idlis1.jpg
Weekend Brunch: Idlis, Podi with oil, Shallot Sambar, Coconut-Coriander Chutney

Wherever we have lived, cold or warm, getting idli batter to rise has never been a problem. In kitchens with electric ranges, putting the light on and closing the oven door ensured fermented batter. In our previous home with a gas oven, the weather was kind to us.

In the city where we live right now, in our temporary accommodation, we had an electric oven. The light made it toasty inside, helping the batter ferment well even in freezing weather. However, this “overnight” theory – as in keep the batter to ferment in the evening and have it rise three or four times in volume overnight – works only with a wet grinder, which incorporates plenty of air into the batter.

We use our ordinary 500 watt mixer. Our batter has always taken 12-16 hours to ferment, sometimes 24.

In this house, however, it’s a different story. On the coldest winter day, the Yeast Goddess has been kind to us when it comes to bread. With the wild yeast in idli, however, it’s a different result.

In our gas oven, keeping the light on at night does nothing, besides wasting electricity. It is very very frustrating to hear the familiar advice: “Keep the oven light on to ferment idli batter”. It does not often work in gas ovens. We’ve had two gas ovens so far. Putting. the. oven. light. on. does. not. always. help. It drives us nuts when we repeatedly read this advice as if it is the gospel, without finding out what kind of oven the advice seeker has. It may work if your batter has been ground with a wet grinder, but not if it has been ground in a mixer or blender.

Switching on the oven and turning it off, then hoping for the batter to ferment does nothing either. Atleast in this house. Well it does, but it’s more complicated than that. Read on for details.

These new combo ranges with a gas cook top and electric oven are pricey, but really worthwhile and super-efficient. Next time, we’ll probably get one of those. Or turn the oven light on and keep our palms in front of it to test the heat emitted before placing an order.

Except for a couple of months in summer, fermented idli batter is a thing of our dreams. That doesn’t stop us from making soft, fluffy idlis. The secret is Eno Fruit Salt. Crushed up Alka Seltzer Original is a decent substitute.
These antacids are a mixture of citric acid and baking soda – a combo that helps make the batter light and foamy, when added just before steaming.

So if it’s easy to make idlis with Eno why attempt to ferment the batter at all? We do, ‘cos it develops flavour, just like keeping bread to rise over two or three cycles.

Yes, we’ve tried everything listed by Hemant Trivedi here.

We found that the addition of yeast makes it rise, but the taste of yeast in idli feels just wrong. You’ll wonder why we don’t just go out and buy a plate of idlis. Well, where we lived earlier, there was one Udupi restaurant and several others that served decent idlis, a mile from our home. Where we are now, a good idli is several hundred miles away.

In our last attempt, the batter fermented. It took 16 hours, but it did – the natural way, without Eno or any other additives.

Here’s what we did.
At 7 p.m., we preheated the oven at 200F for 10 minutes and switched it off. At midnight, we took the batter out, reheated the oven and put it back. Repeat at 7 a.m. Heating the oven thrice got us well-risen batter after 16 hours.

We know there are many of you out there whose idli batter never ferments no matter what you do. We know you want to wipe the smirks off those who tell you, “Turn the oven light on”, when you’ve just told them you’ve tried that already. Just add Eno to your idlis and don’t tell the Idli Police that you did.

We make whole-grain idlis using brown and red rices. What’s the difference?

Brown rice is unmilled, has only the husk removed, and retains 100% of the bran. Red rice is semi-milled, with the husk and some of the bran removed. White rice is milled and polished to remove the husk and all the bran. Unlike white rices, brown/red rices are high in fibre, have a wonderful array of nutrients, and possess properties that help control blood lipids, and blood sugar levels.

We use a combination of short-grained brown rice and parboilied red – Rose Matta rice. We use the proportion of 2.5:1 rice to urad dal. Increasing the proportion of Rose Matta rice makes the idlis sticky. Rose Matta is available in Indian grocery stores. Any parboiled rice will work.

Do check out what this site has to say about the science behind fermentation by wild yeast. Many of the same rules apply to yeast used for bread-baking as well.
If you live in a place where getting the batter to ferment is a real problem, this process may help. If you have no problem getting idli batter to ferment, these instructions may sound amusing.

