Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Batter Basics

This goes out to all the novices in the cooking world. Good batter is the base for a variety of South Indian tiffin items, hence this post. I have seen many people grind separate batters for idly and dosa, but I use the same batter for both.
I usually use the batter for making idlys, the first few days after grinding, then move to uthappams and then finally to dosas. It is the urad dal in the batter that contributes mainly to the fluffiness of the idlys. So, after a few days, the dal settles down and you stop getting the spongy idlys that everybody loves. At this point, you can dilute the batter a little bit and start making uthappams and dosas.
I have been using a wet grinder only for the past one and half years, till then it was my reliable Preethi Mixie, so it works well either way.
This is the proportion that I follow. You can change it according to your needs. Keep in mind the rice-dal ratio.  


Idly Rice/Brown Rice – 3 cups (I have used a combination of both)
Urad dal – ¾ cup
Methi (fenugreek) seeds – 1 – 1 ½ tsps
Poha / Aval – 2 tbsps (optional)
Water – for soaking and grinding
Salt – 2 tbsps or to taste
Soak the rice and dal separately for a minimum of 4-5 hours.

Alternate Ingredients

Raw rice 2 cups
Urad dal 1 cup
Methi seeds 1 tsp
Salt to taste

Soak the rice and dal separately for 3-4 hours.


You can soak it overnight if you plan to grind it in the morning. Soak the methi seeds with the dal/rice. If you are using poha, soak it with the rice. It doesn’t need to soak that long, but it helps to add it off in the beginning if your memory is as good as mine!
Wash the soaked rice and dal. 
  • If using a Grinder
Grind the dal first. I usually pour in some water along with the dal, turn on the grinder and pour more water if required. Cover and let it go for about 20 minutes, or until smooth. The batter would have risen well during the process. This gives the batter good volume and also lends to the texture of the idlys.
Remove into a container and grind the rice and methi seeds. This again takes about 20 minutes, a little longer if it is brown rice. (This is my observation, might work differently with different rice and grinder varieties.) Once you have a smooth batter, mix into the urad dal batter. Add salt and leave for fermentation. 
  •  If Using a Mixie/Blender
Grind the urad dal first, adding water as required. Make sure the motor doesn’t get too hot. In that case, take a break and come back to the grinding once it has cooled a bit. Grind until smooth and remove into a container. Now grind the rice and methi seeds until they form a smooth batter and pour into the urad batter. Add salt, mix well, cover and leave for fermentation.

The Fermentation Process

In hot, humid places like Chennai, the batter needs no extra help to ferment. But here in California, which is considerably warmer than other parts of the USA, my batter refuses to rise without external help. It is okay during the summer but once the temperature starts to drop, my batter stops rising.
Here is what I do, I turn on the oven light and the batter goes into the oven to ferment. The light provides the required heat for the process. 
Now those of you who do not have ovens with lights must be wondering, “What do we less fortunate people do?” Not to fear ladies and gentlemen, I have a solution. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F, turn it off and place the batter inside. If you are doing this during the day, check in between to see if it is too cold inside. Remove the batter, heat the oven again and put it back in.  
Well fermented batter would have risen and will smell a little sour. You can use it immediately to make idlys, or place it in the refrigerator for later use.
Note - When choosing a container, pick one which leaves enough room for the batter to rise. Else you will wake up to a messy oven (personal experience).
My Grinder

Soaked Brown and White Rices

Soaked Dal and Methi

Ground Dal

Ground Rice

Before Fermentation
Process Begins
After Fermentation



  1. wonderful post Aparna, not just for beginners :), I am using my blender for grinding. But I guess grinder gives the best results..

  2. lovely post of step by step explainations!

  3. Thank you Sobha. Yes, the grinder definitely gives the batter a better texture.

    Julie, thank you.

  4. Thanks for the post.. I have had issues with the batter fermentation, even tried adding soda before the process, will try the oven heating kids will die for those idli's... but we have to wait for summers to enjoii idli' if I am successful, will enjoy in winters also. Thanks again
    Love Ash.

  5. My pleasure. Do try it and let me know the results :-)