Steamed Semolina Cakes (Idlis)

Serves 4/5


  • 275g/10 oz semolina
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp crushed dried chillies
  • 15g/½ oz raw cashew nuts, chopped
  • 1 tbs coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp salt or to taste
  • 225g/8oz bio natural yogurt
  • 450ml/15 fl oz soda water

Hot, soft and fluffy steamed cakes (Idlis) served with spiced lentils (Sambar) is Tamil Nadu’s (South India) signature dish. There are two types of steamed cakes. One is made with a combination of rice and lentils which are soaked and ground, then left to ferment before steaming. Ready to use batter is available in Indian stores. This recipe is easier and quicker and I have used soda water to speed up the process further which also makes the idlis deliciously soft and spongy. Idli-Sambar is a complete vegetarian meal which is also balanced and nourishing.

Traditionally, steel idli moulds are used to cook them and Indian housewives use the pressure cooker to steam them. But an egg poacher and a steamer will do the job equally well. You can use several individual microwave egg poachers to cook the idlis in a steamer or a standard egg poacher for which a steamer is not required.


In a mixing bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together (except yogurt and soda water).

Beat the yogurt until smooth then stir into the semolina mixture.

Gradually add the soda water and mix until you have a thick paste which should be the consistency of a cake mix, but slightly moister. If the mixture has any lumps, beat it with a wire beater. Cover the bowl and set aside for 30 minutes (take advantage of this gap to make the lentil dish).

Lightly brush plastic egg poachers with oil (you do not need to do this if you have a non-stick egg poacher). Place 1½ tablespoon of the idli mix into each poacher and steam them for 10 minutes.