Lunchbox Series: South Indian Idli

    What will you find in this post ?

    1. Significance of brown rice
    2. Tips to get the  idli batter right
    3. Recipe to make the perfect fluffy idlies                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

    I am so excited to share the great news that Spices and Aroma is in NPR (National Public Radio) blog and I was asked to write recipes for South Indian dishes like idli, sambhar, chutney etc. I am more than thrilled as I feel really glad that my name is on NPR’s page.

    Everybody around me seems to know about brown rice. Thanks to the media for creating an awareness about whole grains. Even a commoner with absolutely no knowledge about health will say that brown rice is healthier than white rice. But how many of us do really know why brown rice is healthy?

    Lets explore the facts today.

    Firstly, lets define brown rice. Food enthusiasts, agriculturalists and doctors would write a thesis on this but lets keep it simple for now. After the harvest, farmers will remove the outermost layer (hull) of the rice kernal and that brown grain is your brown rice. Brown rice has all the nutrients packed and saved inside it.

    When you polish and refine brown rice, we get white rice. White rice is  obtained after removing so many layers like bran, germ layer. Even at this point they are not in pure white color, further polishing is done to get that shiny white shade for the rice. There is one significant layer of the grain called aleurone layer, that’s the layer filled with health supportive essential fats. It is critical for the wholesale vendors to get rid of them because the fats on the surface are more susceptible to get oxidized in the atmospheric air and not removing this layer can lower the shelf life of the grain. So you can imagine how refined your bag of white rice is. Completely deprived of its original nutrients.Yes, vitamin B3, B1 and B6, manganese, phosphorous and iron and all the dietary fiber and good fats are lost. US food laws suggests that the shiny white rice must  be enriched with these vitamins and minerals before selling it in the market. Personally I feel that whats the point in artificially adding them back instead of eating whole grains directly.

    The brown rice bag lying in my pantry reads: 1 cup cooked brown rice has 215 calories 4.99 grams of protein 44.42 grams of carbohydrates 1.74 grams fat

    I started experimenting with brown rice during my pregnancy. Apart from gestational diabetes, I was very particular to feed my growing fetus with wholesome goodness and that continued even after his birth. I started feeding him whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, barley and lots of lentils and legumes) from 11 months and my son is 15 months now and I continue to create new recipes that are with my Indian twists. To read more about the benefits of brown rice, I read through few literature in PubMed.

    Mini idly bites_1

    Why I cook with brown rice?

    1. Brown rice has good amount of manganese in it. Manganese helps to produce stamina and energy in your body and they are a rich source of antioxidants and they are involved in the synthesis of fatty acids which are necessary for a healthy nervous system. Do you remember one important term from our grade 4 science class – Mitochondria, the powder house of the cells. There is an antioxidant enzyme called Superoxide dismutase present inside it. And your body needs a good supply of manganese everyday for the working of this enzyme because manganese is a critical component of this enzyme.

    2. Brown rice keeps the digestive system healthy and for sure you will be regular in your bowel movements. 1 cup of brown rice provides you with 14% of daily value of fiber.

    3. Brown rice is a rich source of selenium. For most individuals following American diet will have lower selenium in their body. 1 cup of brown rice leaves you with 27.3% of DV of Selenium. There are proven research studies to show that there is a inverse correlation between selenium intake and cancer incidence. That is, if you eat more foods with selenium in it, there is less chance to get cancer.  Apart from that, selenium can help prevent heart diseases, asthma attacks and rheumatoid arthritis.

    4. Importantly brown rice keeps you full for longer and do you know why? That’s because they contain complex carbohydrates. This will help you in weight-loss journey too as  you will not be hungry soon. Also they break down to sugar very slowly making it an ideal dish for prediabetic/diabetic patients.

    5. Brown rice has phytonutrients. Researchers has found to types of phytonutrients in food – free and bound forms. Free ones are those phenolics that dissolve quickly and get absorbed into our bloodstream right away. These free forms are found in fruits and vegetables. While with the case of bound forms, they remain intact and get released during digestion by the intestinal bacteria before they can be absorbed. These bound forms are found in whole grains like brown rice, oats, whole wheat. There are more chances for lesser chances of getting cancer by eating a combination of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

    And today I want to share a recipe of a dish that is authentic and true to the place I come from – Southern India. When I started to cook, the techniques and ingredients would have changed with respect to my location but one thing which I had in my mind was that my recipes should be Indian inspired. I take the old and carefully incorporate the global influences to create a new recipe. Since we grew up eating idly for breakfast everyday, I wanted to replace white with brown rice. The process sounds like a simple switch between the grains but the rice to lentil ratio was something that was challenging. With a given batter, making a dosa is simple but getting it right for a soft fluffy idly for bit challenging. Somedays my brown rice idlies would be hard like a stone while somedays it will be flat like a punctured tire. With few testing in my kitchen, I came up with this ratio for my brand of brown rice. And finally I created today’s batter in my Preethi mixie. I am bit lazy to make the batter in a wet grinder. Trust me, the ones made from the grinder are the best. If you have the patience then go ahead using your wet grinder. For lazy souls like me, lets stick with the mixie. Only one thing was key here, just grind the urad dhal for a little longer time. It seems to help the batter rise well and definitely the idlies were soft.


