South India and especially Tamil Nadu is famous for many things and not limited to it's world famous temples, sculptures and other natural and man made wonders. The cuisine also holds an undeniable position of which Idli is the most famous and common dish in any family in Tamil Nadu. Following is my version of the versatile tiffin. Idli can be served with chutney (a spicy dip made with coconut/tomato/onion as the main ingredient), sambar (a stew like dish made with dals and vegetables) or idli milgai (chili) powder (a spicy powder made with dried red chilies and dals). Soon to follow is my grandmother's easy recipe for Idli Sambar.

Idli, Steamed Rice Cakes

Recipe: Idli (Steamed Rice Cakes)
Prep Time: At least 3-4 hours for soaking the rice and urad daal plus 15-20 hours of fermentation
Cooking Time: Steaming each batch for 10-15 minutes
Makes: 35-40 medium size Idlis
Cooking Level: Beginner/Easy to Intermediary
Post/Recipe by: Madhu

2 cups Par Boiled Rice
1 cup Raw Rice
1 cup Urad Dal/Split Black Lentils (skinned black gram)
1 teaspoon Fenugreek/Methi Seeds (Optional)
2 teaspoons Sesame Oil (Optional)
Salt to taste

Idli Batter Procedure:
  1. Wash and soak together the rice for at least 3 hours. Soaking urad dal for 30 minutes is sufficient. If using fenugreek seeds, soak it separately in hot water so that grinding will be easy.
  2. Drain the urad dal reserving some of the soaked water.
  3. If using a wet grinder (which is recommended for getting soft spongy idlis), switch it on, add 1/2 cup of the reserved water and let the motor run. Then slowly add the urad dal and fenugreek seeds (if using). Grind it at least for 25-30 minutes until it’s nice and fluffy. Add water as necessary.
  4. Transfer the dal batter to a big container.
  5. As mentioned earlier add some water and switch on the grinder and add the drained rice little by little, adding water if necessary. Grind it until the texture resembles that of semolina (sooji/rava). The rice batter need not be as smooth as the urad dal batter.
  6. Now add the urad dal batter to the rice batter and let the grinder run for 1-2 minutes until both the batters blend.
  7. Transfer the idli batter to a big container (so that the batter does not overflow while it ferments). Add salt and oil, and mix it with your hand thoroughly. Mixing it with clean hand instead of a ladle is recommended so that the heat from the body aids in better fermentation.
  1. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave it undisturbed for at least 15 hours. Sometimes the batter may overflow causing a mess on the floor. I usually place the bowl on a big plate, so that even if the batter pours down only the plate has to be cleaned.
  2. If you are not living in India or live in cold temperature places, you could use the oven to ferment the batter. Either switch on the oven light and keep the bowl right below the light so that the heat will help in fermentation. Or you could switch on the oven for 10 minutes and switch it off. Then place the batter inside the oven. If following the latter method, don't use a plastic bowl to store the batter.
  3. After fermentation you should be able to see that the batter would have risen and increased in quantity. Once the batter has risen it can be used immediately to prepare idlis. If you are not going to make it immediately, store the batter in the refrigerator or else the idlis will be very sour.

Idli batter in Idli moulds before steaming

Idli Procedure:
  1. Grease idli moulds with ghee/oil. I use a non stick spray. I also spray below each plate so that the batter from the plate below does not stick to the top plate and you will get full idlis after steaming.
  2. Depending on the size of the idli plates fill between 3 to 4 tablespoons of batter in each mould. Do not mix the fermented batter. Spoon the batter from the bowl as it is.
  3. You could use a pressure cooker or any vessel for that matter to steam idlis. I steam mine in a pressure cooker. Before filling the idli plates, add some water in the cooker (about 1 inch) and switch on the stove. So by the time you are done with the batter the water will start boiling and you can place the idli stand in the cooker and close the lid. Since the water is already hot and steaming the idlis cook very fast. Around 9-10 minutes you will see steam escaping from the lid's vent.
  4. After 5 – 7 minutes open the lid. Use an oven mit or kitchen towel to remove the idli stand because it will be very hot.
  5. Remove each plate one by one, give a quick wash showing the back sides of the plate, under running water. This will loosen up the idlis and will help in scooping out the idlis from the plate.
  6. Run a knife or a butter knife around the edges and remove the idlis from the plate.
  7. Drizzle few drops of sesame oil over the idlis while serving and enjoy it with your favorite chutney or sambar and finish the meal with Viji's fresh Filter Coffee.

