Kanchipuram Idli

Recipe 15 min, plus fermentation timePreparation Time 25 min Cooking Time

Kanchipuram Idli

15 min, plus fermentation timePreparation Time 25 min Cooking Time

About this Recipe

A visit to the medieval Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, is a unique culinary experience. Here, in the temple kitchen, is where the famous Kanchipuram idli is made. The story goes that a Vijayanagar king (14th-17th century A.D.) ordered that this offering be made to the deity. The cooks faithfully follow the recipe that is centuries old, steaming a batter made of rice and lentil in fragrant mandarai (bauhinia) leaves. The idlis are sanctified in the shrine by the temple priests and shared with devotees and visitors as prasad. As a blessed offering, the Kanchipuram idli is a symbol of gratitude and nourishment.

The Benefits

A fermented, fiber-rich urad dal and rice batter includes probiotic, gut-friendly microorganisms vital for good digestion. Using bauhinia leaves as covering for steaming the idli protects the food from loss of nutrients and helps seal in flavor. Seasonings like black pepper, ginger, and fenugreek are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory benefits. The addition of yogurt makes this a blessing for the gut. 

Note: Fermentation time for idli batter varies according to ambient temperature. In warmer climates, you need 8 hours. In colder places, leave the batter to ferment overnight in a warm place or an oven with the light on. Store any leftover batter in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Bring refrigerated batter to room temperature before using.

Equipment: Steel tumblers, steamer


Serves 4 to 6
  • 2 cups (400 g) idli rice, soaked for 4 hours
  • 1 cup (250 g) black urad dal (whole black gram), soaked for 4 hours
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds, soaked for 4 hours
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp (3 g) black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp (6 g) cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp dried ginger powder
  • 1 tsp asafetida
  • 9-10 curry leaves
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp (60 ml) sour dahi or yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp (30 ml) cold pressed sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp (30 g) ghee
  • 10 mandarai leaves


  1. Step 1
    Drain the rice, urad dal, and fenugreek seeds. Combine and grind in a wet-dry grinder or a food processor to a coarse batter, adding water as needed.
  2. Step 2
    Coarsely grind the black pepper and cumin in a mortar pestle or a spice grinder. Stir the ground spices into the batter, along with dried ginger powder, asafetida, curry leaves, and salt. Add the curd, oil, and ghee. Cover and rest in a warm place in your kitchen to ferment for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  3. Step 3
    Fill a steamer with water up to 2 or 3 inches high. Place the steamer rack, cover the pot, and boil the water. In the meantime, line the tumblers with mandarai leaves. Start by cutting or folding some of the leaves into a round shape to line the bottom of the tumblers. Roll the remaining leaves into cylindrical shapes and line each tumbler (see video for demonstration). Spoon the batter into the leaf-lined tumblers until 3/4 full and place them inside the food steamer. Cover the tumblers using the remaining mandarai leaves. Cover the steamer pot with the lid and steam the idlis on medium heat for 25 minutes.
  4. Step 4
    With a kitchen towel, carefully remove the tumblers and let cool for 10 minutes. Invert the tumblers on a plate to remove the idlis. Peel off the leaf wrappers, slice the cylindrical idlis into discs, and serve warm with milagapodi and a dollop of ghee.

Substitutions: Can’t find mandarai leaves? Use banana leaves instead.

About the author

Rakesh Raghunathan

Rakesh Raghunathan

Rakesh Raghunathan is a popular South Indian food historian and TV show host. An abiding love for food and endless curiosity led him from a career in management to becoming a collector of South Indian recipes, food history, and culinary traditions, particularly temple and tribal foods.
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