Idli with tomato chutney

Every two weeks my son makes it a point to remind me that I haven’t made idlis in a long time. A long time, being just ten to 15 days. I am not sure why people like idli so much. I myself am not too fond of it. I always loved dosas. These days however, I prefer idlis as they are steamed and do not call for a teaspoon of oil, and I have become conscious that the teaspoons per dosa add up to quite a bit, especially when there is chutney to go with them. My son on the other hand is a thin boy and can afford to eat dosas to his heart’s content without them making handles around his waist, but ironically he seems to prefer idlis. He loves to dunk the soft, fluffy pieces of idli in coconut chutney, let it take all the goodness of the coconut juice. It is quite a sight to see him enjoying a mouthful as he lets his tastebuds take over.

When I wrote the traditional Tamilian idli post for Dawn, the comment section became a ground of discussion as people wised others about types of idlis and some even tried pulling in a bit of politics into the food court. Thankfully idlis ruled and the divisions were stymied as ardent foodies brought the topic back to idli. It however firmly established what I had always believed – that the way to people’s heart is only food! How else does one explain the indignant man who mentioned that my ratio of 3:1 [rice:dal] was totally wrong and that his wife, a wonderful cook made the best idlis by following the ratio of 2:1.

I was intrigued. After-all my ratio had been established by generations of mums and grand mums who lovingly ground ‘ollocks’ [old Indian system of measuring] of rice and dal in their ‘aattukallus’ [manual grinding stones used in India].

Pat (grandma)i would have been flabbergasted at the impudence of the man who suggested a different ratio. But well, times have moved. Though initially distraught I got back her cool and tried the new ratio with the ardent faith of a skeptic.

Since idlis are made ever so often in the TT household the chance came by soon. I first measured 2.5 cups of puzhangal arisi [par boiled rice], rinsed it and soaked. I know, I know it was supposed to be 2 but I could not resist adding the extra half. The skeptic reigned and that is not my fault. When I reached for the ullund [split black gram lentil], I was disappointed to find that I had only 1/2 a cup. Too lazy to go to shop late in the night, I decided to substitute the other 1/2 cup with payatham paruppu [split mung bean lentil].

Next morning the grinding ritual began and as I scraped down the remnants of the batter from the stone I wondered whether the batter would rise as much as the regular one. A teeny weeny bit of my heart wished it wouldn’t. Then I could blame the commentator. To my surprise, I saw that indeed the batter rose. I placed the undisturbed batter in the refrigerator.

This morning I woke up, thawed the batter for an hour and poured ladlefuls into idli moulds, steamed them on high for five minutes and on low for ten minutes, like I usually do. While the steamer cooled I made the cooconut chutney and tomato chutney to go with the idlis. I would have settled for molagapodi some other time but this time I made chutneys just to hide any faults the new ratio might create. The steamer cooled, the plates were laid out. They looked as good as they usually did as they cooled their heels. I took out the small shiny idli removing spoon my daughter had gifted me last year, pushed the spoon round the edges and out plopped the idlis, looking like how they one usually describes them – soft, fluffy, pillowy clouds of white. The mung beans made no difference what-so-ever to the taste, sight or texture. These were indeed as good as pati’s idlis!

The commentator was right in that his wife was a wonderful cook, but happily for me, my ratio is still as good. Besides I decided that the ratio must have been given to his wife by her pati. It is not about the recipe being right or wrong. It is just a matter of preference. Idlis with 2:1 ratio taste as good as idlis with 3:1 ratio. I am assuming that the half cup extra did not make much difference. What is your ratio?

Recipe: Idli made with mung dal and in the ratio of 2:1
Yield: 30-35 idlis


Par-boiled rice (Ukda chaawal) – 2.5 cups
Dehusked, black gram lentil (Urad dal) – 1/2 cup
Dehusked, green gram lentils or mung bean (Moong dal) – 1/2 cup
Fenugreek seeds (Methi dana) – 1 tsp.


Pick, clean and rinse the rice in several changes of water till water runs clear. Soak the rice in water measuring two times the rice measured.

Pick, clean the lentils and fenugreek seeds. Rinse as before and soak the three together in water measuring twice the quantity of lentils measured.

Let the rice and lentils cover and soak for at least six to eight hours till they plump up well.

After the time has lapsed, drain the liquid and grind the lentils in fresh water. Use water just enough to get a fluffy, light batter. Do not add too much water. When the batter becomes as light as whipped cream, remove from the grinder and pour into a large vessel. The batter will rise to twice its quantity as it ferments so choose a vessel large enough to accommodate the fermented batters of rice and dal together. This process may take about 20 minutes.

Drain the liquid from the rice and grind to a soft, slightly grainy consistency. This will take time, about 30 minutes. The water needed to grind rice will be lesser than that needed for lentils. Do not make a runny batter. Pour the rice batter in the same large vessel. Add salt to taste, a teaspoon of til oil.