Special Notes/Tips:
  • Idli can be prepared using idli rava which is readily available in stores. In that case the measurement will be 2 cups of idli rava and 1 cup of urad dal. Soaking of idli rava is not necessary. My grandmother used to soak it in warm water. I have tried both and have not found any difference in the idlis. If using idli rava, soak the urad dal and grind it as mentioned above. To the batter mix the idli rava and salt; mix together and ferment the batter as usual.
  • I usually grind the rice little smoother (instead of the sooji texture I have mentioned) and use the same batter for preparing dosas. The idlis will turn out soft and spongy regardless of this.
  • During summer, urad dhal can be soaked in fridge and ground to get more batter and fluffy idlis.
  • Adding methi seeds serves two purposes. One, it gives the extra softness to the idlis and is also a cooling agent and cools our body system. The idlis will have a cream color as against pure white if using methi seeds.
  • The method of adding water first and then the dal/rice in the grinder was told by my mother in law which in turn she read from a magazine. This method definitely yields more fluffy batter and idlis.
  • At higher temperature, grinder motors and mixie motors tend to cause irregular fermentation due to heat generated which may cause in resulting sour batter. Using fridge water takes care of that.
  • Oil can be added to the batter before scooping on to the plate to enhance the taste. Add Oil and mix it well. This can be done about 2 hours before steaming the idlis, so that the batter ferments again. Some advice against mixing the batter after fermentation, as air percolated during the process will result in porous formation.
  • Also if you are hesitant about running the plate against running water, you can dip the spoon or knife in water and gently loosen the idlis from the moulds.
  • You don't need a pressure cooker for steaming idlis. Simply use any vessel which is big enough the fit the idli plates stand you are using. Add some water to the vessel and heat it while you fill the batter. Place the stand inside the vessel and close it with a lid. If the lid does not have vent for the steam to escape, leave a small portion of the vessel open. Steam it for 10-15 minutes. Insert a toothpick or a knife in the center of the idli and if it comes out clean the idlis are ready. Switch off the stove and serve it after a couple of minutes.
  • You also don't need an idli stand for making idlis. You can fill small cups with the batter and steam it. Or else pour the batter in one big round vessel (like a cake pan) and then steam it. This may require additional steaming time. Remove it and cut into wedges before serving.

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  1. sahiti // 17 April 2009 at 15:38  

    Excellent....with your detailed tips even a novice would find it easy to make fluffy idlis....I hope upcoming posts contain related tips that this special blog holds its' special place among the thousands of the food blogs.Thank you once again.

  2. Khaugiri // 17 April 2009 at 16:26  

    Wow very nice discription for Idlis. Actually I make it quite often but these tips help me lot next time. Thanks a lot.

  3. Kitchen Flavours // 17 April 2009 at 16:55  

    Oh wow looks soft and yum......So much on Idli...Hm gr8!

  4. Asha // 17 April 2009 at 17:02  

    Great post Madhu, traditional and delicious! :)

  5. Ramya Vijaykumar // 17 April 2009 at 18:20  

    Nice authentic dish and great tips too... Idlis look very soft...

  6. A_and_N // 17 April 2009 at 18:29  

    Oh, they look so good. Fluffy and so beautiful, really!

  7. Alka // 17 April 2009 at 20:26  

    I never knew there were so many different ways of making batter! well we neither add oil,nor fenugreek seeds,and we soak the rice and dal for atleast 8 hrs and then let the batter ferment for 8 hrs(yeah thts sufficient time for batter to ferment at our place)
    All said and done, the Idlis look perfect and despite of just wiping off a super crisp masala dosa ,i am craving for a plate of hot ,steaming idlis :-)

  8. Ashwini // 17 April 2009 at 21:12  

    Nice Post. Looks soft and yum.

  9. Kalyani // 17 April 2009 at 21:14  

    Great tips ... Idli's looks fluffy and soft ... thanks for the recipe ....

  10. Srivalli // 17 April 2009 at 21:16  

    Thats a wonderful post madhu...great pictures!

  11. Madhu // 17 April 2009 at 22:09  

    Excellent Post! Great tips as well.
    Idlies looks lovely..

  12. meeso // 18 April 2009 at 02:10  

    Another nice post... who wouldn't love these if they give them a try!

  13. Vcuisine // 18 April 2009 at 10:28  

    Madhu, attention to detail and making the recipe simple to follow are the most important things in any dish I feel. You have fulfilled the above criterias. The porous texture is beautifully portrayed. Viji

  14. rekhas kitchen // 18 April 2009 at 13:51  

    looks so so soft and tempting that soft white yummy steamed cakes sre my all time fav. great and very use full tips madhu nice post

  15. RAKS KITCHEN // 18 April 2009 at 14:59  

    Would be a very helpful post for all the beginners!
    I could see the soft moist idlies!

  16. Madhuram // 20 April 2009 at 01:09  

    Thank you everybody for the feedback. Special thanks to the BC team members also for fine tuning the post.


  17. Nags // 20 April 2009 at 07:42  

    I prefer dosa over idlis any day but a steaming bowl of sambar idly can win me over any day! :)

  18. Jaimini // 21 April 2009 at 22:53  

    Oh this looks yummy! I have searched for an authentic idli recipe and cannot wait to try this one!

  19. Sia // 24 April 2009 at 16:47  

    Madhu, I enjoyed reading ur very detailed and precise instructions for queen of south Indian breakfast. Thank you :)

  20. Pavithra Kodical // 25 April 2009 at 09:18  

    I love visiting this site..Soft and delicious idly.

  21. Nithya Praveen // 21 May 2009 at 09:19  

    That was a very detailed one....wonderful for beginners.Looks soft n yum.My mom uses ice cubes to grind the batter....and i must say she makes the softest idlies.Your idlies reminded me of my Moms:)

  22. Sowmya // 4 November 2010 at 23:15  

    I have been using few of these tips which were told by my mom & it definitely helps have very soft & yummy idlis. But to be frank I have had trouble when the climate is very cold or very hot. I guess ur tips solves them. Thank you.. I cant wait to try!

  23. Maven // 24 October 2011 at 20:13  

    Very useful. I've only been cooking South Indian food for about ten years, and only after reading your blog post did I realize I should not stir the batter after it's sat and fermented. I can only imagine how much fluffier my idlis will be now. Also, will try adding methi to them (that's the only other thing I've done differently). Great, informative blog!