Making the Idli (Steamed Rice Cakes) from Scratch

Steamed rice cakes known as Idli's are a staple breakfast dish from the Southern parts of India. These are prepared from fermented rice and lentil batter which is poured into round moulds and steamed. These little savoury cakes are enjoyed with some vibrant sides which include the white coconut chutney, the green chili and coconut chutney and the red onion and tomato chutney. It is also accompanied in restaurants with a spicy vegetable curry as well as fiery chutney powder (famously called gun powder as it tends to have a spicy after taste. 

This is one dish that you must taste when you visit India. It's simplicity is what makes it so popular and dish is such a clean and un-complicated tiffin item. There are endless varieties of this dish and the recipe on this page is that of the basic Rice Idli.

The Idli batter can stay for a few days around 3 - 4 days if refrigerated and stored. Make sure that you use a clean ladle and remove only the quantity required for a day each day into a separate container. This will help increase the shelf-life of the batter. Here's the recipe for soft, fluffy, melt in your mouth idli's. 

4 cup Idly rice
1 cup Urad dal
A handful of flattened rice (Poha)
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
Water as required

  1. Soak the Ingredients: Wash the Idly rice and urad dal, a couple of times. Then soak them overnight or for around 8 hours in water with the other ingredients. Make sure all the ingredients are well immersed in water. 
  2. Grind to make the batter: Grind the mixture into a smooth, fine batter in a grinder, blender or mixer adding a little water at a time. 
  3. Ferment: Let the batter ferment overnight. Make sure you place it in a sufficiently large container as the batter will rise and can almost double up. Make sure you leave the batter covered in a reasonably warm environment for 8 hours. 
  4. Prep the batter: Once the batter has risen, you will notice that it has become very light and airy. The batter is now ready to use. Take the quantity of batter you require in a vessel and then add salt as required to it. Then mix the salt without mixing too much as we do not want to loose the airy texture. 
  5. Making the rice cakes: Scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the dough into each cavity of a well oiled Idli plate. Do the same for all the cavities of all the Idli plates. Once the batter has been placed in the plates. Now place the plates in a pre-prepped steamer where the water has boiled. Steam for about 10 - 12 mins. Switch off the steamer once the Idli's have cooked. Remove the Idli's from the plates and enjoy them. 

  1. We soak the rice and lentils together in one vessel and grind them together but some people choose to soak the rice and the lentils separately and grind them separately after which they mix both. 
  2. You may not need all the water you have used to soak up the ingredients while grinding. Use up only the amount of water required to grind the batter to a thick more dense dough. Remember the dough should not be too runny as this dough will need to be steamed to a cake and hence must be slightly dense and thick.
  3. To test whether the Idli's are cooked, pierce them with a clean fork or knife and it should come out clean. 
  4. Use a small spoon dipped in cold water to scoop the Idli's from the Idli plates once the Idli's have been steamed and cooked.

Tip: Before grinding the soaked mixture, keep it in the fridge for between 30 mins to an hour. This will slow down your mixer or blender from heating up quickly. If your using a grinder to grind your batter, this doesn't really matter as it grinds the batter slowly without heating it up.

Check out our related recipes : Kerala-Style Sambar, Drumstick Sambhar, Coriander Chutney


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