Cookbook:Idli (Steamed Rice and Black Gram Bread)

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Idli (Steamed Rice and Black Gram Bread)
CategoryFermented food recipes
TimeSoaking: 6–10 hours
Prep: 10 minutes
Fermentation: 8–12 hours
Cooking: 11–15 minutes

Cookbook | Ingredients | Recipes | Indian Cuisine

Idli is a round, fluffy bread roughly eight centimetres in diameter. It is made from ground rice or rice flour mixed with ground urad dal, salt, methi (fenugreek seeds) and water. The mixture is allowed to ferment prior to being steamed in an idli steamer. They are traditional to Southern India and are most often eaten with sambar.






  1. Wash rice and urad dal thoroughly.
  2. Soak the rice and urad dal in separate bowls for no more than 2 hours. Soak methi seeds along with the urad dal. You will need about twice as much water in the bowl as urad dal, as it expands as it soaks up water.
  3. Drain the rice and urad dal. Do not discard the dal soaking water, but do discard the rice soaking water.
  4. Grind the urad dal to a fine paste in a blender. If needed, add some of the reserved soaking water.
  5. Grind the rice to a paste with about 1 cup of chlorine-free water (less if you can). Grind coarsely if the batter will only be used for idli, but grind finely if it will later be used for dosa.
  6. Mix the rice and urad dal pastes together well, and season with salt.
  7. If desired, stir in the fermentation starter and mix well (see note).
  8. Set aside somewhere warm like to ferment for 8 hours (see note).


  1. Grease one or more idli pans well with ghee or vegetable oil.
  2. Gently spoon the batter into the round indentations of the idli pans. Do not stir or otherwise break the batter. The trapped bubbles should not escape as they are necessary for a fluffy texture.
  3. Steam for 12 minutes in a steamer (16 minutes if using brown rice).
  4. Remove idli from pans with a sharp knife or thin spatula.

Notes, tips, and variations

  • A traditional stone grinder is recommended for making idlis. A blender will do a reasonable job; do not use a food processor.
  • Idli is made of black lentil and rice. The southern parts of India use boiled rice, while the rest uses raw rice. It depends on your taste. The black lentil should be the full, round variety. Avoid broken dal.
  • The ratio of black lentil to rice should not exceed 1:3 or 1:4 by volume. If you have good quality dal, you can stretch this ratio by increasing the quantity of rice.
  • The rice is typically parboiled short grain white rice, but brown rice works well also and adds flavour, colour, and more nutrition. Brown rice needs to be soaked at least 4–6 hours.
  • Mix the dal and rice batters thoroughly. It takes more time and energy than you might think. Uneven mixing causes many failures. Mixing them by hand works best!
  • A warm temperature is essential for fermentation. 25–28 °C (77–82.4 °F) will be ideal. If the weather is cold, keep some warm water in a large bowl and immerse the vessel containing the batter. To help maintain the temperature of the warm water bath, cover it with a blanket, or better, use a regulated heater, like a heating pad or aquarium heater. Even easier, turn on the light in the oven, and use that to keep the batter warm.
  • Allow at least 8 hours to ferment. If you don't see tiny bubbles the next morning, the dough will not rise and you have to start all over again.
  • If you can't get the batter to ferment by itself, try adding a fermentation starter like a spoonful of commercially prepared idli batter (commercial idli batters sold under refrigeration may have live culture), or a teaspoonful of yogurt with live cultures. Kefir may be used, but yogurt is best. Plain bread yeast will not make for good flavour, as bacteria are needed also.
  • Use chlorine-free water or reverse osmosis water. Tap water will work, but it will inhibit the fermentation a little. Most modern water filters remove both chlorine and chloramine.
  • Sprinkle the idlis liberally with sesame oil and eat them with suitable side dishes, such as chutni, sambaar and idli powder.
  • Leftover batter that has lost its froth can still be used to make dosa.
  • Some Indian groceries may stock fresh ready-to-cook idli batter in the refrigerated section. This produces a very good idli, light and fluffy with a characteristic tangy flavor. However, some of these products are fermented using citric acid and chemical leavening (i.e. baking powder) and may not be as beneficial.