South Indian Idlis

By DK on Jan 26, 2009
How to make Idli batter - Step by Step pictorial
I grew up to the smell of idlis, fresh out of the pressure cooker/steamer, when I woke up in the morning. These Steamed Rice cakes are classic and traditional for breakfast in many South Indian households. Starting out the day munching these soft, fluffy and pillowy cakes dipped in spiced chutney powder and onion chutney (or tomato chutney or coconut chutney or sambar or ALL OF THE THEM(yummo)) was a norm - a regular day to day affair. If you noticed and raised your eyebrows at the word "was", then I have recount the story of how it became "was" to how it has become an "is" currently.
How to make Idli batter - Step by Step pictorial
After marriage, with full gusto, I tried to make these goodies for breakfast. But it was a total disaster. I was stunned. I had made idlis so many times with my mom (and how can I even forget the cleaning of that huge wet grinder that fell on my list of chores to do!), the recipe is ridiculously simple - so how can it be even messed up!? I wondered if I had a sheer talent of being probably the only one South Indian in the entire universe to have messed up something like Idlis. A quick internet search and a frantic call home ("Moooom! I am losing it! I made a boo boo with idlis!! Don't disown me plsssssss") revealed astounding details that I never thought twice (or took granted) back home).
How to make Idli batter - Step by Step pictorial

You might enjoy reading:
Classic Indian Breakfast Recipes
How to Ferment Idli Batter (in Cold Climate/Winter)?

One word - "Fermentation". The humid and hot Indian climate has always been an strong ally for fermentation and if you were like me, you never thought to associate something like weather and fermentation together before (yeah I am dumb - go on say it!). It was always a methodical process in my mind - Grind Rice + Grind lentils + Mix batter + Add salt + Stir with hands + Close lid and set aside overnight + clean grinder(!!) = "Overflowing, lightly sour smelling batter" ready in the morning. Simple. Right?
How to make Idli batter - Step by Step pictorial

Frequently Asked Questions:
Why Are My Idlis Hard And Rubbery?
Why Are My Idlis Flat?
Why Is My Idli Sticky?
Why Is My Idli Batter Not Fermenting?
Why Are My Idlis Yellow In Color?

In Seattle ( U.S of A) winter or even during summer in fact, my Idli's fell flat thanks to the "winter" fermentation - i.e the lack of it. One year full of various "tips" and "tricks", failures, gooey chewy nonsense in the name of idlis later, things came together and I made what we South Indians take for granted - "THE" idli. I have included few pointers in the post on how you can avoid any mistakes in your path to making a fluffy, soft idlli. If one tip does not work, try another. Try them all - separately or together. But don't give up! You will know why when you make "THE" idli :)
References

mom and my kitchen notes

Basic Information
Prep Time: 8 hours to 1 day
Cook Time: Under 15 min
Serves: 8+ people
Yield: Makes around 32-40 idlis depending on the Idli mold
Ingredients
  • 3 cups par boiled rice/Idli Rice/puzhungal arisi (see Tips)
  • 1 cup Urad dal (whole skinned black lentils)**
  • Salt to taste, see Tips
  • about a fistful of cooked rice see Tips
  • 1 tbsp Fenugreek seeds (optional), see Tips
Tips
1. Rice: My mother used to make with 3 cups and now she has changed it to 4 cups for 1 cup lentils. Some recipes even use up to 5 cups of rice to 1 cup of lentils. I assume that 3 cups was used by the elders when they hand ground the batter. Now with modern appliances (and may be the quality of ingredients) this proportion has been adjusted. Few other recipes use a combo of regular medium grained rice with parboiled rice with a few tsp. of fenugreek seeds. Instead of idli rice, you can use regular medium grained rice as well (Ponni Raw Rice).Experiment with the proportions since the weather and quality of ingredients will play a huge part in the end result.

2. Cooked Rice: Instead of cooked rice, you can use Rice Flakes (Poha in Hindi or Aval in Tamil) soaked in water.

3. Fenugreek Seeds: If you live in a place with less humidity/cold climate, I would suggest using fenugreek seeds. I use 2 tbsp fenugreek seeds for 1:4 proportion of lentils: regular rice.

4.Salt: As a guideline, use 1 tsp salt for every cup of lentil rice mixture. So if using 1 cup lentils for 4 cups rice, you would need to add about 5 tsp of salt. You might need to add more or little less depending on your sodium intake.
Method
1
Soak the lentil and par boiled rice separately for at least 6-8 hrs. If using fenugreek seeds, soak it along with rice. I have used Wet grinder to make my batter but you can do the same with your food processor. First add the rice in your grinder and grind it well. The batter will not be smooth but little coarse-grained.
South Indian Idlis - Soft and fluffy
2
Remove and set aside in a large bowl. In the same grinder ( you don't have to wash/clean) add the lentil along with cooked rice.
South Indian Idlis - Soft and fluffy
3
Grind it once again. This takes longer and the more you grind, better the idlis. You need to keep adding little water now and then. You will notice that the batter doubles up in volume when ground. When the batter is smooth ( feels like satin), remove and pour it along with rice batter.
South Indian Idlis - Soft and fluffy
4
Add salt, mix well and set aside
South Indian Idlis - Soft and fluffy
5
The next day, after fermenting, stir the batter well. I have a non stick Idli plate
South Indian Idlis - Soft and fluffy
6
You can use small bowls if you don't have these plates to make them too.Pour out the batter in each of the plates.
South Indian Idlis - Soft and fluffy
7
Place it in a pressure cooker (no weights reqd.) with little water underneath ( take care since lots of water will make the idlis in the last plate soggy and too little water will burn the bottom of the cooker!) or if you dont own a pressure cooker,use a steamer. Cook for 10 in high flame and then lower it to min for last 5.
South Indian Idlis - Soft and fluffy
8
They are done when a little stick/spoon pricked in the middle comes out clean.
South Indian Idlis - Soft and fluffy
Cool them for 1-2 minutes and then serve warm with suggested accompaniments. have you tried them with some Ghee and sugar? I know its kiddie combo but I still love it :)
How to make Idli batter - Step by Step pictorial
8 members have made this recipe!
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Please click below to share your experiences while you were making this recipe. Thanks for your input!
120 Responses to “South Indian Idlis”
  1. asha

