Idli Recipe in Instant Pot (Steamed Rice Cakes)

June 12, 2020 By Aneesha |

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Idli is a savory steamed rice cake made with fermented rice and lentil batter. This popular South Indian treat is commonly enjoyed with sambar and chutney for breakfast. Learn how to make pillowy soft idli in the Instant Pot from homemade or store-ready idli dosa batter, in 30-minutes!

stack of homemade idli on black plate

Soft, fluffy and delectable, idli-Sambar was one of my favorite Sunday brunches growing up. It wasn’t that frequently made, which made it even more special for me. I would wake up to the smell of piping hot sambar and it was my job to make Idlis 15 minutes before serving 🙂

And now, it’s a favorite in my home too. I make it often since my girls love it.

Light & Healthy South-Indian Treat

For the longest time, idli has been making South Indian cuisine proud. The unique characteristic of idli is that it is steamed, which makes these delicate rice cakes light and incredibly delicious.

Plus, idli is made from a fermented batter of rice and lentils that is good for your health and gut flora. And packed with a ton of plant-based protein.

These pillowy soft steamed rice cakes are extremely popular nationwide. It is considered to be one of the most delicious snacks and popular street foods throughout India.

The real trick behind making perfect Idli is learning how to make a foolproof idli batter, using the Instant Pot. I can assure you, with that easy-to-master batter, Idli-Sambar will become a regular addition to your breakfast or brunch table.

steamed idli on black plate with coconut chutney and sambar in two bowls

What is Idli?

Idli, or Idly, are soft steamed rice cakes made from a fermented batter of idli rice and urad dal (split black lentils).

Lentils and rice are soaked for 6-8 hours, then ground to a fine consistency. These two batters are then combined and left to ferment in a warm temperature controlled environment, for 10-12 hours (or longer depending on the weather).

Fermented batter is poured in a special idli-steamer and cooked for 10-15 minutes to get perfectly soft, spongy idli. This traditional Southern Indian treat is most often eaten for breakfast with sambar and coconut chutney.

Health Benefits of Idli

In India, idli is considered one of the healthiest protein-packed breakfasts for many reasons. These include:

  1. This plant-based dish is naturally vegan and gluten-free.
  2. Steaming at low gentle heat for a short amount of time ensures that the protein and nutrients remain intact.
  3. It is a low-calorie dish as the rice cakes are steamed rather than fried or slathered in butter.
  4. The lactic acid build-up in fermented foods enables a more efficient breakdown of minerals and vitamins in our body, which helps in digestion.
  5. The fermented batter further aids in the bioavailability of proteins and B-vitamins, which encourages a healthy gut flora.

In the simplest terms, idli are easily digestible as the rice and lentils are soaked, ground, fermented and steamed.

Perfect Idli Batter in the Instant Pot

Growing up eating primarily Punjabi cuisine (north-indian), I never really had a family recipe for Idli batter.

When I first started making Idli batter at home, I would have a hard time getting the batter right. Sometimes it would not ferment and rise enough. And if the batter didn’t rise properly, the idlis would be hard and flat.

But once I started fermenting the batter in the Instant Pot , it gave consistent results that made light and fluffy idli every time. And that’s because electric pressure cookers create a uniform temperature controlled environment for the batter to ferment evenly.

Here’s the detailed recipe for homemade Idli Dosa batter.

fermented rice and lentil batter in stainless steel bowl with spoon
Fermented Idli Batter

Ingredients & Notes- Homemade or Store-Bought Batter

  • Homemade: All you need to make idli is homemade idli batter. It does take some practice getting the batter right, but I go over all my tips and tricks in this detailed Idli Dosa Batter post.
  • Store-Bought: If you are short on time, store-bought idli batter is a great option. Look for it in the refrigerated section in Indian or international grocery stores. My preferred brand is Shashta.
  • Consistency: The consistency of the batter should be like waffle batter- neither too thick, nor too runny.

Once you have the batter ready, it’s time to steam the idli!

Accessories Needed – Idli Stand

Idlis are traditionally made in a special steamer, called idli stand or idli mold.

It is a stack of stainless steel plates (usually 3 or 4), and each plate has four (or three) concave depressions where the idli batter is poured. These days, idli stands are available in different sizes and forms, including options for the microwave and stovetop.

The Idli stand I used is a stainless steel 4-rack idli stand that makes 16 idlis total (easily available on Amazon). It’s lightweight, dishwasher safe and durable (not a paid promotion, I’m just a happy customer).

There is also the option to make mini idlis with a 4-rack stainless steel mini stand which will make 72 mini idlis. But the cooking time will vary.

As far as the stovetop idli maker, different brands are compatible with gas, electric and/or induction stoves, so it is best to check with the one that is suitable for you. Stovetop idli makers are great, but lack in heat and time consistency.

