A Rava Idli, made with sooji or farina, is an easy, quick version of this perennial south Indian tiffin favorite. My recipe makes soft, fluffy and spongy rava idlis, and it come together in minutes, without the day-long process of soaking and fermenting lentils and rice that goes into making a traditional idli batter. A healthy, vegan, soy-free recipe, can easily be nut-free.
An idli is rather like the Cinderella of south Indian cuisine. Compare her to other stalwart favorites like crispy, flamboyant dosas that spill over your plate, and golden, melt-in-the-mouth vadas, and the Idli comes across as rather humble, even plain. Worse, try eating her by herself and she is, to boot, bland. After all, there's nothing more to a generic Idli than urad dal, rice, and salt.
In our home, idli is a perennial favorite. Both Desi (my resident Tamilian) and Jay love 'em and I end up making them almost as often as I make dosas. But as with dosa, an idli batter, while not at all difficult to make, requires a day-long process of soaking lentils and rice and then blending it all up into a batter, then leaving the batter to ferment overnight.
With Rava Idli, like this one I'm sharing today, you can bypass all of this work and bring your batter together in all of 15 minutes of hands-on time. Another 15 minutes of steaming and you're good to eat.
The process of making a rava idli begins out very much like making upma, another popular south Indian tiffin dish, and the ingredients are also much the same.
You will need a contraption/mold to steam the idlis in that's usually sold in Indian stores or online as an "idli stand". If you're Indian, you are no doubt familiar with this, but if you aren't, it is usually a three- or four-tier steel contraption with shallow, round, concave indentations where you pour in the batter before bunging the whole thing into a steamer. A few minutes of steaming sets the cakes and you can then slide them out with a spoon or a knife to get those little rounds of moon-like idlis.
You can also buy a steamer that the stand goes in, but you really don't need it. You can simply use a large pot or, if you have one, a pressure cooker.
You will need rava or sooji or semolina for this recipe. You can use the one sold in Indian stores or online as "sooji" or "rava" or "farina".
Toast your sooji with the spices until it becomes fragrant--your nose will tell you when it does--before adding the liquids to it.
You can vary up the spices and ingredients you add to your rava idli to your liking. For instance, you could add veggies, like grated carrots or bell peppers or onions. Or you can add in chopped nuts, like cashew. I keep mine simple, with just a few spices and cashew nuts. Keep in mind, if you add veggies, that you shouldn't go overboard if you want your idlis to form and hold after steaming. About a cupful is more than enough for this recipe.
Yogurt adds a lovely lightness and flavor to the rava idli, especially in the absence of the fermentation process an idli would usually go through. I use my own homemade cultured cashew yogurt, but you can use any storebought unsweetened yogurt. Cup for cup, you'll need as much yogurt as sooji for this rava idli.
To achieve the perfect, spongy texture in your idlis, add a dash of baking soda. Indian cooks often use a fruit salt called "Eno"--used to aid digestion--for idli-making, because it has baking soda as one of its ingredients. Unless Eno's all you have, I'd recommend just adding the baking soda.
Rava idlis can be white or yellow--the yellow tinge in mine comes from turmeric, which I add with the other spices. You can always leave it out if you want whiter ones (they won't be as white as regular idlis because of the other spices).
After you've roasted the sooji, add the yogurt and let the mixture sit for 15 minutes, so your sooji has time to absorb the yogurt, before adding the water to make a batter. The batter should be consistent and thicker than a pancake batter.
Oil the idli molds or spray on some cooking spray before you scoop the batter into them. This helps the idlis slide out when they're done. If you skip this step, your idlis will stick!
Steam the idlis in a pressure cooker with the pressure regulator (whistle) off, or in a large pot with a lid that has a vent hole, on high for four minutes and then on medium-low for 10 minutes. A steady stream of stem should emanate from the pot after the first four minutes.
Turn off the heat after the steaming's done, open the lid, and let the idli rack stand for 5-10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the idli and slide them out.
I love eating rava idlis with a coconut chutney. It also goes very nicely with this roasted red pepper chutney or with an onion chutney.
Idli also pairs beautifully with a south Indian dal like this onion sambar or pumpkin sambar.
Depends on what you're looking for. A traditional idli is gluten-free and made of rice and lentils, and it goes through a fermenting process that makes it probiotic and even healthier. A rava idli is made with wheat, but you have an opportunity to add healthy veggies and nuts to it, and it also has probiotic yogurt in it. Rava idlis also, in my experience, tend to be more kid- and crowd-friendly.
Rava Idli Recipe
Vegan | Soy-Free | Can be nut-free
Rava Idli Recipe
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- A pinch asafetida (hing, optional)
- ¼ cup raw cashews (coarsely chopped)
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 1 sprig curry leaves (cut into thin strips)
- 2 tbsp cilantro (minced)
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 2 cups sooji (also called rava or farina or semolina)
- 2 cups vegan yogurt
- 1-2 green chili peppers (like serrano or jalapeno. Deseed or use less for less heat)
- Salt to taste
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 cup grated vegetables, like carrots or bell peppers) (optional)
- Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the mustard leaves and asafetida, if using. When the mustard sputters, add the cashews, ginger, curry leaves, cilantro and turmeric. Saute for a couple of minutes, then skip to next step if not using veggies. If using veggies, add them at this point. Continue to saute a few more minutes until any visible moisture has evaporated.
- Saute for a couple of minutes, then add in the sooji. Roast the sooji, stirring it frequently, for about 5-10 minutes over medium-low heat or until the sooji smells fragrant. Don't leave the sooji unattended on the stove because it will brown fast in hot spots.
- Turn off the heat and stir the yogurt and salt to taste into the sooji. The mixture will be quite thick, but that's okay. Let it stand for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, add water to the batter, until it's slightly fluid but thicker than a pancake batter. Add the baking soda and stir it in.
- Oil the idli molds or spray them with cooking spray. Fill the molds with the idli batter, but don't let the batter brim over. Stop just short of the mold being completely full.
- Pour about an inch of water in a wide pot deep and wide enough to hold the idli rack comfortably, or in a pressure cooker. Place the mold inside and cover the pot with a lid that has a vent hole. If using pressure cooker, leave the pressure regulator off so the steam vents. You don't want pressure to build up inside the cooker, you just want the idlis to steam.
- Let the idlis cook on high 4-5 minutes. By that time you should see some steam venting from the lid. At this point turn down the heat and cook another 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat. Carefully, because there's steam inside the pot, open the lid and let the idli rack stand on the countertop for about five minutes. Use a sharp knife to loosen the idlis from the molds and slide them out.