Idli, steamed cakes made of fermented rice and lentils, are a South Indian staple. These fluffy, soft dumplings are one of my daughter's favorite breakfast foods. She eats them with sambar, a lentil-based vegetable stew. That's one traditional way to serve them, but idli can also be eaten with yogurt, ghee and sugar, or with coconut chutney. This idli recipe is adapted from my former mother-in-law's many emails and texts over the years. As with any fermented foods, making idli is a process. The times suggested in this recipe are just guidelines; use your senses (feel, smell) and your intuition as you work through the recipe. The coconut chutney recipe is adapted from my mother's. Learn more about the story behind this recipe in the article These Fluffy Idli with Coconut Chutney Are My Daughter's Favorite Breakfast Comfort Food., March 2021


Credit: Pooja Makhijani

Recipe Summary

2 hrs
16 hrs


Coconut Chutney


Instructions Checklist
  • To prepare idli: Place idli rice in a colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a large bowl and generously cover with filtered water. Place urad gota in the colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a medium bowl and add fenugreek seeds; generously cover with filtered water. Put both bowls in a warm place (the oven with the light on works well) and leave to soak for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.

  • Drain the rice and lentils, reserving 1 cup of the soaking liquid from the lentils. Process the lentils and 1/4 cup reserved soaking water in a high-speed blender until smooth, adding more water if needed. The batter should be fairly thick. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat this process with the soaked rice, cooked rice and 1/4 cup soaking water. Add more water, if needed, to create a smooth, fairly thick batter with a slight grittiness. Transfer to the bowl with the lentil batter.

  • Use your hands to combine the lentil and rice batters. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and leave to ferment in a warm place for 8 to 24 hours, depending on temperature and humidity. The batter is ready when it has doubled in size, is a bit bubbly and has a tangy smell. (Check it by seeing if 1 teaspoon batter floats in a cup of tap water; if it does, it's ready.)

  • Stir 2 teaspoons salt into the batter. The batter should be thick and fluffy but pourable, like a thick smoothie. Add water in tablespoon increments, if needed.

  • Add 2 inches of water to a large pot; bring to a boil. Coat the plates of an idli stand with cooking spray. Fill each depression with a scant 3 tablespoons batter. Stack the idli plates on the stand and transfer to the pot. Cover and steam over medium heat until firm, about 12 minutes. Remove the stand from the pot and let cool for 4 minutes. Unmold the idli using a wet spoon. Repeat with the remaining batter. (Alternatively, if you don't have an idli stand, use a rimmed metal pan in your steamer; fill the pan half-full of batter. Cut the resulting large idli into wedges to serve.)

  • To prepare chutney: Place coconut, green chiles, ginger, cilantro, yogurt, 1/4 cup water, lemon juice and salt in a blender. Process until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl.

  • Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and urad dal; cook, partially covered, until the seeds stop popping and the dal turns reddish brown, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in whole red chiles and curry leaves to taste. Pour the hot mixture over the chutney. Serve the idli warm or at room temperature with the chutney on the side.


Idli stand


Idli rice (a short-grained parboiled rice), urad gota (whole, unsplit pulses—variously called black gram, matpe beans or lentils—that have been skinned; they're yellowish) and urad dal (split matpe beans, aka lentils) are widely available online; Laxmi and Swad are both excellent brands. Offline, Patel Brothers, a chain supermarket that has 54 locations nationwide, carries a very comprehensive range of food products from South Asia.

It's important to use filtered water for soaking the rice and lentils, as chlorine will inhibit fermentation.

Nutrition Facts

4 idli & about 2 Tbsp. chutney
250 calories; fat 7g; cholesterol 1mg; sodium 407mg; carbohydrates 40g; dietary fiber 5g; protein 8g; sugars 1g; niacin equivalents 2mg; saturated fat 3g; vitamin a iu 224IU.