January 12, 2011

Idli 101

All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast. ~ John Gunther

There can be a no better way to start a day with a healthy-filling breakfast. And if it something that can be prepped ahead of time - even better. For us, South-Indians, Idli is a quintessential breakfast item. We can and have eaten sometimes idli every day, all through the week. Proper ferementation and the ratio to urad dal to idli rava is crucial for spongy, feather like idlis.

Especially, if you are living in cold weather conditions like me, it becomes even more difficult to have a well-fermented-idli-batter. Below are some tried and tested tips that have worked for me in the past.
If you have any other tips & tricks for these fluffy goodies, please do share in the comment section. :-)

Idli (Steamed Savory Lentil Cake)

Ask any south-indian - "What is the most common breakfast item you had, growing up?" They would reply either Idly or Dosa.& they are very easy to make. All you need is couple of ingredients which are available in a regular Indian store and an idli stand to steam these into cakes.

Preparation -

1. Wash thoroughly, multiple times (until the water runs clear) and Soak 1 cup of (split, white) urad dal with 1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds (aids the fermentation process) for atleast 6 hours.

2. After 6 hours or overnight, drain the water (into another bowl) from the dal and grind until a very smooth, silky paste. Use the drained water little by little as needed while grinding. Remember, the more you grind, the fluffier the idlis will be. Remove the batter into a big, wide bowl.

3. Wash 2 cups of Idli rava (this is different from Sooji or Coarse Rava, used to make Upma) and grind for just a couple of seconds, using little water. There is no need to wash the blender. You can do this step in the same in which the urad dal was ground. Add this idli rava to the urad dal batter and mix with hand for couple of seconds until it is mixed thoroughly.

4. Now comes the "fermentation process". If you lucky to be in a hot climate, then just place the vessel for atleast 6-8 hours in a warm place, the batter should double in volume with air bubbles formed.
If you are like me, in a comparatively colder climate, especially in Fall - then there are couple of tips & tricks that aid the fermentation process. (and will take about 12-16 hours)

a). Preheat the over at 200 F for 10- 15 minutes. Turn off and place the covered vessel (with idli batter) in the rack. After 5-6 hours, remove the vessel, pre-heat again for 10 minutes and put back for fermentation.

b). If you use a room heater (like us in the bedroom, during nights), then time the soaking process accordingly, grind and place the vessel wrapped in a old shawl, in the room. By morning, you should see the batter has fermented.

c). Another tip is to use Eno Fruit Salt or Yeast (from Jugalbandits)

d) Or sometimes, just turn on the oven light and keep the vessel in the oven. For some of my friends, this tip works like a cham.

that is my guy - an eternal 'idli-lover' eagerly waiting to pop that in his mouth.

5. Now that the batter is fermented, take some in a separate bowl and store the rest in the refrigerator for stopping the fermenting process. Add a tbsp of water (consistency of evaporated/condensed milk) and season with salt.

6. In an Idli vessel, pour some water and bring to a boil. Grease the moulds lightly with cooking spray and fill about 2 tbsp each. Place carefully in the ildli stand and steam for 12-15 minutes. Turn off and rest it for a minute or two.

7. Use a spoon to remove them onto to a plate. Serve with any kind of chutney or powder with oil or yogurt mixed with pickle. Yum!

*I wanted this blog-post out of my drafts asap, so publishing it - though it talks about basics of idli making which most of us already know* . :-).

until next time,


  1. Thank you so much for all you put into this blog...well done!!!! Love idli w coconut chutney!!!

  2. Soft idlies looks absolutely great..

  3. Idly is one and only BF item I dont get bored at all :) Nice soft idlies Siri !

  4. nice post..love the pictures in the header..

  5. my hubby too is an eternal idli lover.. he can have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner :)

  6. Very nice idli! I love them for any meal or snacks!

  7. I've just learned how to make dosas (and I loved them) and now with this I feel confident enough to tackle idli. I never had the chance to eat them either at a restaurant or at some friend's house so I'm just relying on books and blogs.. But this post really convinced me I can do it! Thank you.

  8. Hi Siri, Thank you for the thorough post on making Idli's.....I am eager to try this method out!!! I had a quick question:"pre-heat again for 10 minutes and put back for fermentation"..... How long should we ferment the second time over?

    1. Hi Sandhya,

      The fermentation process is very much dependent on the amount of heat in the oven. I would suggest keep it for atleast 5-6 hours until bubbles are formed and the batter rises up.

      Hope this helps.



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