Perfect Idli/Dosa Batter for Winter

Every South Indian has a special affinity to Idli/Dosa.  Living in a country where half of the year is cold, I found myself very difficult to get a perfectly fermented Idli batter especially during winter.  In our old house, we had our furnace easily accessible and I could stuck the batter next to the furnace and have it  ferment easily.  In our current house, its was either a hit or miss to get a perfectly risen idli batter.  I tried different proportions of rice to lentil ratio and many recipes, but nothing was fool proof.  Until I talked to my aunt who gave me this tip to try and it worked like a charm.

I even experimented further more and got it right every time.  This recipe is for those who cannot get the batter ferment during winter.  If you live in warmer place you don't need to do this extra step.  Even on a snowy day, I can get my batter ferment perfectly.

Here I recommend 2 methods those are fool proof.  The science behind the techniques used is to create humidity and warmer temperature to ease fermentation process.  On a warmer day, you just have to follow the recipe and don't need extra step of soaking for longer time.  This batter works for both Idli and Dosa perfectly.

Hope one of these methods will work for you.  If it works for you, do tag me on instagram or comment.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will try to help you since this was a big struggle for me initially and I am glad to help you.


2 cups - Idli rice

3/4 cup - Urad daal

1/4 cup - Chana daal

1 tsp - Fenugreek/Methi seeds

1/2 cup - white rice flakes/Poha

salt to taste (around 1/2 - 1 tsp)


Batter Preparation

  • Wash each item separately and soak separately except rice flakes.  Rice flakes don't need much soaking time.
  • Soak urad daal and chana daal together in 3 1/2 cups of water after washing it thoroughly.  Cover rice, daals and fenugreek and leave it on the kitchen counter.
  • Here we are using a longer soaking time for the urad daal to slowly start fermenting.  I soak them for at least 14 -18 hrs.  This step is very important for easy fermentation during winter.
  • After it has soaked for at least 14 hrs, discard the water of rice and wash it one more time to remove the fermented smell and drain well.
  • Add 1/2 cup of water to the rice flakes in a bowl.  It will absorb all the water in few minutes.
  • Drain the urad and chana daal water and reserve it.  We need to use this 'Daal Water' to make our batter.
  • Grind soaked rice with 3/4 cup of the reserved daal water into a smooth batter.  Transfer it into a stainless steel pot or pyrex glass bowl that has enough room for the batter to ferment.
  • Next grind urad and chana daal with 3/4 cup daal water into a smooth batter.  During this step, I use 1/2 cup of daal water first to get the daals pulse first into a coarse paste.  I add the 1/4 cup daal water after that, to make it into a smooth batter. Add it to rice batter.
  • Drain the fenugreek seeds.  Grind the fenugreek seeds with soaked rice flakes with 1/4 cup 'Daal water' to a smooth paste.  Add it to the rice and daal batter.
  • Add 1/4 cup of the urad daal water to the blender jar and blend on high speed to get the remaining batter stuck on the jar.  Add this to the batter mix.  So in total, use 3/4 cup + 3/4 cup + 1/4 cup + 1/4 cup = 2 cups daal water.
  • Add salt to the batter.  Now with a clean hand mix the batter well so that everything is combined well.

Fermentation Process
Method 1 - Microwave Method

  • Microwave a cup of water for 2 minutes.  This will create humidity and warmth in the microwave.
  • Close the pot/bowl of batter with a lid.  Place the batter in the microwave along with the cup of water and close the microwave.
  • After 3 hrs, take the batter out and microwave the water for 2 minutes again.  Place the batter again in the microwave with the hot water cup.  Repeat this process every 3-4 hrs.  This is done to create a warmer temperature and humidity inside the microwave.
  • After repeating the above step 3 times, the batter will start to rise.  I get my batter perfectly risen after 3 times.  It takes 10 hrs for me to get the batter risen every time with this method.  Depending on your microwave's heat and your weather, the fermentation time may vary for you.
  • Take the batter out once it is frothy and risen well.  If you are not using it right away, you should refrigerate it to avoid further fermentation. 
  • Make sure to wipe the microwave well to remove all the moisture away that was created during the fermentation.

