all active, recently started posting on instagram just to revieve my old hobby of food blog love.
And while posting such post on Chawali Amti... I remembered you as I recollect I had bookmarked ur post then n for last so many years have been following it....
And I did mention that in my post ...
Do check out ...
Btw, catching on all your posts, just remembered your blog is really an inspiration, it was then when I started blogging and it still is.
Thank you ☺️
You can delete the comment as it's irrelevant here, I just wanted to contact u ...
C ya ! Let me know if you are on instagram would love to catch up ❤️
Kanchan- hi and nice to hear from you! I post now and then on Instagram but I've overall not very particularly active on social media.Delete
How did you get the idli stone grinder to work in a 110 volt environment ?ReplyDelete
This one is designed and sold for use in North America.Delete