Whole Grain Idlis
(Makes 12-15)

Ingredients
3/4 cup brown rice (short-grain is good, but long-grain will work)
1/2 cup parboiled red/brown rice (like Rose Matta)
1/2 cup urad dal (the skinned but whole variety – see pic below)
2 tablespoons cooked rice /poha/ a small piece of bread soaked in a teaspoon of water
8-10 fenugreek (methi) seeds
salt

Tips and Method
1. Wash and soak the rices in distilled/filtered water. Yeast hates chlorine. Urad dal retains more wild yeast unwashed.

2. Soak the rice and dal separately in open wide-mouthed containers, and add a few fenugreek seeds to both. Soak them for 4-8 hours.

3. Grind the urad dal to a smooth paste with a little water. Use chilled water in case the batter starts getting warm. We use our regular mixer. It should be totally smooth and a bit bubbly.

4. Grind the rice to the texture of wet fine semolina. Don’t make the batter very runny.

5. While grinding the rice, add a handful of cooked rice kept out for half an hour, or a piece of bread soaked in a teaspoon of water, preferably kept near a window for half an hour. This gives the yeast some starch to munch on. Make sure you add only enough water to make a thick batter. When you pour it with a spoon or ladle, it should go drip, drip, drip. It should not pour off.

6. Mix the two batters with your hand gently in a folding motion to incorporate air. Add salt and mix. Do this for a few minutes, preferably outside on a porch.

7. Keep the batter out for half an hour, uncovered near places with a lot of bacteria. Near potted plants, or a shoe rack. (Stop rolling your eyes.) It helps attract wild yeast. If you have a green chilli with a blackened stalk, that’s a wild yeast haven. Stick the stalk in the batter.

8. Then cover it well, and keep it in a warm place to ferment. It should not be hot, just warm. Temperatures above 130F will kill the yeast.

9. Start the oven at 200 F for 10 minutes, switch it off and put the covered idli batter in. Do this two of three times during the course of 16 hours. If your oven has a ‘keep warm’ button, try that. Turn the ‘keep warm’ feature on for ten minutes, turn it off and put your batter in.

10. Despite all this, if your batter does not ferment, add ½ to 1 teaspoon of Eno fruit salt (or crushed Alka Seltzer Original) to the batter just before ladling it into the greased idli mould.

11. While mixing the batter before steaming the idlis, be very gentle.

12. Add 2 cups of water to the base of a pressure cooker or idli steamer. Insert the idli mould, cover the container (do not use the whistle). Keep the flame at medium high. Let there be a strong jet of steam, then cook it for another 4 to 5 minutes. Open the lid after all the steam has subsided, and check for doneness with a toothpick. It should come out clean.

13. Leave it in the container for 5 minutes, then scoop out the idlis with a blunt knife.

14. If you have some extra batter, make uttappams, or microwave the batter in a ¾ inch layer for 3 minutes or so until just set. Wait for another two minutes, then unmould and cut into pieces.


idlipodi.jpg

Kerala-style Idli Podi

Toast 2/3 cup urad dal until light brown. Add 4 red chillies and 1 tsp black sesame seeds. Toast them for a minute to so, until the sesame seeds start popping. Crush some asafoetida and add a pinch. Let it cool. Grind it to a powder with salt. If you want it hotter, add cayenne powder.

Usually mixed in with a tsp. of light sesame oil while eating.

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Check out these Mallige Idlis from Recipe Junction.

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56 Comments

  1. Anita says:

    So, I should count my idli batter fermenting so easily here in Delhi as a BIG blessing then?! Those fluffy idlies are sounding worth all the heat and the dust! It’s time for a round of idlies [as I get up to go and soak some parboiled rice]…

    My batter did ferment fine in the two cities that I lived in in the US: the Little Apple, and the Mile-high city – I guess I got lucky. Leaving the light on worked for me ;-)

  2. Nupur says:

    I’ve been using the turn-oven on-and-off three-times trick, exactly as you just said (I have a gas oven). It has worked well for me here in St. Louis through the cold months. I have to try your whole-grain version next. Thanks for sharing!

    b will be vindicated. :-) –Jai

  3. Asha says:

    Love the look of brown Idlies!!They do look healthy and
    delicious!I would love a plate of those,thank you!:)

  4. mandira says:

    I’ve been using the heating the oven on and off too.. it’s worked with my naan and whole wheat bread dough. Haven’t tried making idli batter yet, but whole grain idlie is worth it. Thanks for the tips.