Method 2 - Instapot Method

  • Set your instapot to yogurt mode, cancel the boil option.  
  • Place your batter in the Instapot's pot.  So if using instapot method, you need to mix the batter in the instapot's steel pot.  
  • Secure the lid and let the pressure valve be set to release any pressure it develops due to heat and humidity during fermentation.
  • Now set the timer on normal mode to 12 hrs.  For me it takes 14 hrs.  It may vary for you based on your weather.  I would recommend to start with 8 hrs first and increment by an interval of 2 hrs based on the progress of the fermentation.  


 Idli rice - you can use basmathi rice instead.  I use Udupi Idli rice from the Indian store.
Chana daal - use urad daal.  So instead of 3/4 cup Urad daal, take 1 cup of urad daal
Rice flakes - you can take 1/2 cup of cooked rice

My Preference

  1. My personal choice is the Microwave method, because it is fast and I can easily check the batter when I want.  If you are curios like me I think you won't  mind warming up the water in the mircowave few times.  For smaller batch like the one in this recipe, I always go with micorwave method.
  2. The instapot method is convenient, but its constant heat from the bottom may get the batter stuck a bit on the bottom and it takes longer to ferment.  When I have to go for a bigger batch of batter to ferment, I use instapot method.
  3. Alternatively you can try fermenting the batter in the oven.  I used to do it initially.   But its more work.   Warm up your oven to 180° F.  Turn off the oven.  Boil a sauce pan of water.  Place the batter in the warm oven along with the pot of boiled water.  Here you are mimicking the microwave method, but in a bigger space.  So you need more water to create that humidity if your oven is big.  Also you need to warm up the oven when the oven turns cold and repeat the process of warming water again and placing it along with the batter, unless your oven has a warm option.  Most of the new ovens have the warm option now a days.  To me this method is more tedious than the other 2 methods I have recommended.


  • Make sure you don't over ferment the batter.  It makes the batter sour and smell bad.  Over fermented batter can easily deflate and will end up in a idli that has lot of holes in it and distorted in shape.
  • The batter should be kept in a container that has at least 3-5 inches of room for the batter to rise.  I take my batter out once it rises up to 3 inches.  This gives the perfect shaped soft spongy idlis.
  • Methi seeds helps in the fermentation process and gives the golden yellow hue to your dosa.  Chana daal helps to give the golden yellow color for the dosa (especially Masala dosa).  The rice flakes gives the fluffiness to the idlis.
  • The fenugreek, urad and chana daal works together to speed up the fermentation.
  • I have tried both the whole husked urad daal as well as the split urad daals.  With this method, it always gives the same result.  I didn't notice any difference with the type of daal.
  • I make sure to soak the rice, daals and fenugreek for at least 14 - 18 hrs.  This step is vital in speeding up the fermentation process.
Tips to prepare perfect Idlis
  • Add enough water in the idli steamer that will stay below the bottom layer of idli mold.
  • Let the water boil before you place the idli molds inside to prepare idlis.
  • Don't pour batter in the bottom mold.  Most of the time, it will end up with soggy idlis due to the moisture build up in the steamer.
  • Use coconut oil to brush your idli mold well before pouring the batter.  Coconut oil helps for a clean release of idlis.  I have tried different oils and coconut oil gives the best result.
  • If your idli mold has different levels, make sure you arrange the mold so that they don't go right on top of each other.  A well fermented batter will rise well and the idli can touch the bottom of the upper level, and it will end up in a distorted shaped idli.
  • I have a 5 level mold and I use only the top 4 levels.  It takes 20-30  minutes to cook the idlis for 4 levels for me.  Since I don't have a traditional idli steamer and I use the regular steamer, the idli molds just fit in tightly without much room on the side and it build up lot of moisture, I keep the steamer lid open a bit to avoid extra moisture build up.
  • Once the ildi is cooked, let the idli cool for 5 minutes before you unmold it.  This also helps to unmold the idlis easier.
Tips for Dosa Batter
  • For every cup of batter, I add 1/4 cup of water if I want thicker dosa.
  • For thinner and crispy dosa, I add 1/3 cup of water to 1 cup of batter.
  • For extra crunchy and restaurant style Masala dosa, add 2 tbsp of Chickpea flour to 1/2 cup of water.  Mix it with every 1 cup of idli batter.  This gives the shiny glazed crunchy masala dosa crust.
  • To make crispy dosa, you need the pan to have the right temperature.  Sprinkle cold water on the pan.  Wipe away the moisture and any trace of oil with a clean cloth or paper towel before you pour the batter on to the pan for each dosa.  
  • Another key is to spread the batter evenly on the pan to get crispy dosa.

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