How to Cook Idli in a Pressure Cooker

Soft, spongy, steamed rice cakes, idlis originated in the southern states of India as a breakfast food. Idlis are made with a fermented batter of rice and black gram. Follow these steps to make idlis in a pressure cooker.

Idlis are made with a fermented batter of rice and black gram. (Image: santhosh_varghese/iStock/GettyImages)

A scientific assessment of idlis published by Manipal University in May 2014 notes that they are a good source of protein, calories and B vitamins and that the fermentation process enhances their nutritional profile. This is because the fermentation process involves lactic acid bacteria, or lactobacilli, which also helps preserve food better, according to a December 2013 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology.

If you already have ready-made idli batter, you can skip the batter recipe and go straight to making the idlis. Otherwise, follow this idli batter recipe by Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor to make your own batter from scratch. Keep in mind that the batter has to ferment overnight, so plan accordingly.

Idli Batter Ingredients

  • 1 cup of parboiled rice
  • 1/2 cup of uncooked rice
  • 1/2 cup of split black gram flour
  • 1/2 cup of fenugreek seeds
  • Salt to taste

To try a slight variation on plain idlis, add a little chopped coriander, grated carrot and chopped green beans on top of each idli, according to Indian chef Sanjay Thumma. The veggies will add more flavor, color and nutrition to your meal.

Make the Idli Batter

  1. Soak the rice: Put the parboiled rice and uncooked rice in deep bowls. Wash each of them two or three times. Drain out the water, then add 3 cups of water to each bowl and let the rice soak for at least five or six hours.
  2. Soak the gram and fenugreek: Soak the fenugreek seeds and gram flour in 1 cup of water for at least two or three hours.
  3. Grind the uncooked rice, gram and fenugreek: Drain the water from the uncooked rice and from the gram and fenugreek mixture. Put them in a blender together with 1/2 cup water and blend into a smooth and spongy batter. Transfer the batter to a deep bowl.
  4. Grind the parboiled rice: Drain the water from the parboiled rice and put it in the blender. (You don't have to wash the blender in between). Add 1 cup of water and blend to a coarse consistency. Add this batter to the other one.
  5. Combine the mixtures: Mix both batters together by hand, using brisk whipping motions to aerate it as much as possible. Add salt to the batter, to taste. The batter should have a consistency that will allow it to drop off a spoon.
  6. Let the batter ferment overnight: Cover the bowl with a tight lid and keep it in a warm place to ferment overnight. This is a key step when it comes to making idli batter; a September 2014 study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology found that an increased fermentation time helped make the idlis fluffier. The researchers note that, while many factors affect how the idli turns out, including the quality and proportion of the ingredients, fermentation time is also key. They recommend letting the batter ferment for 10.2 hours.

Once you have your batter, you're ready to make idlis in a pressure cooker.

Set Up the Pressure Cooker

Apart from the pressure cooker, you will need idli molds with a stand and either a muslin cloth or a little bit of oil to grease the mold. If you don't have a stand, you can still make idlis in the cooker without an idli stand; just place the idli mold on a grill instead.

Make sure your idli molds and the stand fit in your pressure cooker. Pour some water in the bottom of the cooker, so that it is just below the level of the lowest mold. If you're using a grill instead of a stand, place it in the pressure cooker and fill the bottom of the cooker with water until the cooker has about 2 inches of water in it.

You won't need the pressure cooker's whistle because you just want to gently steam the idlis, so you can leave the whistle aside. Take the stand out of the cooker and put the cooker on the stove without the lid on, to get the water heating while you put the batter in the molds.

Prepare the Molds

Grease the idli molds with a light coating of oil to keep the idlis from sticking. If you've made idlis a few times and are feeling confident, you can cut out the oil by using a damp muslin cloth instead.

Place the cloth over the mold and pour the batter over it. The cloth forms a barrier between the batter and the mold and prevents the batter from sticking to the mold. Getting the idlis out of the cloth can be tricky, though. The wrinkles in the cloth also leave a few grooves on the sides of the idlis. The cloth is preferred in many south Indian homes, but it does take some practice.

Pour Batter Into the Molds

Use a ladle to pour a little bit of batter into each mold. Aim to fill the mold to about 70 percent, so that the batter has enough room to rise. Avoid overfilling the molds because once the batter rises, it will spill over and make a mess.

Steam the Idlis

Put the stand in the pressure cooker and place the molds on it one by one. Cover the pressure cooker with its lid, making sure the whistle isn't screwed on. Raise the heat on the stove to medium-high. You will start to see steam rising from the cooker. The idlis should take about 10 to 12 minutes to cook.

Once done, switch off the heat and let the cooker cool for five to 10 minutes. Scoop the idlis out of the molds with a butter knife. Wet the knife a bit if it's sticking to the idlis.

If you used a cloth instead of grease, take it out of the mold, flip it upside down on a plate so that the cloth is on top, and sprinkle a little water over the back of the cloth. Slowly peel the cloth away from the idlis. If you're not able to get the idlis out smoothly, try running a little water over the back of the cloth to release them.

Serve the Idlis

Idlis are traditionally served with coconut chutney, sambhar and malgapodi, notes Indian chef Tarla Dalal. They also taste great with a little bit of sesame oil, butter or ghee.

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