Traditional Idli recipe

South Indian Idli

How to make soft fluffy idlis

Idlis are soft, pillowy, rice cakes that are usually preferred for breakfasts and dinners in South India. Traditional idli is made by grinding the idli rice and urad dal in the ratio of 4:1, fermenting them overnight and then steaming them. They are generally served with sambar or chutneys.

Ponni rice which is another variety of parboiled rice can also be used to make idlis. But the ratio of rice to lentil will change to  3:1.

I have found out from experience that there is nothing like ‘good quality ingredients will give soft idli’  and the sort. The rice and lentils should match each other which is what gives you soft fluffy idlis.

When I was at Hirakud in Odisha, there was a small store that was the only one selling parboiled rice.  And this rice was neither the idli rice nor the ponni rice that I was used to.

Still, I made idlis with them and they came out super soft, that my South Indian neighbours would not believe that it was locally purchased. They said that I would have brought the ingredients from my home town in South India 🙂 .

So people who do not have access to idli rice/idli rava can make use of any parboiled rice that you can get. Try out with the most minimum quantity, following the recipe below.

If you do not get soft idlis, you can very well make dosas (Indian crepes) as well as pancakes. If you do not have a wet grinder, follow my Idli batter recipe in a mixer, which also gives very soft fluffy idlis.

The wet grinder does play an important part in making the authentic or traditional idli. The wet grinder with a single stone for grinding gives the best idlis. But since that is very difficult and heavy to handle most of us have moved to table-top wet grinders.

In those days idlis were made in big sized Aluminium idli steamers, which mostly had 2 aluminium idli plates. The idli plates had 7 and 5 crevices, on which cloth was spread, batter filled and steamed.

These days we get compact steel idli steamers in which you can make 24 idlis at one go. Use of cloth has also been discontinued in most houses,  as just greasing with oil is enough.

I always keep the soaked urad dal in the refrigerator as it fluffs up well and gives more volume to the batter. Also when it is kept soaking for a long time outside, it tends to froth up and spoil at times.

This can be avoided, by keeping it in the refrigerator. I learnt this from my mother in law.

Head over to my main idli page for more details and troubleshooting in idli preparation. Here in Qatar, I buy the Kadhir idli rice from FFC, which goes well with the urad dal from Aseer mills.

Over to the method of preparing traditional idli with a wet grinder.

Traditional Idli
Idlis are soft fluffy balls made of a fermented batter of rice and lentils, everyday food in South India.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time12 minutes
Soaking time & Fermenting time12 hours
Total Time12 hours 22 minutes
Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: Indian, South Indian
Keyword: Authentic idli recipe, Softest idli recipe, South Indian idli
Servings: 3 kilos of batter
Author: Hema Magesh
  • 4 cups Idli rice
  • 1 cup Urad dhal
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • a handful poha/beaten rice
  • salt as needed
  • water as needed
  • Wash and soak the rice, and poha separately for 2-4 hours
    steps 1-3 idli making
  • Clean the urad dhal and soak it along with fenugreek seeds in the refrigerator.
  • Once it soaks, grind the urad dhal in the wet grinder for at least 30 to 40 minutes, adding water as needed in between. Halfway through add the soaked poha, and continue grinding till it's nice and fluffy.
    steps 4-6 idli preparation
  • Transfer this to a container and grind the rice to a smooth batter. This will take a lesser time of around 20 minutes. A minute before turning off the grinder, add the required salt.
    steps 7-9 idli making
  • Transfer this also to the container already containing the urad dhal batter. Mix well using hand, till it becomes a homogenous mixture. 
  • Ferment this overnight in a warm place. Ensure that the vessel can hold the batter as it ferments.
  • The next day mix the batter again. I have found out that mixing in the anti-clockwise direction will incorporate more air in the batter, making it fluffy. Check for salt. The batter should be mildly sour.
    steps 10-12 making idli
  • Heat up the idli vessel with the required water for steaming.
  • Grease the idli plates with oil on the front as well as the back. Pour the batter into the moulds in the idli plates and steam it for 10 to 12 minutes.
  • Check for doneness using your fingers dipped in water or a knife. I skip this step as I steam my idlis on the induction stove with the timer set for 12 minutes and the idlis are always cooked in that time.
    steps 13-15 idli making
  • Let the idlis remain in the mould for a minute or two, after which you can remove them easily using a sharp spoon. If you do not give that resting time, the idli will come out in distorted shape.
  • Serve them hot with any chutney or sambar.

Hema’s P.S

  • When you are trying out idli for the first time use the 4:1 ratio. Gauge from the idlis if you need to increase the quantity of rice/decrease urad dhal.
  • If the idli comes out flat then increase the quantity of rice to 5 or 6 cups for 1 cup of urad dal. 
  • The time for fermenting the batter will depend on the climatic conditions. If you live in a hot place 4-6 hours are more than enough.
  • But if you live in a cold place you may have to give more time for fermenting. Alternately you can keep the batter in the oven with the light on, or warm up the oven to about 40°C, switch it off and keep the batter in to rise.
  • The leftover batter should be immediately kept in the refrigerator, as keeping it outside will make it sour. The batter will last up to a week in the refrigerator.
  • Usually, we South Indians make idli during the first two days, and then make dosas, uthapams and kuzhi paniayrams with the batter.  Method of making these coming up in the respective posts.


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