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The Process of Making Idli

Firstly there are two ways you can make idli.

  1. With Idli Rice: Traditionally idli rice and urad dal are used to make the idli batter.

    Idli rice is parboiled rice and used specifically for making idli and dosa. This recipe post shares the method of making idli with idli rice and regular white rice.

    You can even make idli with short-grained rice. My mom makes one of the best idli with parmal rice. At times I also make idli with the traditional method of using only idli rice.

    Urad dal is also known as black gram, urad bean and black matpe bean. With husks, these lentils look black due to their black husks. With the husks removed they have creamish ivory color and are also called as white lentils.

    The urad dal that is used is the husked whole urad dal preferably unpolished. You can even use husked split urad dal.
  2. With Idli Rava: A second easier way is to use idli rava with urad dal. Idli Rava is coarsely ground idli rice and is easily available in shops and online. I have shared the method of making idli with idli rava in this post – Idli made with idli rava.
  3. Soaking rice and lentils: For making simple traditional idli, first both the rice and the urad dal are rinsed with fresh water and soaked separately for 4 to 5 hours.
  4. Quality of rice and urad dal: Make sure to use both rice and urad dal within their shelf-date. Always use urad dal which is fresh and within its shelf-life. Aged urad dal does not ferment well and makes the idli dense. 
  5. Grinding: Then the lentils (urad dal) are ground to a soft, fluffy batter and the rice to a semi fine consistency. Both the batters are mixed and allowed to ferment.
  6. Grinding Equipments: The grinding of the batters, can be done in a table-top stone wet-grinder or in a mixer-grinder.
  7. Table top stone grinder: Grinding in a stone grinder is helpful if making a large quantity of idli batter. The advantage of grinding in a stone grinder is that the urad dal batter gets ground really well and thus the idli batter ferments also well.

    The amount of water to be added in a stone-grinder is more than what is added in a mixer-grinder.

    For ½ cup soaked urad dal, you can add about 1 cup water. Add water in parts while grinding urad dal. For 2 cups soaked rice, add about 1.5 to 2 cups water.
  8. Mixer-grinder: The lentils also grind well in a mixer-grinder or heavy duty blender like Vitamix. For smaller quantities a mixer-grinder or blender works like a charm.

    Everyone does not have a stone grinder. So I have shared the detailed method on how to grind the batter in a mixer-grinder with plenty of tips and suggestions in the step-by-step guide below.

    I have both a stone grinder and a mixer grinder. For smaller quantities I use the mixie for grinding and for larger quantities I use the stone grinder.
  9. Fermentation: Both the ground lentil batter and rice batter are mixed thoroughly. Then the batter is kept to ferment overnight or for 8 to 9 hours or more till the batter doubles or triples in volume having a pleasant sour aroma.
  10. Steaming: Special pans are used to steam the idli. You can buy these pans online. This idli pan is brushed or greased with some oil. The batter is poured in the pan and then steamed.
  11. Steaming time: The steaming time varies from 12 to 15 minutes. Idli should never be over steamed as then they become dry and dense.
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