    1. I use 1:4:: Urad dahl: idli rice ratio. If you need perfect idli, use only idli rice. From my experience, basmatic rice or ponni raw rice will work great for dosas but not for soft, fluffy idlies
    2. Grind the soaked urad dahl-fenugreek with flattened rice (poha /aval) and water for 30 minutes in a wet grinder
    3. Once rice is also ground to a thick batter, add salt and mix them all together with your hand
    4. Leave the batter out to ferment overnight at 70 to 75 F. In colder parts of the world, you can leave the batter inside an oven (don’t turn it on) with the oven lights on.
    5. Once the batter has risen the following day ( 10-12 hours later), just mix with a ladle once or twice. That’s it. Don’t over mix it.
    6. I use cotton cloth to layer the idli plates and this helps to make sofy idlis. Serve immediately with drizzle of sesame or coconut oil.
    7. From Anitha Sundar : Amount of urad dal used should be higher if we use mixie. I was using Preethi blue leaf a year ago. Rice to urad dal should be 3:1. Rice should be heaped cup and urad flat. As well u can add 2 spoons of cooked rice while you grind. You will get soft idlies.
    8. From Subramaniam Balaji: Timing is important for steaming and taking out.  I steam for 7 minutes and switch off the stove. Then leave it inside without opening the lid for 7-10min. Steaming for less time doesn’t cook well and if you cook for more time, then the idli turns into a rubber ball. So practise to get the timing right.

    Idly is a fermented rice-lentil cake, eaten for breakfast in South Indian homes and also mixed with water and vegetable puree and served as baby food. These fermented rice-lentil cakes are steamed in an idly rack in a pressure cooker (you can also steam them in ramekins). First, the rice, white lentils, flattened rice and fenugreek seeds are soaked in water for 4 to 6 hours. Then they are ground to a smooth batter using a wet grinder.


    Idly with brown rice and lentils



    • 4 cups idly rice (sold in Indian grocery stores); replace 4 cups idli rice with 4 cups brown rice or 2 cups idly rice + 2 cups brown rice ( I do 50% idli rice-50% brown rice on some days)
    • 1 cup urad dahl/ white lentils
    • 3 fistful flattened and dried rice (also known as poha, and sold in Indian groceries)
    • 2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
    • Enough water to soak and grind
    • 1 tablespoon salt



    1. Wash rice, lentils, flattened rice and fenugreek seeds with running water three to four times to remove any grit or dirt. Soak them all in separate bowls for 6 hours. Remove water and set aside.
    2. In the grinder or food processor, start grinding the white lentils and fenugreek seeds with 1/2 cup water. Let the machine run for 15 minutes until the white lentils turn into a smooth paste. Now add the flattened rice and 1/2 cup water and continue to run the machine for an additional 10 minutes. Turn off the power and transfer the batter to a clean bowl.
    3. Add rice along with 1 cup water to the grinder. Grind to a smooth paste. It takes about 20 to 25 minutes. Add the rice paste to the bowl. Mix using hands or spatula. Add salt and let the batter ferment at room temperature (70 to 75 F). In colder countries, the batter can be fermented by placing in a warm oven. Set the oven to “keep warm” setting, then turn it off after a few minutes to let the temperature drop a bit.
    4. The following day, transfer the batter to the holders on the idly rack and steam in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes. You can also steam them in ramekins in a sealed pot. Serve hot with coconut chutney and sambhar


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    1. Very informative post.. I have heard about the goodness too but we find it difficult to have brown rice as such.. The idli is great idea :).. love the first click a lot.. Idli molaga podia is one of the fav combo..In fact when we go on travels, idli is nicely mixed with molagai podia & left overnight..its tastes amazing the next day 🙂

      Ongoing Event: I'm a STAR

    2. Nice Post and very informative Vijitha 🙂 Love brown rice and will pass this post to my friends as well. First picture is awesome..cute hand:) Feel like cuddling…

    3. Dhara Mistry 8 years ago

      Hey Vijitha, thanks for sharing this informative post. Some how I never bothered to find out what exactly is brown rice and I am very surprised to know that white rice is actually brown rice with layers removed. To be perfectly honest, I've never liked the brown grain, but having it in the from of idli should be more appealing! However, I haven't actually mastered the art of fermentation yet. Whenever, I try to ferment something for dhokla or idli, I fail miserably! Too many experiments, ingredients and emotions have have been wasted on this! May be I don't grind the batter to right consistency. So, any tips will be appreciated 🙂

    4. very nice and Informative post Vijitha!…tho my kids havent still come to like brown rice in rice form…me and my husband eat brown rice for dinner every night…only weekends we tend to get distracted.
      For kids..its in idlis, dosas…have you tried Brown rice Bisi bele bath!

    5. lovely post… Is there a particular band of brown rice you use ? Indian store or regular grocery store. I would like to try it. Thanks for the lovely post!

    6. I have been wondering abt brown rice for quiet sometime now. With a husband like mine, introducing Brown rice into our daily meals wouldnt be easy. But when it comes to dosa and idli i am given the freedom to explore.. so next time i go for grocery shopping i am gonna start with my experiment..

    7. thats an awesome idea. am wondering why this dint occur to me…I will do this from now on.thanks for the info and this idea.

    8. that was a fab post…. very very informative… keep up the good work.

    9. Great tips Viji.I love brown rice and the nutty flavour it has though the hubby doesn't. Maybe he will eat it in this form! And do hug that little hand model for me 🙂

    10. Beautifully written post, I can see the researcher in you here :-)Love brown rice

    11. I am so much in to Brown rice these days. In fact while I am commenting I am enjoying my brown rice pudding and loving it. It is so light 🙂 Planning to make your idlis soon!

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    13. Nellie Chappell 6 years ago

      Looking forward to trying this recipe s2wC

    14. ishita 6 years ago

      Very nice and informative post. I would love to try this, like many others my family would not like brown rice in any other form.
      I do make khichdi of brown rice which is quite yummy
      I am little confused about the proportion of brown rice. Is it 4 cups of brown rice instead of 4 cups of idli rice??

      • Sorry Ishita. The steps are little confusing. I will fix it now.

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