- Submitted by Dahlia on 19th April 2016
Idli is one tiffin item that most Indians have grown up eating. Though it is traditionally from South India, most North Indians make it too.
It is so convenient to have a big batch of homemade idli batter in your refrigerator. It is a life saver for most busy working women. There is nothing more comforting than having warm soft idlis or crispy dosas when you are tired and hungry. You can also make so many other dishes using this basic idli batter which I have listed below.
I've shared the recipe that I follow to make idli / dosa batter in bulk. You can make a big box full and store it in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. It comes in handy to make quick breakfast, tiffin for dinner and a light evening snack.
Video instructions for making Idli Batter at home
Preparation time: 12 hours
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Makes: 40 idlis
How to choose the right ingredients?
Grinder/ Mixie/ Blender
Traditionally the idli batter used to be ground by hand, in a stone grinder. It would take 1-2 hours of manual labor to get the job done. These days, electric wet grinder does the same job with fraction of the effort. You just have to add the soaked rice and lentils and switch it on. That's it!!
Most South Indian homes have a wet grinder. For people living in other parts of the world, it may not be feasible to invest in a wet stone grinder. You can still make idli batter using a mixie, blender or food processor. The results may not be close to the one made with stone grinders but it will be reasonably good. The reason is that the blenders and food processors gets heated up faster and in turn heats up the batter. This interferes with the fermentation process. Also, stone grinding incorporates lot of air in the batter making it lighter and fluffier.
Rice / Urad Dal
In South India, we get a specific variety of parboiled rice called idly rice. It makes very good idlis. However, you can make idli batter using raw rice or boiled rice too. During my stay in US, i have made idlis using locally available long grain rice too. You can use partial amount of brown rice in the recipe to make it healthier.
In olden days, urad dal with skin was used. After soaking, the skin of the dal has to be removed by rubbing between your palm. It is a tedious and a long forgotten process. Even my grand mother stopped this method of making batter. These days urad dal without skin is used which is easily available in supermarkets. It is available as whole or split. Either one can be used. Good quality urad dal yields more batter and also tastier idlis. So be sure to buy a good one and proceed making the batter.
How to make Idli batter for soft idlis?
The procedure for making idli batter is as simple as soaking and grinding the ingredients. For beginners however, there are many do's and don's to be followed which I have explained in detail below.
- Urad dal: 1 cup
- Idli Rice: 4 cups (or use regular rice – raw rice or boiled rice)
- Fenugreek Seeds: 1 tbsp
- Salt: 2 tbsp
- Wash the urad dal and rice separately. You have to wash it 3-4 times to get whiter idlis.
- Once you have washed, add enough water to soak each of it. You can add the fenugreek seeds along with the urad dal or soak it in a separate small bowl.
- Cover and leave it alone for at least 2 hours. You can soak it longer too. Traditionally for stone grinding with hand, longer soaking time is required. With modern electric stone grinders, 2 hours of soaking is sufficient.
- After a minimum of 2 hours, it would have soaked nicely. The grains would have become softer and plumped up. It is now ready for grinding.
- Wash the stone grinder and fix the stone in it. Switch on the grinder and while it is running, add the soaked urad dal and fenugreek seeds to it gradually.
- Reserve the soaked water. The trick to making the perfect batter is to add the water little by little as needed. You may have to add water 3-4 times every 5 or 10 minutes.
- You will see the urad dal becoming light and fluffy. Good quality urad dal will increase in volume 6-8 times. This will yield spongy idlis.
- After about 30 minutes, the urad dal will be ready. Switch off the grinder and remove the mixture on to a large bowl.
- Next switch on the grinder again. You do not have to clean it. Drain the soaked rice and add it to the running grinder. Add just little water as rice does not require plenty of water like the urad dal.
- After another 20-25 minutes of grinding, the rice becomes smooth. Well, it is enough for the rice to be ground to a grainy texture but if you prefer really soft idlis, grind them to a smooth paste.
- Now is the time to mix both batters. Traditionally, the rice batter is removed on to the same bowl containing the urad dal batter. Salt is added and then the batter is combined using hands. The warmth of the hands is said to initiate the fermentation process.
- My mom does it slightly differently and I follow that too. Once the rice batter is smooth, I add the urad dal batter back to the grinder. Add the salt and grind again for just 5 more minutes. This ensures that the batter is mixed thoroughly.
Finally remove the batter on to the large bowl and leave it to ferment.
If you are worried about whether the fermentation will get initiated without the hands touching, the answer is YES. We have been doing it this way for years and the idlis come out perfectly.
Fermenting the batter
- The batter should be in a sufficiently large bowl since the batter doubles in volume after fermentation.
- Leave it covered in a warm place to ferment for anywhere between 8-12 hours. The time depends on the climatic conditions.
- In South India, during summers the batter may ferment in 6 hours itself and in rainy season it takes longer.
- In foreign countries which are cooler, you may need some extra efforts to help fermentation. You can leave the batter inside the microwave (without turning it on) or inside the convection oven with its light switched on. This will provide a warm place that aids fermentation. Do not add salt to the batter as it slows down the fermentation in colder environment. You can mix the salt when you are ready to prepare the final dish. Also, I used to add a couple of tbsp. of cooked rice while in US while preparing the batter. This also helps with fermentation as well as gives good idlis.
- Finally, after fermentation the batter would have become lighter and doubled in volume. If you smell the batter, it will have the fermented smell. Now it is ready to make idlis. Check out the step by step procedure to make idlis using this batter here.
How to use the batter?
- Of course you can make idlis and dosas any time. You can also make kal dosa, uthappam, vegetable dosa, masala dosa, kaara kuzhipaniyaaram or rice dokhla using the same batter. You can make it the same day or refrigerate the batter for later use.
- I also love to take 2 cups of idli batter and mix in 1/4 cup of any millet flour like ragi, bajra, oats etc. to make instant healthier dosa variations. Idlis may not come out perfectly using this method.
Perfect time to make Idli batter?
Is there any specific time to make the batter? No!! You can choose your schedule according to your routine.
You can wash and soak the rice and lentils after lunch. By evening it would have soaked up well and you can grind it. You can then let it ferment overnight. The batter will be ready for you to make breakfast next morning. This used to be followed by my grandmother.
I find it convenient to do it the other way. I wash and soak the rice and lentils at night. By morning it is well soaked and ready to grind. The first thing I do in the morning is switch on the grinder. By the time the other cooking is done, the grinding is also finished. Then I let it ferment till it doubles and refrigerate it. It usually ferments by afternoon or early evening
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