I have tested this recipe with a stainless steel stand compatible with the Instant Pot.

steamed idli on black plate with coconut chutney and sambar in two bowls

How To Make Idli in the Instant Pot – Step-by-Step Instructions

These steamed rice cakes are ready in under 30 minutes with the Instant Pot and an idli mold. Simply:

1. Start with room temperature batter

  • Whether using homemade or store-bought batter, it should be at room temperature for best results. If using refrigerated batter, remove it from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.

2. Turn On Instant Pot

  • Turn on Instant Pot Saute mode and adjust it to High/More. Add water to the steel insert and heat it until it begins to boil. (Tip: cover the pot with a glass lid to speed up the boiling process)
boiling water in instant pot

3. Grease Idli Mold

  • While the water is heating, grease the idli molds with oil or ghee using a kitchen towel or pastry brush.
one hand greasing idli molds

4. Fill Idli Molds

  • Add a ladle full (little less than 1/4 cup) of batter in each mold.
Four idli molds filled with batter

5. Assemble Idli Stand

  • Assemble the steel plates back in position and screw back the top to lock the idli stand.
idli batter in mold stand

6. Steam Idli

  • Place the idli stand in the Instant Pot. Select the ‘Steam’ function and adjust to High pressure. Turn the steam vent to ‘venting’ position and lock the lid in position. Since the steam function doesn’t have a built-in timer, using an external timer set at 12 minutes.
  • After the time is up, hit Cancel. Follow the quick release method to release any pressure that may have built up due to steam. Carefully open the lid and remove the idli stand.
  • Let it rest for 5 minutes. This prevents the idli from sticking to the mold. Using a paring knife or a spoon, run around the mold to release the idli from the mold.
idli batter in mold

Alternative Method: Microwave Idli

As an alternative, you can also make microwave idli using this microwave Idli maker when you are short on time. Simply:

  1. Grease and fill idli mold (little less than 1/4 cup batter) in each mold.
  2. Microwave on HIGH for 4 minutes and 30 seconds.
  3. Carefully remove from the microwave – the mold will be hot! Remove the lid.
  4. Check for doneness, the idli are fully cooked when the center springs back to the touch. If idly are not cooked, place it back in the microwave for another 30-45 seconds.
  5. Let rest for 5 minutes. Then, run a paring knife around the mold to release the idli.

Serving Suggestions

I love the traditional way to serve idli- with sambar (split pigeon pea and vegetable stew) and coconut chutney. In India, these three accompaniments are enjoyed as a healthful and filling meal for breakfast or brunch.

steamed rice cakes on black plate with sambar and coconut chutney

Different Types of Idli Recipes

This is a basic idli recipe for those new to this popular Indian snack food. But once you master the basics, there are a number of different types of idli recipes to try:

  • Rava Idli – a quick variation made with semolina (rava) that can be filled with a number of different nuts, vegetables and seasonings
  • Poha Idli – This Instant idli batter is made with poha (flattened rice), idli rava and yogurt. No fermentation needed.
  • Oats Idli – quick oats batter recipe that does not need fermentation
  • Ragi Idli – nutritious idli made with millet flour, parboiled rice and urad dal
  • Kanchipuram Idli – well-known variety of idli spiced with cumin, ginger and pepper

Recipe Tips & Notes

  • Learn all the tips and tricks to homemade idli dosa batter beforehand. This detailed idli batter post is a wonderful jumping-off point to making idli at home and will ensure success in this idli recipe.
  • Consistency: The consistency of the batter should be like waffle batter- neither too thick, nor too runny.
  • Use idli dosa batter within the first two days to make idli. This will produce the fluffiest rice cakes possible. The remainder can be used to make dosa (crisp savory crepes) or Uttapam (savory pancakes).
  • Store-Ready batter: If using store-bought batter, remove it from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.
  • Rest Idli for 5 minutes. This prevents the idli from sticking to the mold.

Commonly Asked Questions for Idli

What are idlis made of?

Idlis are made from ground rice mixed with ground urad dal, salt, methi (fenugreek seeds) and water. The mixture is allowed to ferment prior to being steamed in an idli steamer. Learn how to make homemade idli (and dosa) batter.

Which rice is best for idli?

Use idli rice to make the batter. This is short-grain parboiled rice easily available in Indian grocery markets or online. If it is unavailable, use any type of short-to-medium size parboiled rice. I do not recommend long-grain rice for idli recipes.

What does idli taste like?

Idli is made from a fermented batter, so the taste is distinct and somewhat sour (think of the taste similar to a sourdough bread). The addition of fenugreek seeds (methi) will also impart a subtle savory flavor.

