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Recipe: Shashi Tharoor's Idlis

Last updated on: March 07, 2024 16:02 IST
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Shashi Tharoor loves his idlis

Photograph: Kind courtesy: Shashi Tharoor/X

Everyone knows a good recipe to make idlis.

But how can you serve up these soft, steamed rice cakes absolutely flawlessly? By offering them with great sides -- be it the coconut, tamarind or peanut chutneys. Or the sambar or mulgapodi (gunpowder).

In Sunita Kohli's The India Cookbook, Shashi Tharoor -- former UN diplomat, three-term MP from Thiruvanathapuram and prolific author -- offers his best tips for creating idlis. To give the South Indian staple an interesting flavour, he suggests adding ajwain seeds or jeera seeds or methi seeds into the batter.

Tharoor loves his idlis. He has said on Twitter before: 'Idlis are the most nutritious, energy-giving food for Indian vegetarians. My personal batteries are charged entirely by my morning idlis'. 

Photograph: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

Shashi's Idlis

Serves: 4-6


  • 1 cup raw rice, washed and rinsed
  • ½ cup husked urad dal, washed and rinsed 
  • Salt to taste, about 1 tsp
  • Oil to grease the idli moulds
  • 1 tbsp sour dahi or yoghurt, optional
  • 1 tsp ajwain/carom seeds or jeera/cumin seeds, optional
  • 1 tsp methi or fenugreek seeds
  • 2 cups water + extra


  • Soak the rice and urad dal in water overnight.
    Drain off the excess water and grind the soaked rice and urad dal together to a medium coarseness.
    Add water if needed to make a thick but pourable batter.
    Mix in the salt and leave the batter outside to ferment until it rises and becomes slightly sour (ie 24 hours in summer, 36 hours in winter).
    The time can be shortened somewhat by adding some slightly sour dahi to the batter.
    Some cooks add carom and/or cumin seeds to the batter; my mother puts fenugreek seeds in sometimes.
    Once the batter is ready, generously grease the moulds of an idli maker and spoon the batter into the moulds.
  • Take a deep pot (saucepan) or a large pressure cooker (no whistle) and add about 2 cups water.
    Heat the pot until the water begins to boil slightly.
    Place the idli maker into the pot gently and cover.
    Steam the idlis for about 12 minutes.
    The idlis are ready when a wooden toothpick or skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Sunita's Note: "You may scale up this recipe by increasing quantities of both in a 2:1 ratio.

"The perfect idli is soft, fluffy, slightly sour, melts in your mouth. Flavour comes from the accompaniments -- coconut chutney, gunpowder with melted ghee and my own favourite, a paste called ulli samandhi made by grinding small onions or shallots with red chillies and salt and just a dash of tamarind and roasting the mixture."

Editor's Note: To make sambar try Divya Nair's recipe for Traditional Sambar like my Amma's.

Sunita Kohli

Sunita Kohli is a New Delhi designer, architect and socialite. Her book is a collection of ecclectic recipes from homes she has dined at in the capital. Do have a look at P Chidambaram and his wife Nalini Chidambaram's recipe for Crab Masala. This recipe was excerpted with the kind permission of the publishers, Aleph Book Company from The India Cookbook: from The Tables Of My Friends, selected and edited by Sunita Kohli. 

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