Beat the batters well to form a homogeneous mix. Cover the vessel and let the batter ferment for about seven to nine hours. This is the time taken in Summers but in Winter it may take the entire day for fermentation.

After the fermentation you can make the idlis immediately or refrigerate for later use.

Making idli

Grease idli moulds or small steel cups and pour ladlefuls of batter into them. If using cups do not fill to the brim. Leave a little space for rise. Do not mix the batter once fermentation has taken place as this will displace the wild yeast.

Using a steamer or a cooker, steam the cups/moulds for five minutes on high heat and later ten minutes on low.

Let it cool naturally. Open and remove the cups. Let the steamed rice cakes cool for about five to ten minutes before demoulding with a sharp spoon.

Serve with coconut chutney, molagaipodi (spicy powder to go with the idlis), and tomato chutney [recipe follows].

You can use any steel cups of any shape to make idlis. Idlis can also be made in a microwave in silicone moulds of your choice.

Recipe: Tomato chutney or Thakkali thogayal
Yield: 1 bowl

Onion – 1/2 cup, diced big
Tomatoes – 1 cup, diced big
Pigeon peas (Tuvar dal) – 1 tbsp.
Bengal gram lentils (Chana dal) – 1 tbsp.
Dried red chillies – 2
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Salt to taste
Oil – 1 tsp.


Warm a pan and heat oil. Add the two lentils and roast till pink. Set aside.

Now roast the dried red chillies till dark and set aside.

Roast curry leaves till crisp but green. Set aside.

Roast the onions till light brown. Remove.

Roast tomatoes with a touch of salt for about ten minutes till wilted.

Grind the above with salt to taste to a grainy consistency or smooth if you like.

Taste, adjust salt, garnish with curry leaves and serve with idli or dosa.


Harini is a vegan food photographer, writer and recipe developer. She also loves feeding birds, reading, watching crime thrillers, and travelling amongst other things.

Previous Post
April 25, 2011
Next Post
April 25, 2011


  • Malin Andersson

    Finally , I got the recipe of Idli with combination Moong- Urad Dal . Thanks for sharing.

  • Vanitha

    Harini, your website is simply awesome. I made the decision to turn vegan in 2010. I tried to follow a vegan diet for a couple of months but had to go back to a ‘normal’ diet the following year. Last year, I made another attempt and was following it successfully till recently. Your blog has just made me want to go back to being vegan again. It’s sensational. It was difficult initially not being able to have support from friends who were Indian and vegan. Based in Australia, most Indians that I know of are vegetarian.

    I have just made the tomato chutney and it’s delicious. The hub loves it and he can’t wait to have it with the idlis. Unfortunately, the idlis are ready made but all good.

    Your pictures, I have been trying to take pics of the vegan desserts that I have made and tried to post them on Facebook but although what I have in mind is pics that look like yours, they do not turn out anywhere close to yours. Just want to say I am really happy I found your blog.

    • Harini

      Thank you, Vanitha! This time please just push a little harder and stay vegan. Its so good for your health and well being too, apart from helping us do whatever little we can to remain non-violent. 🙂 Thank you for the kind words about my recipe and photographs. I must admit a part of me does this because of people like you. 🙂

  • Jayashree

    Read your post for the Dawn, with interest. It is wonderful that you have taken the humble idli to Pakistan 🙂 Also read all the reader comments and was surprised that there is awareness about South Indian cusine in Pakistan.
    I also use the 2:1 proportion for my idlies. I use idli rice and a particular brand of urad dal called Shree gold Urad Dal. The idlies turn out to be really soft and fluffy. Looking forward to more interesting recipes 🙂

  • madhulika

    Didn’t know a simple idli could inspire so many comments :). Amazing but true that 3:1 ratio with a liberal sprinkling of poha can do wonders. This was one of the first things I learnt after moving to Hyd and your post brought back a lot of memories. BTW your photography is amazing, it really makes the food look droolicious:)

  • Aarthi

    This looks yummy….you have a lovely blog…I am having a giveaway in my blog..Y dont you check and join that

  • swati

    I was also a 2:1 person and then I converted to a 3.5:1 person and found that the idli’s were a lot lighter and softer due to the reduced dal. Yours look great and will try with moong dal.

  • Michelle

    You’re so right – each household will have its own way of making idlis. My mum doesn’t like the idli texture, so she always made sannas for us. Now I too make sannas, but with my own additions. Its amazing how generations change recipes to suit their tastes. My grandma would be horrified at how little oil and salt I use in my recipes that I make for eating everyday… even mummy says that my food is always ‘chappe’ (bland)… but then she gets used to it, and she goes back home to India, then complains that the food there is too salty 🙂 Mothers, eh?

    I would probably go with your 3:1 ratio though, sounds more like what my mum would make, if she ever bothered to make idlis (we always got them from the local hotel anyway)

    • Harini

      Hey, my mum feels the same about my food:). She says it is bland and can do with a touch of oil! I somehow don’t really enjoy hotel idli and dosa.

