There are many, many, many secrets to making good, fluffy idlis that are flawless. On World Idli Day we share a few of the best.
While restaurants may add baking soda or ENO fruit salts to quicken the idli batter fermentation, idli purists, whose kitchens produce pillow-soft idlis, would scoff at these cheap measures and know the key lies in getting the basics nailed down right and cracking where to source quality ingredients in your neighbourhood.
Idlis are best served warm, with green coconut chutney or red tomato chutney, but go just as well with sambar, rasam and ishtu, a coconut-based gravy dish of vegetables and/or meat.
Homemaker Manjula Nair shares the simple process to making foolproof idlis at home.
Variations on the idli are also provided below.
- 4 cups ukda chawal or parboiled rice
- 1 cup white urad dal
- 1 tsp methi or fenugreek seeds
- Salt to taste
- Oil, butter or ghee to grease the idli mould
- Wash the ukda chawal and urad dal well before soaking.
- In a large bowl or saucepan soak the rice and methi seeds in water for up to 5 hours.
Make sure the rice is fully immersed in the water.
- Soak the dal in water for about an hour.
Make sure the dal is fully immersed in the water.
You may refrigerate the soaked urad dal for better results before grinding.
Do not refrigerate the rice.
- Drain the water from the rice and grind the rice and methi seeds together in a mixer.
Keep water on hand and pour in only a little at a time.
Grind, adding just a little water, to achieve a mildly coarse consistency.
This step requires a lot of patience.
Keep grinding until the right consistency is achieved.
To check if the rice batter is done, dip fingers in the batter and rub them together.
If the texture is smooth and very mildly coarse, the batter is ready.
If not, add very little water more and grind again.
Adding too much water, in one go, increases the risk of the batter become too runny.
Be very careful about the quantity of water being added to the batter.
Pour the ground rice batter into a large bowl or saucepan with a lid.
The batter will double when it ferments, so be sure to choose a large enough container.
- Grind the soaked urad dal too in a mixer.
Add just a little water and grind till it has a mildly coarse consistency.
The dal grinding process is a lot quicker.
- Add the ground urad dal into the ground rice-methi mixture.
Leave the batter out overnight or for 6-8 hours to ferment.
It's advisable to place a large plate or thali under the container of batter, in case it overflows while fermenting.
- Add salt to the fermented batter and mix well.
To make the idlis, grease the idli moulds with oil, butter or ghee.
Fill a pressure cooker or steamer with an inch of water and heat.
If using a steamer, add a little more water, depending on its size.
- Pour about 1½ tbsp batter in each mould.
Depending on size of the mould, increase or decrease the batter.
Wipe off any batter that has spilled on the sides of the mould or it will affect the shape of the idli.
Once the water starts to boil, place the filled mould stand inside the cooker or steamer and cover.
Don't use the whistle/weight if using a pressure cooker.
Let the idlis steam over low to medium heat for 7 minutes and then turn off the heat.
Using a toothpick, check if the centre is cooked -- if cooked, toothpick will come out clean.
If idlis are not done, steam for a few more minutes.
- Allow idlis to cool for 15-20 minutes.
The condensation that has collected on the inside of the lid may ruin the texture of the idlis and consider removing the lid, but don't take the idlis out from the mould yet.
Removing too hot idlis from their moulds, will only make them break or crumble.
When they have cooled but are still warm remove each idli from its moud with a tsp.
Serve warm with chutney, podi, sambar or ishtu.
Note: Finding the right ukda chawal to make idli batter that rises well is a challenge. Often the quality of the rice is the main reason for Idli Fail! You may have to experiment with the varieties available in the shops near you or ask those living nearby, who make impeccable idlis where to find the best ukda chawal.
If using a wet grinder, the ratio for rice and urad dal is 5:1.
During cold winter months, when fermentation is slow, leave a steel spoon in the batter overnight to quicken the process.
For a fluffier batter, wash and add one finely chopped okra or bhindi or ladyfinger (after discarding the ends) to the rice batter while grinding.
To preserve the batter in the fridge for longer and to not allow it to over-ferment, cover with a few paan or betel leaves, but don't allow the leaves to touch the batter.
Some home cooks I know mix a few tsps of til or sesame oil in the batter for more flavourful idlis.
Diagnosis from the Rediff Idli Doctor:
Hard idlis: Oversteaming. Or proportions off. Or rice quality is poor. Or refrigerated fermented batter was not brought to room temperature before using.
Too mushy idlis: Too runny batter. Or proportions off.
Batter did not rise: Rice quality poor. Or too much water in the batter. If the batter did not rise, the idlis will turn out flat. Can be used instead to make dosass or dhoklas.
Sambar goes well with idlis. Try Rediff's Sambar recipe.
Or this crabmeat rasam recipe: Chettinad Nandu Rasam from Sonal Ved's cookbook Tiffin.
Else, maybe Bethica Das's Gooseberry Rasam.
Or Jofy Abraham's Kerala Mutton Stew.
A range of chutney recipes can be found here: Six Mouthwatering Chutney Recipes.
Want to add a fun twist to your idlis or need a diabetic idli recipe? See these recipes: