Sunday, July 15, 2012

Guide to super soft idlis | How to make soft idlis

Getting idli batter right at the first few attempts is quite difficult and I am sure all of us would agree to that. I have had my fair share of problem with idlis. :) . The first couple of times I dint get it right, I started buying batter from shops here which was okay for dosai's , but idli - I don't think so. In all of my 23 years, I had never once paid attention to how my Amma makes idli batter. I have a huge smile on my face as I am writing this - There were days when I ridiculed/joked/complained about the idlis my mom made , and as always pat came the reply "Let me see, how you make idlis when the time comes" ;)Don't mistake me here, her idlis were great, once in a while when it wasn't - I dint spare my mom from idli comments. Little did I know about the process of idli batter then. :)

A lot of things have gone wrong with my many attempts at this - wrong proportions of dal and rice, bad quality urad dal, not fermenting properly, hard idlis, softer-flatter than necessary idlis and many such things. Eventually after all those trails, I learnt how to get them perfect :). So here is me giving you a cheat sheet for making soft fluffy idlis.Its definitely longer than a cheat sheet  ;). This is the longest post I have ever written and probably would write.

Idli Batter


Whole Urad dal - 1 cup [Measure it flat on the cup]
Idli Rice - 5 cups - [Measure it flat on the cup]
Salt - 8 tsp
Water - as per need.

How do you do it

Rice-Dal ratio:

Wet grinder is the best appliance for making idli batter. Yes, you can use your food processor/mixie - but in my opinion , wet grinder is the best. So i strongly recommend buying a wet grinder if idli/dosai is staple food for you.

The usual ratio of Dal:Rice is 1:4. But this is not the thumb rule. It largely depends on the quality of dal you are using. The quantity of urad dal and the texture of ground urad dal are majorly responsible for the way the idlis turn out. Try using 1:5, if you feel the idlis turn out a little hard, make it 1:4. If you have used more urad dal than necessary, the idlis will turn out flat and way too soft than necessary and if you have used less dal than whats needed, you will end up with hard idlis.So try out different ratios and see what works for you.

Wash the rice well and keep aside. Also wash the dal and keep aside. While washing urad dal, be careful not to over-wash it. Just wash it once, that is enough. Over-washing urad dal will result in washing away the yeast content in it and hence deter the fermentation process.

Take two containers having the rice and dal. Soak the rice in water for 4-6 hours (not more),water level should be 1-2 inches above the rice. Urad dal needs to be soaked for about 45 minutes-1 hour (not more), again water level needs to be an inch above the dal.

Basic process of Grinding and Consistency of Batter

Add in the urad dal along with the soaked water into the grinder vessel, let it grind for about 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, add water maybe 1 cup and let it grind for another 10 minutes. You need to use a ladle and scrape the sides of the grinder vessel, and along the hinges of the grinder stone where the dal might get stuck 2-3 times. You might think the urad dal is ground well and its done in about 15-20 minutes, but do not stop after 20 minutes. Urad dal needs to grind for atleast 40-45 minutes to get that smooth and fluffy texture. So let it grind for 40 minutes, adding water little by little and also scraping the sides as and when necesary. You can see the texture of ground urad dal in the picture, the final ground dal needs to be of that consistency and texture. After grinding dal, transfer it to a big vessel.

Note: Make sure the urad dal is not watery, it should not take you more than 2 cups of water during the grinding process. If you add too much water, you will not get a fluffy texture and end up with not-so-good idlis.

Now add the soaked rice along with the water to the grinder vessel. Grind the rice for about 30-35 minutes. The texture of ground rice should be a little thinner than the dosa batter consistency. In the same way as before, keep scraping the sides of the vessel 2-3 times to make sure the rice is ground well. Along with the water already used for soaking the rice, you may need to add another 2 cups of water during the process. Once done, add this ground rice to the vessel where you had transferred the dal to. Add about 8 tsp salt now.

Now using your hand , mix the ground rice and dal thoroughly. You need to mix well for atleast 5 minutes to make sure that the dal and rice have been mixed properly. Add water if the batter is too tight. Be careful though, the consistency of this needs to be a litle more denser than dosa batter consistency. Once mixed well, as a finishing touch, beat the mixture with your fist 4-5 times. Thats it, we are pretty much done.

Note: Water quantity to be used while grinding, mentioned above is approximate. It depends on various things such quality of rice, dal and the amount of water you use to soak the rice, dal etc. So use your judgement to vary the amount to get the right texture.

Fermentation Process

Now we need to ferment this batter for about 8-10 hours. I have a really huge vessel and I ferment the entire mix at one go. You need to have a vessel where the batter occupies only 60% of the space, as after fermentation the batter will rise above ~ 25-30%. So use two vessels if needed. What my Amma does is that, she keeps half the batter inside the fridge immediately and ferments the rest. You could do that too and later ferment the other half when needed.

For fermentation, the optimum temperature is 30-32 deg C. If the temperature is below 30 deg C, it may take more than 10 hours to ferment, and if the temperature is > 32 deg C, and the batter stays out for > 8 hours, it will become sour. For me,it takes about 12 hours to ferment, after which i move the containers to the refregirator. If you are staying a cold place, the following should work.

1. Pre-heat oven for a few minutes and place the vessel inside the oven, close the oven door.
2. Turn on the oven light, keep the batter vessel inside and leave it closed.
3. If you dont have an oven, take warm water in a huge vessel and place the batter vessel inside the vessel containing warm water and leave it.

So once the batter has risen, move it to the fridge. This should stay good for about 10 days , its lasted me that much.

Note: I have used a steel vessel and as well as a tupperware box for the batter to ferment in, and both has worked well. But in any case, do not close the vessel with air-tight lid. Just close them with a normal plate during fermentation.

Do's and Dont's for Idli Batter preparation

1. Do not over-wash urad dal, you might wash away the yeast content.
2. Do not overstock urad dal. Buy 1 kg at a time, and use very good quality of urad dal.
3. Do mix the ground rice and dal thoroughly with your hand. It must be completely blended well together.
4. Do not forget to add salt during mixing, after fermentation is over, you should not disturb the batter, hence salt cannot be added later.
5. Make sure you get the ratio of dal:rice right and while grinding the texture of dal needs to be fluffy and smooth.

How to Make idlis

I use the traditional Idli chatti [vessel] with idli plate , a cloth on top of idli plate and steam idlis on it. You can use your way of making idlis - microwave vessel/ idli cooker/ idli vessel method.What I do is, fill the idli vessel with water upto 30% level, bring to boil, make sure steam comes out of the vessel. Place the idli plate lined with with cloth on top of the vessel as you can see the pics. Now take the batter out, beat the batter on top gently with the ladle to loosen it up, scoop one ladle full of batter and fill each idli hole. Close the idli vessel with the lid. Never mix the batter, just take the batter from the top. Steam for 7 minutes on high flame for the idlis to get done. Switch off flame and now take the idli plate and invert this on to another plate. Remove the inverted idli plate and cloth, transfer the idlis. Since I use the cloth method, the top of my idlis wont be flat, it will be a little textured as you can see in the picture. In the pressure cooker method, both bottom and top of the idlis will be smooth, which I am not fond of and hence always use the idli chatti way. :)

Note: If you notice a yellow layer on top of the batter after fermentation or when you take it out of the refrigerator to make the idlis, remove that layer and use the rest. Its okay.

Idli FAQ

Q. My Idlis turned out hard, what could be the reason?
A. The quantity of urad dal you had used must be less Or The consistency of the batter might have been too thick Or the fermentation process did not happen well.

Q. My idlis turned out flat and too soft
A. The quality of Urad dal was too good, so slightly reduce the quantity of dal next time. Or the batter consistency was too thin.