  • Sarah

    Those idlis look gorgeous.. I'm a staunch 2:1 idli-maker and they come out soft and spongy for me all the time 🙂 I think its also in the grinding. The first time I made idlis, I made the mistake of grinding the rice too fine and the idlis turned out like rocks 😛

  • Sanyukta Gour(Bayes)

    First time here..u hv a wonderful space with mouthwatering recipes n pics…
    Visit mine as time permits…
    And this looks so yummy n idlis to the heart core..craving for some of ur soft idlis now…Following uuuuuuuuuuu…..

  • Sanctified Spaces

    Thank you for clarifying the ratio issue.Even I make 3:1 ratio idlis.Now your post has cleared the air.Thanks.

  • Asha @ FSK

    You know I don't like idlis.. perhaps that was coz my mom made awful ones.. really! She is an awesome cook and made awesome dosa batter but idlis not..

    but I am tempted to try these.. i don't know why.. But it is compelling!

  • Curry Leaf

    This is news to me. The 3:1 ratio is whats working for me,thgh I have heard about the 2:1 and also the 4:1 ratios. But moong dal in the regular idli mix is very new to me. Brave Girl you r H to try out the ratio and also with a difference!

    BTW, I too prefer dosas over idlis. I run away idlis as and when possible.

  • Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal

    wow, that is brave of you to try new ratio. Anyways, as surprising it may be, I have never ground batter for Idli or Dosa at home (after marriage). Mom always used to do, but I don't know the ratio. These look good enough to me. I am just afraid of the long process, plus, I don't have a wet grinder, so scared of grinding it in my usual blender and losing blender to idli batter (due to how long it needs to be ground and I am not sure if my blender can run for that long without breaks).

  • Sunshinemom

    Manisha, thanks for sharing your experience. It seems to clear up a lot of things for me. The ldlis in Mumbai (where humidity is high) is different than the ones in Bangalore despite the fact that we use the same ratio and method! Probably climate does make a difference apart from the quality of the ingredients.
    Jayasree hails from the same place as me so probably we tend to use the same ratio. It makes a lot of sense!

  • jayasree

    My ratio is 3:1. Thanks for the moong dal idea to make up for the urad dal. It happens to me sometimes and I adjust the rice accordingly.

  • Manisha

    I don't know who is a Tamilian Brahmin and who is not but until 5 years ago, my ratio was 2:1. It was what Venkatraman-mami used and so we did, too. My Mom made idlis using this ratio in Bombay and in Nairobi. I made idlis with that ratio in Chicagoland. It doesn't work in Colorado. You have to use 3:1 or even 4:1.

    Sala had asked some chefs about secrets to spongy idlis and they said altitude played no role – which makes sense as Nairobi is also about a mile high and 2:1 worked like a charm there. Maybe humidity does? We have single digit humidity for most of the year. Warmth is not an issue as that is managed.

    I wish I didn't have to care about ratio. I just want to reach out for those idlis!

  • Sunshinemom

    Thanks all for your feedback. I just realized that most people use the 2:1 ratio. I guess it depends on how sour and how soft they turn out!

    Pratibha, I don't plan to attend the show as it is too far off for me to travel back and forth.

  • Paaka Shaale

    Oh gosh!!! I had made idlies for breakfast today and your photographs are making me crave for more. Loved the chutneys too!!! Great post Harini 🙂

  • Suman Singh

    Wow, what a beautiful, soft and delicious looking idlis…feel like having some noe..YUM!

  • sangeeta

    Even i make idlis with 2:1 ratio and have tried it with 3:2 too… I like more daal in it…
    I have never tried adding beaten rice flakes , will try it next time…your pictures make me want to soak the rice and daal right now 🙂

  • Prathibha

    The ratios definitely matters harini, it also depends on the quality of urad as well as rice..and ofcourse every family has their own..I use Idli rice for idlis and it comes out super soft,its like mallige soft as cotton…
    I had idli feast last week end and recently even I started making it very often as she started loving Idlis…n I m like you,prefers dosas over Idlis…sorry for such a long comment..:)one more thing,r u going for vicky's show?

  • lady

    I think in most south indian brahmin households the ratio is 2:1, but again I may be wrong. But I feel these ratios, spices and other subtle differences is unique to each community, hence the variety, diversity and taste to Indian cuisine, they different from family to family within a community too.

    In my house its always been 2:1, in fact it was always regular rice , not even paraboiled rice. When idly rava became available, we switched to that.

  • lady

    I think different communities have different ways of making idli…

    In tamilian or any south Indian brahmin households its always 2:1, infact they didnt even use paraboiled rice, it was always the regular rice….later on shifted to idly rava which became available.

    My ratio is always 2:1, but it never comes out as good as my mother or grand mother makes in India.


    What ever the ratio your idles look soft spongy and absolutely delicious.

Leave a Reply