Monday, September 10, 2007


One of the favorite memories of my childhood is waking up to a wonderful, fresh cooked breakfast. The sights, sounds, and smells are still with me today: the smell of mustard seeds and curry leaves in hot oil; kadala curry (black chick peas) slowly simmering in roasted, ground coconut and coriander; the smell of fermented idli batter waiting to be steamed.

Idli making is a laborious process. It may take a few trials to master it. Since the batter must be fermented overnight, weather plays an important role. The hot, humid, tropical climate in India makes it easier to ferment the batter. In the US, during winter, I leave the batter in a heated oven. If the pilot light is on, it produces sufficient heat to allow fermentation.

The perfect idli is soft, moist, somewhat grainy, and porous. It soaks up liquids like a sponge. Surely, there can't be anything better than a plateful of fluffy idlis and freshly ground coconut chutney for breakfast!


long grained rice : 4.5 cups
par boiled rice : .5 cup ( I use Uncle Ben's)
urad dal - 1 cup (available in Indian grocery stores)

Special equipment needed: Idli steamer

Clean rice and urad dal. Soak separately in plenty of water for 6-8 hrs till soft. Grind dal very smooth and soft with just enough water to facilitate easy griding. The urad batter should be fluffy and super smooth. Remove into a large mixing bowl. Grind rice with enough water till almost smooth but still somewhat grainy. Pour the ground rice to the ground dal. Using a wooden spoon or spatula mix thoroughly. The resulting batter is fairly thick, much thicker than pancake batter. When poured from a spoon, the batter will fall in a broken stream.

In my younger days, my mother used to make the batter using an "attu kal" carved out of stone. Now even in India, idli batter is made using blenders or motorised grinders made of stone.

Leave the batter in a warm place to ferment overnight. When fermented, the batter becomes spongy. When you are ready to steam idlis, add salt and mix well. Pour a drop of oil into the mould. Using a paper towel spread the oil on the mould. Pour the batter into the mould. Bring water to a rolling boil in the idli vessel, turn flame down to a simmer. Keep the moulds in the vessel, cover, and steam for 8 - 10 minutes.

Take the idli moulds from the steamer. The idlis are best taken out of the mould when the the mould has cooled down. Serve with coconut chutney and/or sambar.

The recipe may be halved or even quartered. 1 cup of rice makes about 10 idlis.

Idlis freeze very well! Microwave frozen idli with a wet paper-towel on top for 3 minutes before serving.

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