  5. Manisha says:

    So it finally worked for you! Did you pray God like Hemant says or did you generate enough wild yeast through your various trials? :lol:

    I don’t think it depends on the “type of oven”. I made sure I bought a dual-fuel stove so my oven is electric but it didn’t work till I changed the proportions I was using – from 1 urad:2 idli rava to 1 urad: 3 idli rava. About 12 hours to ferment and the process includes warming the oven only in the beginning, followed by, yes, oven light on :D That part has remained the same, whether Chicagoland or here, except that the old oven was gas. I don’t have a wet grinder either. I have used everything from a really cheap Hamilton-Beech to a 600W blender for the batter.

    I need to get rosematta rice and try out whole grain idlis! They sound delicious!

    ‘pray god’. yeah, that was hilarious. – b.

  6. Gini says:

    I have a gas oven too, but never tried the turning on the bulb thing so far. My batter takes long to ferment. We make the batter at night, leave it near the heat vents, then in the morning put it in sunlight. It will be ready by the evening. Idlis for dinner!!
    Will try your oven trick next time to get idlis in time for breakfast.


    gini, it won’t ferment by breakfast time, only by lunch or dinner time. – b

  7. Sangeeta says:

    Such a wonderful spread – idlis, sambar and podi look so yummylicious. Thankfully for me, the batter has risen well overnight, both in the cold climes of NY and in the moderate weather here in NY.
    Definitely gonna make these wholesome whole grain idlis :)

  8. musical says:

    Bee and Jai,

    So finally i have someone else has gone through the trials too…..and someone who says that using Eno is alright :-D

    i have an electric oven, with NO lights, and have no wet grinder…..so i have to keep going through this “warm the oven up 2-3 times” excercise!!

    Whole grain idlis, thanks for that one-this idea rocks!

  9. Sangeeta says:

    Oops ! I meant moderate weather in CA

  10. musical says:

    i meant, “Finally i have found that someone else…”

  11. thats a lot of information …i liked those healthier version of idlies with brown rice..thanks derar..and i wish a very happy vishu to u and ur family.

  12. beens says:

    Looks so delicious:)I always put the container with batter near by the heat vent in my kitchen,so by the next day it will be fermneted even in cold weather.

    I will try this whole grain idly for sure. Thanks.

  13. richa says:

    trust manisha to pick up just the word – LOL
    “lucky me”, i just pay $3.99 and get the idli batter that makes 20 fluffy idlis ;-) ($2.99 when on sale)
    love the color of the chutney!
    thanks

  14. Latha says:

    Oh my! I dont surf for 2 days and so much is happenning at jugalbandi!
    Bee, after reading your post, i feel like just sending you some idli maavu ! That would be so much easier! And gosh, you are not too far away, so if u guys are upto it… you and jai are welcome home anytime… i will make and stuff you with idlis..till you want no more :-)
    But the whole grain idlis, thats a brilliant idea! Looks so wholesoem and yummy! I’ve made idlis with the whole urad (non husked) and the result… dark idlis! Taste all the same. But never made it with whole grain. Willt ry them sometime!

  15. Mamatha says:

    Dear Bee and Jai,
    It hasn’t been 50 posts since my last comment :) , but I had to say it again. You are doing such a fabulous job at Jugalbandi and reading your posts is such a treat. Yours is one of the best lifestyle blogs I’ve seen, with the right mix of food, nutrition, travel, nature and social and political commentary. I look forward to reading many more posts from you.

    Best wishes,
    Mamatha

  16. Manisha says:

    Musical you said it. It’s there in black (and white) for everyone to read…(dances and goes on to sing) Musical has finally found that someone else…yay! :lol:

  17. swapna says:

    Hi bee
    This looks yummy for me.The idli is looking so soft..Want to take one with that whole cup of sambar…

  18. Trupti says:

    I turn the oven on and off 2-3 times too to get it to *right* temp..and this is the only way in hell I’ll get my Idli batter to rise in NL.
    yes, I’ve tried all of Hemant Trivedi’s tips and tricks…I don’t drink, but made Kartik go and buy a Lager just so the idlis would turn out right, BUT it worked!
    I didn’t use much, just added it at the last minute to the batter and they came out real soft and fluffy. They didn’t taste bad.
    Your Idlis with that Shallot sambhar and Podi look delightful.

    we tried the lager trick. it works in bread, not in idli for us. – bee

  19. Trupti says:

    PS: Hemant’s last tip is the best! ;)

  20. sharmi says:

    the idlis have come out well with brown rice. thats really nutritious! nice presentation!

