Idli is a steamed cake made from a combination of rice and lentils that have been soaked, ground, and fermented into a smooth dough. They are traditionally served in India for breakfast or as a snack.
The batter used to make idlis is almost identical to that used to make dosa, a fermented thin crepe-like wrap made from rice and lentils. The major difference is that dosa batter must be a bit thinner in order to pour and evenly spread the batter into a dosa shape.
There is one special piece of equipment necessary to prepare idli. Besides a device to grind the rice and lentils, you will need an idli steamer. These can be found online or in specialty stores. Alternatively, there is some evidence that before these steamers were widely available, the batter could be poured into a cloth which was placed close to the top of a pot of boiling water. When the lid was placed on top the boiling water steamed a larger idli that would later be cut into smaller pieces.
Either way you prepare yours, enjoy it with chutney or a special Indian spice mix.
- 3 cups rice
- 1 cup skinned black lentils
- 1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
- Soak rice in a medium vessel, covered with water by a couple of inches, for 6 to 8 hours. In another container, simultaneously soak lentils and fenugreek seeds, covered with water by at least 3 inches, for 6 to 8 hours.
- After the soaking process is complete, drain and rinse rice and lentils/fenugreek seeds separately.
- You are now going to be grinding the two elements separately to achieve the right consistency, in a food processor or blender.
- Start by adding a couple of tablespoons of water to the grinder, followed by a handful of the lentils. Grind until fluffy and smooth, much like marshmallow fluff, in small batches adding handfuls of lentils and a couple of tablespoons of water at a time. This may take 15 minutes or so. Transfer lentil batter to a separate, very large vessel being careful not to remove too much air from the batter.
- Repeat with rice, but this time aim for a slightly gritty batter as opposed to the smooth batter of the lentils. Start by adding one cup of water to the machine then handfuls of rice at a time, with additional water to facilitate the grinding of the rice. This may take 20 or so minutes.
- Carefully transfer the rice batter to the vessel containing the lentil batter, again being careful not to remove air trapped in batter. Add salt and carefully mix the two batters with a clean hand or large spoon. Taste and add additional salt if the batter tastes flat. Be sure the vessel has room for the batter to double in size. If not, pour half the batter into a separate vessel to allow room for expansion.
- Cover with a breathable lid such as a clean towel and secure to keep fruit flies out. Place in a warm spot such as an oven with a pilot light on, or atop a warm refrigerator.
- Ferment for 12 to 48 hours, depending on the temperature, or until batter appears to have doubled.
- Once the batter has fermented and at least doubled in volume, it is time to cook the idlis. Pour batter into bowls of an idli cooker. Steam for approximately 15 minutes.