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Freshly Steamed Idlis Recipe

Try something new and whip up this favorite Indian steamed cake.

| Winter 2019

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Though considered a timeless staple in Indian cuisine, historians believe that idlis originated in present-day Indonesia, where they’re known as kedlis. Idlis arrived in India sometime between 800 and 1200, and have remained a favorite ever since. Because of their mild flavor when plain, condiments are considered an essential part of the dish. Like dosas, idlis are often paired with chutneys and sambar, but this varies by region in India; in select areas, they’re served with fish curries.

Idlis need special forms in which to steam. These are available in Indian shops and online. I’ve used a four-tier model that steams 16 idlis at a time, and a six-tier model that steams 24 at once. To steam the idlis, place the forms in a pot large enough for them to fit entirely inside, and cover with a tight-fitting lid.


  • 1 serving dosa batter
  • Water
  • Oil, for the forms


  1. Lightly oil the idli forms.
  2. Spoon batter into the forms and gently stack them. Leave room for the batter to expand during steaming.
  3. Add about 1/2 inch of water to a pot and set over medium-high heat. Make sure the water won’t touch the bottom layer of idlis. Once the water is bubbling, gently place the filled idli forms into the pot, cover, and then steam for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the idlis are firm.
  4. Remove the idlis from the forms using a spoon. Clean and oil the molds between batches.
  5. Serve idlis hot with a chutney or sambar.

Want to learn more about Dosas and Idlis? Check out these articles:

This is an excerpt from Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Cultured Foods, 2nd Edition (Chelsea Green Publishing, August 2016), and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.



May 16-17, 2020
Nashville, Tennessee

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