Idlis are a form of soft mildly flavoured steamed rice and lentil cakes, which are very common in most South Indian cuisines. But because of how easy it is to make, and how much it is loved across the country, it’s fair to say that it is pretty much an Indian dish, famous around the country.
Idlis are perfect in so many shapes and forms. Idli cooking is an easy process. There also room for variation here! You can steam a batch, cut it into pieces, and fry it, or you can have them whole with chutney and sambhar like the traditional way would have you. Regardless of how you decide to have these flavorful fluff-balls, you do need an idli maker in the house to make your own soft idli.
Idli making can be a very straight forward process where you can get ready-to-make packets, or use suji to make instant idli. But if you really care about authenticity, flavor, and making a recipe how it’s intended, you go the full mile and make the batter yourself.
Regardless of your preference, you should know both methods. Here’s a step by step guide to how to make ultra-soft, savory steam idli.
- For making idli/dosa/uttapam batter, special small-grained rice is used. You can also use regular rice. The next ingredient is the lentils or the urad dal. It is preferred that your dal be unpolished.
- You can also use rawa, or suji, which is prepared and coarsely ground idli rice which can be bought from any general store. Instead of using the rice, you can combine the rawa with the lentils.
- The next step is to soak the rice and lentils separately for about 5 hours each. The idea is to use the freshest possible rice and lentils, especially lentils. The fresher the urad dal, the better the batter ferments. Or else you’ll end up with dense idlis.
- Grind both the rice and the lentils separately, and then combine. The grinding can be done on a stone grinder, a tabletop grinder, or an electric mixer-grinder.
After mixing the two kinds of pastes, i.e. the rice and the lentils thoroughly, it is suggested to keep it covered to ferment for about 8 to 9 hours. Keep it in a warm place for the best results.
You’ll notice that the batter almost doubles in volume and has a fluff texture with a really nice sour aroma. There are a few agents you can add to the batter while fermentation to help with the process, like baking soda, fenugreek seeds, instant yeast, and depending on the weather, either rock salt or sugar. During winters, you’ll need a longer time to ferment the batter, say about 19 to 24 hours.
The way to cook idlis is by using a special pan which has caved in shapes for idlis. For obvious reasons it’s called an idli cooker. The way to use it is, you fill the bottom container with water brush the idli pans with oil to grease it and then fill the spaces with water.
You can easily find an idli cooker online. The ideal time for an idli to be done is 12 -15 minutes. Over steaming the idlis will make them more dense than preferred. And voila! You now have perfected the art of making perfect idlis!