Photo by Harini Prakash

Going through some of the comments on my earlier posts, I found a request for the recipe of a very popular South Indian breakfast dish – idli.  A few years of staying in a hostel and accosting stone-hard idlis soon made me appreciate my mother’s soft and pillowy idlis.  The time taken to steam a batch of idlis is about 10 minutes making it ideal for weekday breakfast or packed lunch when short of time.  However it is a plan-ahead dish as it needs to be soaked, ground and then fermented before it can be made.  There is no secret to the texture of idlis except the choice of quality ingredients and the fine texture of ingredients obtained after grinding.

Dish: Idli (Steamed rice and lentil cake – savoury)

Serves: 40 idlis


De-husked black gram (Urad dal) – 1.25 cup Fenugreek seeds (Methi dana) – 1 tsp. Parboiled rice (Ukda chaawal) – 3 cups Beaten rice flakes/flattened rice (thick, flat variety) – 1 cup (optional but recommended) Oil, to brush the bowls or idli stand with depressions Salt to taste


A steamer or pressure cooker Small bowls/katoris or idli stand


Wash and rinse lentils and methi seeds together until the water runs clear.  Similarly, wash and rinse parboiled rice until water runs clear.  Soak the two in separate bowls in sufficient amount of water, about two and a half times in volume, for about five to six hours.

When you are ready to start grinding the lentils, soak the beaten rice flakes in sufficient water.  This is because rice flakes do not require much time to soften.

Meanwhile, the soaked lentils as well rice will have plumped up.  Drain water from the lentils and grind.  The lentils need to be ground until light and fluffy, to the consistency and feel of whipped cream, adding as little water as possible, about ½ cup to ¾ cup.  I use an electric stone grinder as I make idlis often and highly recommend it. Grinding takes quite some time, about 20 minutes.

Once it has achieved the above consistency, empty the batter in a big bowl, at least four times the capacity of the ground lentils.

Next drain the rice and rice flakes, and grind to almost fine, adding just enough water to get a thick batter, about ½ cup and more as needed.  Grinding should take about 30 minutes in an electric stone grinder, maybe even more sometimes.

Empty the batter into the bowl containing ground lentils.  Add about 4 teaspoons of salt and beat the rice and lentils well so that you get a uniform blend.

Cover the bowl, placing some weight on it and set aside the mixture to ferment for at least 8-9 hours or overnight.

After fermentation the batter should have risen to twice its original volume, and is ready to be steamed.  Do not mix it at this stage.

If you have a pressure cooker and an idli stand, then grease the depression in the idli stand lightly with sesame oil (or any neutral oil) and pour the batter into the depressions so that they fill three quarters of the well.  Steam for about 5 minutes on high flame without the whistle and reduce heat and steam for another 5 minutes.  Let the cooker cool for 5 minutes before opening.

If you do not have an idli stand, you can still make idlis in small bowls or katoris, as shown in the picture.  Heat water in a steamer instead and cook the idlis in small katoris for the same time as above.


Sprinkle normal water over the hot idlis or let them cool under fan for about 10 minutes.  Remove with a sharp spoon.


Serve hot with coconut chutney or sambar.


- Do no mix the fermented batter before making idlis.

- Use cold, refrigerated water if grinding in a food processor.

*If you want specific recipes for the next blog post, feel free to suggest in the comment box below and I will try my best to accommodate your requests.

Sunshinemom aka Harini is a vegan food writer, food photographer and food stylist.  To see her work, visit her blog or Flickr album.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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