Sunday, December 19, 2010

Idli (Basic Steamed Savory Rice and Lentil Cakes With Raw Rice)

Idli With Kadapa
Idlis rank highly in the South Indian breakfast repertoire; and well they should! - they are very wholesome with nary an empty calorie in them. The combination of cereal (rice) and legume (urad dal) produces an abundance of protein resulting in extremely nourishing food. Idlis also make wonderful picnic/journey food as they are delicious at room temperature. Amma often packaged them for our lunches during our school/college days and almost all of us enjoyed them except for one who chucked them out the school bus window when she was young - very nervy for one so young, don't you think?

Rice and skinless (decorticated) Urad dal are soaked and ground into a thick batter and fermented by leaving the batter at room temperature for several hours or overnight. Once the batter is prepared, steaming the idlis takes just minutes. Although it is nice to have a traditional idli mold, idlis can be made using custard cups, an egg poacher, cake pans, or any container that can be used in a steamer.

Typically the fermentation process is dependent upon wild yeast present in urad dal and warm temperatures. If the batter does not ferment well, you will end up with a heavy idli instead of a light, airy, spongy one.

Fermentation:  I find that cold weather conditions are not conducive for good fermentation; it can be achieved in two different ways. 1. Place the batter in a warm place (like an oven with the light on or a picnic chest with warm towels). OR 2.  Add a little active dry yeast; add 1/2 tsp of yeast to the batter as given in this recipe. If you are not going to use all of the batter promptly, divide the batter and add the yeast only to the portion you are going to use.

Both of the above methods have resulted in successful results every time. Just make sure that the container is large enough to allow room for the rising batter or it would overflow and you would end up with a big mess!!

Idlis are traditionally served with coconut chutney and/or mulagai podi (a dry chutney) mixed with oil; they can be served with sambar or other curries like Kadapa also. Young children (ahem, and some not so young ones I know) enjoy idlis with ghee or butter and sugar.

Note: Perfectly ground rice is available as "Idli Rava/rawa" in Indian stores - all you have to do is mix it with the dal batter with a little more water perhaps and proceed fermenting and cooking as follows.

Makes about 20 Idlis - allow 4-5 for each serving


1 cup raw rice, any type
1/2 cup skinless Urad dal
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 tsp dry active yeast (optional)


Clean rice and dal to remove discolored grains, stones or other debris.

Wash and soak the rice and dal separately in plenty of fresh water to cover for 3-4 hours.

Grind the drained dal into a fine and airy paste using some fresh water as needed. I add ice cubes and ice water for the processing as this prevents the batter from getting hot with a long processing time. 

Add the rice and process into an almost smooth batter; the rice should be somewhat gritty - like cream of wheat aka sooji/rava. Remove the batter to a large container.

If the batter is very thick, add a little water to the blender to extract every bit of the batter and add to the container.

Stir in the salt. If the weather is cold, add the yeast to the batter.

Mix well, cover, and set aside in a warm place to ferment for several hours/overnight.

When the batter is well fermented and airy, gently stir and spoon into the oiled molds, about 2/3 full.

Steam the batter for about 10 minutes if using traditional idli molds. If other containers are used, you may need to steam longer depending on the thickness of the idlis and the size of the pan and the amount of batter. Turn off the heat and let rest uncovered for about five minutes.

Remove from the mold and serve hot or warm with Mulagai podi, coconut chutney, Sambar, etc. Enjoy!!


Anonymous said...

My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

Anonymous said...

Love your blog and am especially grateful for the tip on using yeast for idlis. I used to put the batter in my old oven using the warmth of the pilot light. My new oven doesn't have one and that has meant the end of our fluffy idlis. Will try the yeast. Thank you!

Geetha said...

Thank you Anonymous for your comments. You can still use the oven to keep the batter warm - leaving the light on in the oven works well. The little added yeast augments the natural wild yeast present in the dal and assures a good fermentation and fluffy idlis :}. Happy cooking!

Saraswathi said...

Thanks a ton for this post on using yeast for idli.
Having moved to London I used to dread making idlis because it doesn't ferment at all.
Was searching for the right recipe and here I found it.
Thanks again n I'll be visiting here often :-).

Geetha said...

Hello Saraswathi, Glad that this recipe and suggestions work for you; I use yeast regularly for dependable and lovely results! Thank you for stopping to comment too.
Happy Cooking!

Tina said...

Wow, that's a great tip of using yeast . I am definitely going to give it a try. Thanks again and it is a wonderful post .

Anonymous said...

Hi, how to add yeast to the idli batter? I want to know it in detail...can I use it to the dosa batter too?

Anonymous said...

How much amount of yeast is to be added? Can I add it to the whole lot? Can u please tell me in detail about adding the amount of yeast. Thank u

Geetha said...

Hello Anons, Active yeast is usually available as a granular powder or as a moist cake. I use the granular powder. After the batter is made, stir the yeast directly into the batter. If using the cake yeast, dissolve a quarter of it in a couple of tsp of water and add to the batter. That's all there is to it. If you are making a larger quantity of batter one teaspoon may be used. You can add yeast to any batter that you want fermented; so yes - it may be added to dosa batter too. I do. Hope that helps clarify. Happy cooking!