Fermented brown idli and dosa batter

Idlis and dosas are one of my family’s favourite breakfasts. We eat it at least twice a week. I make the batter once a week at least.

What are idlis and dosas?

Idlis are rice and lentil cakes made out of a fermented batter. Dosas can be made with the same batter – these are savoury pancakes.

They can both be served with a variety of curries or chutneys. My kids love them with chutney puddi (a lentil and coconut powder) and ghee (clarified butter). I like it with sambar (a spicy lentil sambar) and chutneys (it could be made with fresh coconut, tomato or onions).

I grew up with dosas and idlis made with white rice, but after my nutrition wake-up, I make brown rice batter. Use the medium grain brown rice, not the basmati version.

White rice is a refined starch which has lost most of its original nutrients. It therefore converts to glucose much more easily.

Brown rice retains most of the B vitamins that milling and polishing destroys. It is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of phosphorus, selenium, iron, magnesium and vitamin B3.

It reduces the risk of colon cancer, lowers cholestrol and type 2 diabetes and so much more. It is especially good for menopausal women as it reduces the risk of breast cancer and heart disease.

Organic urad dhal (split black lentils) is hard to find in Australia, but I’ve managed to find it here – www.santosorganics.com.au

The benefits of urad dhal are many. It is anti-inflammatory, could help breastfeeding mothers increase their milk, is fiber-rich, reduces cholestrol, great for diabetes, etc.

It can be used topically as a poultice for muscle or joint pain. It can also be ground into a flour and used as a face mask when mixed with other beneficial ingredients.

Fenugreek seeds or methi as it is called in India, is very bitter. Evidence shows that bitter foods are very good for our health. So here you are – load up on the fenugreek seeds. It contains Vitamin C and protein and is especially good for the hair (taken internally, or applied externally). I had friends in college who used to put a tsp in their water bottles and drink it through the day. It helps boost your immune system and is used extensively in ayurveda.

Methi helps with digestion, diabetes, increasing milk production in breastfeeding mums and weight loss. It contains high levels of iron and magnesium. A tsp everyday in water is enough to give you all these benefits.

It may seem a bit of a faff, but once you start doing it and do it regularly (like any habit), it begins to seem easy. Try it, you might surprise yourself and your family!

Print Recipe
5 from 3 votes

Fermented idli and dosa

Fermented rice and lentil cakes and pancakes
Prep Time12 hours 10 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time12 hours 20 minutes
Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: Indian, south indian
Keyword: dairy free, fermented, vegetarian


  • 2 cups medium grain brown rice
  • 2 cups urud dhal (split black gram)
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 handful cooked brown rice (optional) could be basmatic
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp bicarb soda if making idlis. Skip for dosa
  • 1-2 cups water Use extra water if required
  • coconut oil / ghee


  • Rinse the rice several times under running water
  • Soak the dhal, seeds and rice in a large bowl with enough water, for around 4 hours
  • Add the water and the cooked rice (if adding) to a high speed blender (I use my Vitamix)
  • Drain and add the soaked rice mix into the blender
  • Blend on low, moving to a medium speed for around 2-3 minutes. Add more water if needed
  • Blend till slightly coarse and not too smooth
  • Pour this batter in a large mixing bowl and use your clean hands to mix it in (the bacteria in your hands helps it ferment even better)
  • Cover the bowl with a tea towel and keep it in a warm spot in the kitchen to ferment overnight (in winter, you can put it in the oven with just the light on)
  • The next day, you can add the salt and more water if you need and mix well (You will find that there are bubbles on the surface of the batter and it has risen a fair bit)

To make idlis

  • Add enough water in the idli steamer to ensure it doesn’t dry out while steaming the idlis
  • Put it on the stove on high heat and bring the water to a boil
  • Add the bicarb to the idli batter
  • If you have an idli steamer, rub a bit of coconut oil / ghee on themoulds and fill them ¾ of the way to the top
  • Put the idli moulds inside the steamer and cover with the lid
  • Let it steam for 7 minutes
  • Keep the lid on and let it rest for around 3-4 minutes
  • Use a spoon to take the idlis out of the moulds
  • If you don’t have an idli steamer, you can use a well oiled bowl or plate with high sides in a double boiler. Depending on the size of the plate /bowl, steam till the idlis come out well formed and not sticky.

To make dosas

  • Start with a flat pancake pan heated over medium heat
  • Season the pan with a bit of ghee and wipe clean with a cotton napkin
  • Pour out a ¼ cup of batter onto the middle of the pan
  • Wait for a few seconds forthe batter to stick, then begin to spread it thinly to form a pancake shape
  • You could then add a ¼ tsp of coconut oil/ghee
  • Cover the pan with a large lid for the dosas to steam and therefore cook quicker
  • Once you see the edges brown, uncover and with a spatula, flip the dosa to cook on the other side
  • Let it cook for about 30seconds and then transfer the hot dosas into a hot box (this is an insulated container that keeps food hot for hours)
  • Serve hot with sambar / chutney / chutney puddi


Do not leave the batter out any longer once it has fermented. This makes the batter very fluffy and the dosas too soft and it doesn't quite form. 
If you don't have an idli steamer, you can use any bowl or high sided plate and put it in a steamer.


Anderson JW, Hanna TJ, Peng X, Kryscio RJ. Whole grain foods and heart disease risk. J Am Coll Nutr 2000 Jun;19(3 Suppl):291S-9S. 2000. PMID:17670.

Cade JE, Burley VJ, Greenwood DC. Dietary fibre and risk of breast cancer in the UK Women’s Cohort Study. Int J Epidemiol. 2007 Jan 24; [Epub ahead of print] . 2007. PMID:17251246.

Johnsen NF, Hausner H, Olsen A, Tetens I, Christensen J, Knudsen KE, Overvad K, Tjonneland A. Intake of whole grains and vegetables determines the plasma enterolactone concentration of Danish women. J Nutr. 2004 Oct;134(10):2691-7. 2004. PMID:15465768.




  1. Jo

    5 stars
    These are so tasty! Easy to make and they get better the more they ferment….and so good to have in the fridge for a quick lunch. Love them!

  2. Sarah

    5 stars
    So delicious and a great alternative to bread for people on a gluten free diet.

    • Gayle

      It is, isn’t it? Thanks for your comment!


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