  21. Ranjani says:

    u poor souls , living in the north pole unable to ferment idli batter:)))
    i just keep it inside the microwave & thats it ..oh this is just in the winter ..
    in summer i just leave it on the kitchen counter ..
    oh , the joys of living in a sunny place;)))

  22. Reena says:

    Bee, I haven’t made idlis in a while. Now tempted to make itt soon:)). In winter I add fenugreek seeds to ferment batter or I use Indian casserole (vessel). It ferments by morning.

  23. padmaja says:

    hey Bee I have been waiting for this recipe and thank u so much. Even in UK its so hard to find a warm place in winter for my batter to ferment.
    I remember once putting in the airing cupboard on the top shelf and by the next day, my whole house was stinking!!I will try your recipe as they look delicious

  24. Dee says:

    Bee,will surely try your recipe . The idlis look great!!!

  25. [...] Whole grain Idlis with Ulli sambar, coconut-cilantro chutney and podi [...]

  26. Kay says:

    I guess I should consider myself very lucky to get soft and fluffy idlis..

    Bee and Jai, I’ve read that people use crock pot or slow cooker in warm mode for culturing yogurt.. Reading the extensive work that you guys go through for fluffy idlis, make me wonder if the crockpot trick could work for idlis. (Or rice cooker in warm mode?)

  27. Kay says:

    And wholegrain idlis sound so healthy!! :bow:

  28. [...] Urad dal is white though it is called ‘black lentil”. That’s because the version used in this recipe is skinned. (See skinned urad HERE) [...]

  29. PB says:

    I tried idlis with brown rice. I put 2 cups brown rice, 1 cup urad dal, 1 tbsp of poha, 1 tbsp of cooked brown rice, and a cup of yogurt. It turned out very bad. Was very sticky :cry:
    Also, the batter did not rise although i kept it in warm oven for almost 24 hours. But the idlis taste very sour.
    What could have gone wrong here??? :huh:

    it depends on the type of brown rice, and also the fermentation. try eno if it doesn’t ferment after 12-16 hours. to reduce stickiness, reduce the urad to 3/4 cup. sorry it didn’t turn out well. – b.

  30. PB says:

    Just FYI..I used the long grain brown rice (I think it is the long grain jasmine brown rice). Is it necessary to only use short grain brown rice? Please help!

    PB

    you can use long-grain brown rice. – b.

  31. Mary says:

    Is it not healthy to add yeast to idli batter to ferment?

    If you add yeast, its just the taste and smell are different. –j

  32. Hemalatha Ranganthan says:

    i am making idli maavu.
    Idli rice 4 and 1/2 cups
    urad dall 1 cup
    fenugreek seeds 1 tsp

    how much salt do i use?

    for all our recipes we just salt to taste – maybe a teaspoon would work for you – j

  33. Anonymous says:

    Hi,

    I don’t know if you had tried this. I use a stainless steel vessel to mix the batter for fermentation. I use a pan of water boil it in sauce pan and keep this hot sauce pan with the boiled water on top of the batter. When the water cools down I reheat it and keep it again. Most of the times the subji I make in cooker is kept on top of the batter to give the extra warmth needed for fermentation. May be you could try that too.

    Reshmi

  34. Hi Bee and Jai,

    I do the exact same thing as you mentioned. Soak and grind the batter separately, run my clean fingers to mix the batter. Switch On and then OFF the oven and put the idli batter to ferment. It takes me 24 hours or more for the batter to rise. And even when the batter has doubled in quantity, it lacks the sour taste. For some reason, I don’t get that fermented taste. The ratio that I use is 3(rice):1(dal). Although, I must say that the idlis are soft and spongy.

  35. enjay says:

    Just tried these at home. Another thing I found..when I covered the bowl with cling film overnight, nothing happened. I wondered if the yeast needed to breathe and replaced the cling film with a damp towel. Bingo! The batter is ready to overflow out of the huge bowl I used in 6 hours. Thanks for all the great info!

    thanks for the info…we’ll try that trick next time – j

  36. [...] the most asked question and I may get a frustrated look from some people for my answer..hahaha. How do the idli batter ferment in this freezing cold? And the answer is….. [...]