Q. Fermentation did not happen properly and batter did not rise well
A. You did not mix the rice and dal thoroughly. Or you washed the urad dal thoroughly.Or the temperature was not optimum for fermentation to take place.

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16 Yummmm:

meena July 16, 2012 at 4:34 AM  

wonderful and great write up

its always trial and error for me too despite making idlis since years.

Treat and Trick July 16, 2012 at 7:02 AM  

Very detailed and useful! Keep them coming!

Reshmi July 16, 2012 at 8:25 AM  

nice write up.. very useful

Kurryleaves July 19, 2012 at 4:59 AM  

good post...thanks a lot for sharing this info...

N July 29, 2012 at 8:43 PM  

Swetha! You are a true master chef. For a few years now, I ve been super lazy n resorting to ready made batter available at Indian grocery stores (in the US) or MTRs rava idli mix. I ve been doing it for so long that me n S hv even forgotten how idli at home tastes, that we don't know to complain. After seeing this post n the pictures of your idli, I had great motivation to try grinding batter on my own. This weekend was project idli. I do not own a grinder, just a mixie. I stuck to your instructions line by line but had to make some edits as its not ideal weather conditions where I live. But I must say, the idlis that we had tonight are the best we ve had in a few years. Nothing beats home made food! I owe you a big one!


Divya Rathanlal,  July 30, 2012 at 10:07 PM  

This is indeed a super guide for soft idlis...I followed the tips and the idlis came out really well. Thanks Swetha!

Swetha Sree July 31, 2012 at 12:00 AM  

Super happy that they came out well! :), Your comment really made my day! :)

Swetha Sree July 31, 2012 at 12:01 AM  

Hey divya, I am so glad these tips helped you! And thanks for letting me know too! These comments keep me going! :)

shruti October 7, 2013 at 6:09 AM  

My idli is rising but it become flattened when i kept it for cooling for 5 mins. can anybody help me out.


Unknown November 8, 2013 at 5:37 AM  

Nice post, I bookmark your blog because I found very good information on your blog, Thanks for sharing more informatiom

Swetha Sree November 26, 2013 at 8:54 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Swetha Sree November 26, 2013 at 8:56 AM  

Hi shruthi - are you idlis flattening after you cook them? If so there maybe 2 reasons

1. The idli batter is too loose. Try using lesser water while mixing the batter

2. Too much urad dal used than needed. Try using lesser quantities of urad dal next time. If you had used 4:1 ration, try 5:1 next time.

Hope this helps.

Unknown July 8, 2014 at 3:19 PM  

I am new to preparing idlis and finding all possible ways to get soft n fluffy idlis. Till date, I have not faced any problem w.r.t fermentation. But, yes, softness is still eluding me. In fact, the batter rises after steaming too.

Soaking rice and dal, separately for 4-6 hours??? just 6 hrs? I am a working woman and leave home by 10:00 AM and only return by 7:00 PM or 8:00 PM. It is really not possible for me to soak just for that amount of time. so, my ingredients get soaked for almost 10-12 hrs. And I grind in the night and the let batter to rest for about 10-13 hrs for fermentation. Does this long soaking time really affect the softness? If yes, I am wondering how would a working woman manage? Don't tell me weekends... I am pretty much occupied with other things.. lol...

Also, how was your experience with urad dal with skin, split or un-spilt kind? Apart from the aesthetic looks of idli, how soft/fluffy were those?

Swetha Sree July 9, 2014 at 10:43 AM  

Hi sandy,

I usually grind batter during weekends :). The rice can be soaked for long hours , that shouldn't be an issue but the urad dal soak time should be max 1 hr. So I would suggest you to get back from work and then soak the urad dal , while that's happening you can grind the rice.

I have used whole and split urad dal (skinned) and both work fine. Do not use skin on urad dal for idli batter.

If your idlis are flat check the consistency of batter after mixing ground dal and rice, maybe you need to add more water while mixing. If after fermentation, the batter is very thick you will end up with hard idlis.

Hope this helps.

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