Idli is a fluffy steamed cake made with fermented lentils and rice. It is a vehicle for side dishes such as coconut chutney, sambar, and potato neer palya. Although it is popular in the southern Indian states as a breakfast dish, it can just as easily be served as a main course for lunch or dinner. This recipe includes instructions to make the idli batter and the idlis themselves.
- 1 cup Urad dal
- 2 cups Rice or Idli Rava
- 1 tsp Salt approximately
- Pressure cooker or an idli cooker pot
- Idli cooker with plates
- High powered blender – such as a Vitamix
To make Idli batter
- Transfer the urad dal and rice to separate bowls and cover with water and set aside for a minimum of 5 hours. If using idli rava, you can soak the rava a half hour before the next step.
- Drain the water from the dal and reserve the soaking liquid.
- Do the same to the soaked rice/idli rava. Reserve extra soaking liquid rice.
- Transfer the urad dal to a high powered blender and make a smooth, fluffy paste using water as needed. It is important to only add a little water at a time to get a nice fluffy texture. Use the reserved water from soaking the dal first. Remember that you can always dilute the batter later if it is too thick, but cannot fix a batter that is too watery easily.
- Empty the contents of the blender to another large bowl or other container such as a dutch oven.
- Repeat the process with the rice and make a smooth paste. The rice will blend to a smooth paste but will not turn fluffy. Transfer the rice paste to the container with the blended urad dal.
- If using idli rava, you can run the idli rava for a minute in the blender. It will not turn into a smooth paste like the rice. That is expected.
- Add salt to the batter and mix well. Dilute the batter with water until you have a thick batter. Cover and ferment the batter for up to 24 hours in a warm place. The batter will rise as it ferments, so make sure your container has at least a couple inches of room on top for the batter to ferment.
- Check the salt by tasting a drop of the batter. You should be able to tell that there is salt in the batter.
- Once the batter has fermented and has increased in volume, stir it back down and transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to make the idlis.
- The batter can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, but it is best used within 2-3 days.
To make Idli
- Fill a deep pressure cooker with water until it is an inch deep, and heat on medium-low setting on a cooking range. Make sure your container is deep enough to hold the idli maker and has a lid that can be closed securely.
- Oil the plates of the idli maker with non-stick spray or vegetable oil.
- Stir the idli batter a couple of times and then fill the molds of the idli plates with batter almost to the top. The idlis will rise when they cook, so don’t over fill the molds.
- Assemble the plates on to the idli maker and lower gently into the simmering water in the pressure cooker. Close the lid and steam the idlis for 7 minutes once the pressure cooker starts to release steam consistently. Do not pressure cook the idlis, we are just steaming the idlis.
- Turn off the fire, and wait for 3 minutes before opening the lid of the cooker.
- Make sure the idlis are fully cooked by inserting a toothpick into one of the idlis. The toothpick should come out clean without any wet batter stuck to it. If the idlis are not cooked yet, cover and steam for another 2-3 minutes.
- Gently remove the idlis from the molds by sliding the end of a butter knife around the edges of the idlis and lifting them out. Serve warm with ghee (optional), coconut chutney, and either sambar or potato neer palya.
- If you are using store bought idli batter, you may skip straight to the section on making idli.
- If your homemade batter does not show any signs of fermenting in the first 8 hours, try storing the container in an oven with the oven light turned on for a few hours.
- Alternately, you can mix a tiny pinch of instant yeast, or a half teaspoon of sourdough starter to the batter to kickstart fermenting.
- Store leftover idlis in an airtight container in the fridge overnight. To reheat, remove the lid of the container and cover with a damp paper towel and microwave for 1 minute. Or, use your idli cooker to steam the idlis again for 3 minutes.