Dosas & Idlis Recipe

Serve up this tasty South Indian ferment of lentils and rice! Made from the same batter, idlis are steamed while dosas are fried.

| May 2019

Photo by Getty Images/vm2002

Dosas and idlis are South Indian ferments. Dosas are thin pancakes, and idlis are steam-breads, both made from batters born of the same rice-and-lentil fermentation of just a day or two. They share a wonderful flavor, with very different textures. I saw idlis compared with matzo balls in one cookbook, but I think they have a distinctive spongy texture all their own. Dosas and idlis are the easiest, fastest, and most straightforward of the bean ferments included in this book.

Timeframe: 1 to 2 days


  • Dosas require only a well-seasoned griddle or crepe pan.
  • Idlis need forms in which to steam. These are available in Indian shops and via the Internet. I have used a four-tier model that steams 16 idlis at a time and a six-tier model that steams 24. To steam, I place them in a pot, large enough for them to fit entirely inside, covered by a tight-fitting lid.

Ingredients (for approximately 32 small dosas or idlis):

  • 2 cups/400 grams rice (I generally use white rice though I’ve tried it with brown rice and liked it fine, and many Indian recipes suggest using parboiled rice)
  • 1/2 cup/120 grams lentils (most recipes call for urad daal, white lentils, available in Indian groceries; I’ve most often used red lentils, which yield a gorgeous pink batter, and had great results experimenting with a variety of beans)
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Coconut or other vegetable oil


  1. Soak the rice. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, then cover with water and soak for at least 8 hours (longer is fine).
  2. Soak the lentils and fenugreek. Rinse the lentils, add the fenugreek, and cover with water, at least twice the volume of the lentils, as they will double in size. Soak for at least 8 hours.
  3. Grind the lentils and fenugreek into a batter in a blender or other grinding tool. Add soaking water as needed, but as little as possible. Grind it for a few minutes, until it is smooth and fluffy. Scoop out of the blender and into a mixing bowl.
  4. Grind the rice, in a couple of small batches if necessary. Add soaking water but again, as little as needed. Grind into a smooth paste and add it to the bowl with the lentils and fenugreek.
  5. Mix the batter. Add the salt and beat the two batters together into one.
  6. Ferment the batter in a bowl or jar with plenty of room for it to expand, for 8 to 24 hours, or even longer in a cool environment, until it has roughly doubled. Once it rises, make dosas and/or idlis, or refrigerate for later use.

For Dosas:

  1. Add water to thin the batter by adding just a little bit of water at a time and stirring it in until you reach a pourable, spreadable consistency.
  2. Heat a well-seasoned griddle or pan. It should be medium hot, hot enough for the batter to sizzle, but not too hot. Do not oil it, unless you find you need to, and then very, very lightly oil it. This is a case where less is more.
  3. Fry the dosas. Use a ladle or spoon to pour batter into the center of the pan, then use the bottom of the spoon to spiral the batter from the center out toward the edges of the pan. Cook as a pancake, flipping after bubbles appear on the surface. Dosas should be thin, with crispy edges. If necessary, thin the batter by adding a little more water.
  4. Enjoy dosas while they are hot. Eat them plain, with coconut chutney, with a little yogurt or kefir, or stuffed with savory vegetable fillings.

For Idlis:

  1. Lightly oil idli forms.
  2. Spoon batter into them and gently stack. Leave room for batter to expand during steaming.
  3. Steam. Add water to the steaming pot, about 1/2 inch/1 centimeter deep, but not so deep that the bottom layer of idlis will be touching it. Gently lift the filled idli form into the pot, cover, and then steam the idlis 15 to 20 minutes, until they are firm.
  4. Remove the idlis from the forms using a spoon. Clean and oil the molds between batches.
  5. Serve idlis with coconut or other chutney, orsambar, or a delicious spicy vegetable dal.

More from Wild Fermentation:

From Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, © 2016 by Sandor Ellix Katz. Reprinted by arrangement with Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT.

wild-fermentation-cover-smallSince its publication in 2003, and aided by Katz’s engaging and fervent workshop presentations, Wild Fermentation has inspired people to turn their kitchens into food labs: fermenting vegetables into sauerkraut, milk into cheese or yogurt, grains into sourdough bread, and much more. This updated and revised edition, now with full-color photos throughout, is sure to introduce a whole new generation to the flavors and health benefits of fermented foods. It features many brand-new recipes (including Strawberry Kvass, African Sorghum Beer, and Infinite Buckwheat Bread) and updates and refines original recipes, reflecting the author’s ever-deepening knowledge of global food traditions that has influenced four-star chefs and home cooks alike. Order from the Fermentation Store or by calling 800-234-3368.



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