  37. roopa says:

    I found this post very useful, its so similar to the probs i face, I too dont lik the taste of added yeast in idlis or dosas when some of my friends use that as a method for fermentation, I too started adding the methi seeds. It helps. I too dont own a indian mixie, or grinder, I am currently in the experimental mode of trying various High speed american foodprocessors and blenders :) Till now never found one that is satisfactory though (except blendtec which is way too costly for my budget:(

  38. roopa says:

    Hi i forgot to mention something :) , I have linked this post of yours to one of my post (“Plain dosa with sambar and pickle”) in my blog. Hope you dont mind? ;;)

  39. Pel says:

    I’ve never had a problem getting the batter to ferment…I cover the bowl with a (hacked up) white, cotton dish-towel and a plate. But then, I have a few house-plants that I bring inside in winter, and in summer there is a veggie/herb bed right under the kitchen window. Perhaps tossing a cabbage-leaf or a few grapes into the batter might work too? I heard of doing this somewhere to introduce wild yeast into a bread-dough. I couldn’t imagine dosas or idlis without that unique sour flavour.

  40. [...] of the first recipes I tried in the wet grinder was Jugalbandi’s Whole-Grain Idlis. Yes, I finally have some gorgeous rosematta rice in my [...]

  41. Mints says:

    I have tried almost all the tips as well. The final tip that I use is a keeper for me – put 1/2 cut onion in the batter. It has never failed for me :)

  42. sabina says:

    I used a cup of long grain par boiled rice,a cup of long grain polished rice,a cup and a quarter of urid dhal and some fenugreek.I ground the dhal and the fenu together and then the rice.The batter fermented beautifully but unfortunately the idlis turned out soft and sticky.Thinking it needs more cooking ,I put it for a few more minutes but I got the same results-soft,sticky idlis.What went wrong?

    reduce the urad dal. try using 1 cup. if it’s still sticky, try using 3/4 cup. and don’t grind the rice superfine.

  43. [...] While split urad dal (the white skinned variety) is used extensively throughout India to ferment idli and dosa batters and to make sweet and savouries, whole urad (black lentils) are used only in [...]

  44. PaakaPriya says:

    Hi,
    Thank you for the extremely healthy and delicious recipe! I have made idlis, paddu/paniyaram and dosas with this batter and they were all delicious!!

    Regards,
    Paakapriya

  45. PaakaPriya says:

    I too have trouble fermenting the batter. So your tips were really helpful.

  46. Doli says:

    I tried everything from heating the oven to leaving it overnight :( It still didnt rise. What do I do?

    • Petrea says:

      Hi I use my friends recipe and have never had problems with rising. I soak the BROWN rice, and red lentils seperately, overnite, rinse in morning and grind them together with a bit of water with my hand blender. It sits on the counter, usually on the counter where the dishwasher is so that it stays warm overnight. I might stir it before bed then I let this sit until the next day and steam them in idli trays at dinner time. the ratio is 1 cup rice to 1/2 cup lentils. in her recipe she does 1/2 cup white rice and 1/2 cup brown rice. I have always done it with all brown rice. good-luck!

  47. [...] like to add four extra steps to a 20-step recipe. Just for giggles. I read one recipe somewhere for idlis that went: “Get whole urad. Soak it in water for eight hours. Then rub the skins off. Then [...]

  48. Manju says:

    I thought I’d share my idli/dosa making travails here as well. No matter what I just couldn’t get the batter to ferment in summer or winter and I couldn’t bring myself to add instant yeast or baking soda. I’m afraid the “turn-oven on-and-off any number of times” trick doesn’t work for me. Let me share what worked for me – thanks to bee and jai. I soak the urad dal in the morning and leave it covered with a mesh/colander near my house plants on the window sill or on top of the heating vent in winter. I try not to think of what’s going into the almost uncovered container from the vents or the plants. Next morning I grind it along with some methi (washed only once) and idli rava and again leave it covered with a mesh on top of the heating vent all day. In the evening I preheat the oven to about 150 F and leave the batter in there overnight. Now, at this stage the “turn-oven on-and-off three-times trick” works. Within 24 hours the batter is fermented beyond my wildest dreams by overflowing from the container. I live in the chicagoland area and got this fermentation thingy to work even in the worst winter. Thanks for all the tips guys!

  49. Swati says:

    Hi

    I had left making Idlis because I always faced problem with fermenting the batter. One day I came across your site and read the tips and followed all including keeping the batter near the shoe rack :o ). and I was successful in making soft and fluffy idlis.

    Thanks for the help.

  50. JK says:

    Nice recipe, turned out fluffy, soda-less idlis. For a gujjuben with no idli grinder, it was quite a feat.



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