    I can never make nice idli . :(

  2. VP

    Loved your step by step recipe with pics..Awesome..Will post after using this recipe. Appreciate your efforts :)

  3. Deepa

    I used to do follow same method n my ildis always comes out very well… only problen i have with chutney.. tomato chutney.. can u tell the recipe pls for the same in ur pic…

  4. Madhu

    I used skinned lentils (Urad daal with Chhilka) for this. The batter and idlis turned brown. But the taste was same as white idlis. Added lil more nutrition to it! :)

  5. pooja

    Hi.can you please tell me how to make the chutney that is shown in the picture with idli.

  6. amita

    hey can u tell me which grinder u use?

  7. Surajit Banerjee

    I make idli today, first in my life. I had no idea how to make it. but as per colour & taste it was awesome. Thanks chef in you.

    I am glad to hear it Surajit :) –DK

  8. Chefs

    Where are you buying the Puzhungal Arisi ?

  9. i try your recipe and the result was just wow
    thanks a lot

  10. Hi,
    Nice blog with pictures. We always follow your recipes.

    I have a recipe to prepare idly without idly mould. Please see if you like it. :)
    regards,
    Siri

  11. govil

    add a bit of soda bi carb to the batter and you will get a well fermented batter

  12. Getting the right consistency for idlies is every south indians dream…I am glad your dream has come true ! :)

  13. Sudha

    You have not answered my quarry about idlys being off white.please give some tip.

  14. Sudha

    My idles do not turn out white as in the picture.They are rather cream coloured. Pl.. suggest what should be done to get feather white idles.

  15. I have used this recipe and would admit that this is the “best” recipe I have ever tried!Thanks a million :) <3

  16. Lovely and detailed post DK! love it!!

  17. Amanullah

    The barter should be thick and add a teaspoon of ENO fruit salt. Stir well and and fill up the moulds. Have enough barter and once ENO is mixed you must use up all immediately. A few tablespoon of powdered beaten rice gives better texture to idly. Add a few dehusked castor seeds if available along with blackgram for better fluffiness.

  18. Sharmila

    Hey Nasifa,am so sorry abt the mixup with ur name. Won’t happen again :-D About the rest of the batter u have in ur hand,just add water to it & make dosas with it. Because once the batter ferments it is good for idlis just the first day,very rarely the 2nd day. With regards to finding idli rice,where do u live in US? Don’t u have an Indian grocery nearby? I have tried using the long grain parboiled rice(I got mine from Costco) with idli rice & dal(2:2:1) but never with basmati. I think the basmati might not be a good idea to add here. But then just the parboiled would not work either.Hmmm,let me ask my friends abt it & get back to u on this. And BTW,I’m no expert in this.Am still a rookie trying to help out another rookie :wink: Take care & don’t lose heart.V’ll master this somehow :lol: God bless u.

  19. jaykris

    After placing it in the pressure cooker without weight what to do next? I mean how long it has to be cooked? When to remove the PC from the stove?

  20. Nasifa

    Hi Sharmi :) , thank u and happy to see ur reply. noted ur points. at the same time my batter is not runny and its thick same like as the other idli batter, how we used to have in our back home (ofcourse here as well :wink: ).
    Also i have my rest of the batter with me, can u give me any ideas or tips that how can & what can i do with this batter?

    And my small correction, my name is NASIFA and not Nafisa. Dont mistake me, just for fun and it used to happen with some other people here around me, that they used to call me sometimes by getting confused as Nafisa :-P . Dont worry i wont mind that :) . Take care.
    Thank u once again. May God bless u.
    Waiting to get tips from expert.. :)

  21. Sharmila

    Hey Nafisa,try equal proportion of parboiled & basmati rice.It might be better.The reason your batter was too soft was because it was a bit runny because of too much parboiled rice. If this ratio doesn’t work use idli rava instead.Soak idli rava in water & lentils & fenugreek seeds in water separately. Grind the lentils w/fenugreek seeds well & add the rava at the end & grind it a bit. Now let it ferment overnight. The idlis may not be as great as the ones we make with idli rice but its still not too bad.

  22. Nasifa

    Hi,thank u for ur tips and ur idli photos :) looks good.
    And i need ur help/advice here,
    I made idlis by using 2cups long grain parboiled and 1cup basmati rice along with 1 cup urad dal and 1 tblsp fenugreek seeds. since am in northeast USA and i cant find any idli rice near. So i tried this way. My idlis are tasty but its tooo soft. i thought i didnt mix the batter well, so i mixed and tried again. But it didnt work. its not like urs(in the pics), its like it has lot of air in it and didnt puff up.
    please reply, waiting for ur advice. Thank u. Nasifa

  23. Donna

    This receipe works.. Its really nice. I used 2 1/2 of rice instead of 3. But came very nice. Thanks you very much

  24. saranya

    hi! I’m saranya. I’m srilankan Tamil.P om England.I love south Indian food.I wel come ur recipe .and u must try write in Tamil.nanry

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