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 mins
Cook Time12 mins
Soaking time & Fermenting time12 hrs
Total Time12 hrs 22 mins
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
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