Idli Sambar is a hearty, satisfying, comforting, and healthy meal of mellow, chewy idlis served with salty, spicy, and slightly tangy sambar – a vegetable stew made with lentils and assorted vegetables. It’s a winning combination made for each other.
In South Indian cuisine, there are many ways to prepare sambar. I share such a variation that gives you a tasty sambar like the one served in restaurants and hotels in South India.
This idli sambar recipe is super tasty and can be served with South Indian tiffin snacks like dosa, idli, medu vada, pongal, rava dosa, rava idli and uttapam, etc.
It is also one of the best tiffin sambar recipes. This hotel style sambar was damn good with soft and mellow idlis. Oh yes, at home idli sambar and vada sambar are all time favorites. Not to mention our love for the dosa too.
For cooking lentils
▢ ¼ cup arhar dal (peeled and split tuvar dal or pigeon pea lentils)
▢ ¼ cup masoor dal (peeled and split red lentils)
▢ ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder (ground turmeric)
▢ 1.25 to 1.5 cups water for pressure cooking – for a 2 liter pressure cooker
▢ 2 tablespoons of oil (gingelly oil, sunflower oil or peanut oil)
▢ ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
▢ 1 teaspoon of urad dal (shelled and split black lentil)
▢ 4 to 5 curry leaves
▢ ¼ teaspoon of asafoetida (hing) powder
For cooking vegetables
▢ 1 large onion or 10 to 12 small onions or shallots or 90 to 100 grams of onions
▢ 3 medium tomatoes or 220 to 230 grams of tomatoes
▢ 1 to 2 drumsticks – scraped and cut into 2 to 3 inch pieces
▢ 1 medium carrot
▢ 6 to 7 flat beans or green beans – chopped
▢ 1 medium potato – optional
▢ 4 to 5 okra – chopped
▢ 6 to 7 small brinjals (baingan) or 80 to 100 grams
▢ 1 to 1.25 cups of water or add as needed
▢ salt as needed
For the tamarind pulp
▢ 1 tablespoon of tamarind
▢ ¼ to ⅓ cup hot or warm water
Also Read: Baingan Bharta
For the Sambar powder
▢ 5 Kashmiri peppers or byadagi/bedgi peppers or 4 to 5 dry red peppers – reduce depending on the heat of the peppers
▢ 11 to 12 large or 16 to 18 small curry leaves
▢ 1.5 tablespoons of coriander seeds
▢ 1 tablespoon of chana dal (split and peeled bengal gram)
▢ 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
▢ ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
▢ ½ teaspoon whole black pepper
▢ ¼ teaspoon of fenugreek seeds (methi dana)
▢ 2 teaspoons of oil (gingelly oil, sunflower oil or peanut oil)
▢ 1 cup of water to add later or add as needed
▢ a few coriander leaves for garnish
- Rinse both lentils well, then add them to a 2-liter pressure cooker with 1.25 to 1.5 cups of water and ¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder.
- Pressure cook lentils for 7 to 8 whistles or 11 to 12 minutes until lentils are tender and cooked through.
- You can also cook the lentils in a skillet on a stovetop or in the instant pot. I recommend soaking the lentils for about 30 minutes in enough water before cooking them in a saucepan. This helps in the quick cooking of the lentils.
- Once the pressure has built up naturally in the cooker, open the cooker. Mash the lentils with a whisk and a spoon. Set aside.
Make Sambar powder
- In a small heavy-bottomed pan, heat 2 teaspoons of oil. Keep the flame low. First, add the mustard seeds.
- Then add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black pepper, chana dal (gram of bengal), fenugreek seeds, curry leaves and dry red peppers.
- Over low heat, stir constantly and roast until the spices become aromatic and golden.
- Reserve in the fridge. Do not burn the spices.
- Once the spices have cooled, powder them in a dry grinder or coffee grinder. Set aside.
Preparation for Idli Sambar
- Soak the tamarind in lukewarm water for 25 to 30 minutes.
- Later, squeeze the tamarind into the soaked water and extract the tamarind pulp. You can filter the tamarind pulp and set it aside.
- Chop all the vegetables. Cut the onions in quarters or the pearl onions in half. Peel and dice the carrots and potatoes.
- Dice the brinjals and add them to the water to prevent discoloration.
- Cut the tomatoes into small pieces.
- In a frying pan, first heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and let them begin to sputter. Then add the urad dal and sauté until it becomes brown.
- Add the onions cut into quarters or the pearl onions cut in half, the curry leaves and the asafoetida. Stir and sauté for 2 minutes until the onions soften a bit.
- Add the tomatoes, salt if necessary and continue to sauté for 4 to 5 minutes over medium-low heat.
- Then add the vegetables that take longer to cook (carrots, beans, potatoes, drumsticks, etc.) and sauté 4 to 5 minutes over medium-low heat.
- Then add the remaining quick-cooking vegetables like brinjals, ladyfingers (okra), pumpkin, etc. Stir and mix.
- Add the tamarind pulp and about 1 to 1.25 cups water.
- Season with salt to taste. Mix well.
- Cover the pan and simmer until the raw aroma of the tamarind vanishes and the vegetables are almost cooked.
- If the vegetables are undercooked, continue to simmer until they are almost cooked.
Make Idli Sambar
- Add the ground sambar powder that we have already made. Mix well.
- Add the dal puree.
- Add 1 cup of water or as needed depending on the desired consistency. The sambar that is served in hotels is finer. For idli, dosa and medu vada, you can keep the sambar of a medium to fine consistency. Keep the sambar tiffin slightly thick to serve with rice.
- Stir and simmer uncovered for about 6 to 7 minutes or until boiling. Stir at intervals.
- Check the taste and if necessary, add more salt.
- Meanwhile, when you keep the dal for pressure cooking, you can steam the idli. Small mini idli or large idli go well with tiffin sambar.
- When ready to serve, place the idli in a serving bowl. Pour in the sambar. Decorate with a few coriander leaves. You can even pour a little ghee on top. Serve the idli sambar hot.
- You can also garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with dosa, idli, medu vada, uttapam or even with steamed rice.