Is idly good for health?

Idli is said to be light as it contains no fats, saturated fats or cholesterol and is made up of rice and lentils. It is considered a healthy treat due to its lightness and nutritional value.

Why did my idli not rise? Why are my idlis flat?

The main reason idli do not rise and remain flat is the use of too much water in the batter or lack of fermentation. I highly recommend reading through idli/dosa batter. I go over the proper amount of water needed, along with a number of tips and tricks for perfect fermentation.

More Indian Batter Recipes Like This

  • Rava Idli – soft, fluffy, steamed semolina cakes made in the Instant Pot in just 30 minutes
  • No-Fry Onion Spinach Pakora – crispy, golden brown and irresistible vegetable fritters

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stack of homemade idli on black plate

Idli Recipe in Instant Pot (Steamed Rice Cakes)

Learn how to make pillowy soft idli in the Instant Pot from homemade or store-ready batter in 30-minutes! Enjoy this popular South Indian treat as a healthy breakfast or snack.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate Recipe
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 22 minutes
Servings: 16 Idli
Calories: 81kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 3 cups idli batter (may need more depending on idli size)
  • ghee or oil, for greasing

Instructions

1. Start with room temperature batter

  • Whether using homemade or store-bought batter, it should be at room temperature for best results. If using refrigerated batter, remove it from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.
    idli and dosa batter in stainless steel bowl with spoon

Turn On Instant Pot

  • Turn on Instant Pot saute mode and adjust it to high/more. Add water to the steel insert and heat it until it begins to boil. (Tip: cover the pot with a glass lid to speed up the boiling process)
    boiling water in instant pot

Grease Idli Mold

  • While the water is heating, grease the idli molds with ghee or oil using a kitchen towel or pastry brush.
    one hand greasing idli molds

Fill Idli Mold

  • Add a ladle full (a little less than ¼ cup) of batter in each mold.
    idli batter in molds

Assemble Idli Stand

  • Assemble the steel plates back in position and screw back the top to lock the idli stand.
    idli batter in mold stand

Steam Idli

  • Place the idli stand in the Instant Pot. Select the ‘Steam’ function and adjust to High pressure. Turn the steam vent to 'venting' position and lock the lid in position. Since the steam function doesn't have a built-in timer, using an external timer set at 12 minutes.
    idli batter in mold
  • After the time is up, hit Cancel. Follow the quick release method to release any pressure that may have built up due to steam. Carefully open the lid and remove the idli stand.
  • Let it rest for 5 minutes. This prevents the idli from sticking to the mold. Using a pairing knife or spoon, run around the mold to release the idli from the mold. Serve warm with sambar and coconut chutney.

Alternative Method: Microwave Idli

  • Grease and fill idli mold (a little less than 1/4 cup batter) in each mold.
  • Microwave on HIGH for 4 minutes and 30 seconds.
  • Carefully remove from the microwave – the mold will be hot! Remove the lid.
  • The idli are fully cooked when the center springs back to the touch. If idly are not cooked, place it back in the microwave for another 30-45 seconds.
  • Let rest for 5 minutes. Then, run a pairing knife or spoon around the mold to release the idli. Serve with sambar and coconut chutney.

Notes & Recipe Tips

  • Learn all the tips and tricks to homemade idli dosa batter beforehand. This detailed idli batter post is a wonderful jumping-off point to making idli at home and will ensure success in this idli recipe.
  • Consistency: The consistency of the batter should be like waffle batter- neither too thick, nor too runny.
  • Use idli dosa batter within the first two days to make idli. This will produce the fluffiest rice cakes possible. The remainder can be used to make dosa (crisp savory crepes).
  • Store-Ready batter: If using store-bought batter, remove it from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.
  • Rest Idli for 5 minutes. This prevents the idli from sticking to the mold.
 
Note: The nutrition facts below are my estimates based on 16 idli. These may vary depending on the size of idli you make. If you are following any diet plan, I recommend cross-checking with your preferred nutrition calculator.

Nutrition

Calories: 81kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 2mg | Sodium: 2mg | Potassium: 13mg | Fiber: 1g | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 3mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Breakfast, Side Dish
Cuisine: Indian
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Keyword: Idli, idli recipe, instant pot idli
Did you try this recipe?Mention @SpiceCravings or tag #spicecravings!

HEY! NICE TO MEET YOU!

Aneesha holding a glass of white wine Hi, I'm Aneesha, a foodie by birth and the mind, body and soul behind Spice Cravings. Here I share quick, easy & healthy Indian & global recipes that are low in effort and big on taste! A recipe doesn't make it on the blog unless it is tested multiple times and gets a thumbs-up from my taster-in-chief, my husband, and my teen-chefs, my twin girls!

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