Idli Sambar is a South Indian breakfast meal where soft fluffy steamed cakes known as idli are served with sambar, a vegetable lentil stew. Idli sambar is made with lentils, plenty of spices, mixed vegetables and herbs. Make this amazingly delicious and easy idli sambar at home for a hearty, protein packed and flavorsome meal. It is also known as tiffin sambar & is served with South Indian tiffins/breakfasts such as Soft Idli, Rava idli, Crisp medu vada, khara Pongal, crispy dosa, masala dosa and bonda.
This is my version of the quick tiffin sambar made with dal, quick cook veggies, spices and herbs. There are few different ways a sambhar is made, one of them is this South Indian sambar which I shared earlier.
But today’s recipe is made in a very simple method using quick cooking veggies like shallots, carrots and beans. Hence it doesn’t take much time to prepare and can be made even in the early morning.
I am also sharing how to make instant sambar powder just enough for this recipe. I always make this tiffin sambar with homemade powder. If you are new to making Indian food, then do check out the tips below.
On most weekdays, we eat the typical South Indian breakfast like idli, dosa, pongal and pesarattu since they are high in protein and healthy as well. This tiffin sambar goes so well with just anything.
Sometimes I make mini idli for dinner when the kids ask for it. This sambar along with the mini idli and ghee is one of my kids’ favorites.
How to make Idli Sambar (Stepwise photos)
1. Add ¾ cup dal to a pressure cooker and rinse it very well a few times. I use ½ cup toor dal and ¼ moong dal as moong dal gives a nice texture. Hotels use masoor dal instead of moong dal. Then pour 2 cups water and pressure cook for 2 to 3 whistles until soft. You can also add a piece of red pumpkin to the dal.
2. When the pressure releases naturally, open the lid and mash it well to very smooth texture. If using red pumpkin, mash that as well to smooth. That lends a unique sweet flavor that we often find in South Indian Hotels.
Make spice powder
3. While the dal cooks, make the sambar powder if you don’t have. On a medium to low flame, dry roast the following until light golden.
- 3 to 4 dried red chilies
- 1 tablespoon chana dal
- ½ tablespoon urad dal
4. When the dal turns light golden add 1 tablespoon coriander seeds. Dry roast until they begin to smell good. Remove to a plate. Then add ¼ teaspoon methi seeds. Roast until the methi seeds turn slightly dark. Then add ½ teaspoon cumin seeds. If using coconut you can add it now and saute for a minute. This time I did not have so i skipped it. Cool this and make a fine powder.
5. Soak 2 tablespoons tamarind in hot water. You can also use tamarind paste as needed.
6. Heat 1 tablespoon ghee or oil in a pot. Add ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds, ¾ teaspoon mustard seeds and 1 pinch of methi seeds. When the seeds begin to splutter, add 1 sprig curry leaves and 1 broken red chilies. Saute until the red chilies turn crisp. Add 1 pinch hing. I set aside half of this tempering to add at the end.
7. Add 12 to 15 shallots (or 1 medium diced onion), 1 medium sized carrot diced and 6 to 8 french beans (chopped to ¾ inch).
8. Saute all of them for 3 minutes.
9. Add 1 large chopped or mashed ripe tomato, 1/8 teaspoon turmeric and ¾ teaspoon salt.
10. On a slightly high heat, saute until the tomatoes turn mushy. Since they are fine chopped they get cooked fast.
Make Idli Sambar
11. Add sambar powder and red chilli powder if using. Saute for a minute without burning. This brings out the aroma of sambar powder.
12. Pour 4 to 4½ cups water and add a bit of jaggery. It is optional to use jaggery. Adjust the quantity of water as needed. Since I use moong dal I add more water. With only toor dal or masoor dal, you will need less water.
13. Cook until the veggies are soft cooked. Filter tamarind to the pot. If you do not like the flavor of tamarind, you can boil the sambar for a while before adding the dal.
14. Add mashed dal to the pot. Dal must be mashed completely. Mix and allow to bubble. Taste test and add more salt, tamarind & jaggery as needed.
15. Add chopped coriander leaves. Optionally you can make a fresh tempering the same way I showed in step 6. I added the tempering that was set aside. When the sambar begin to bubble, switch off the stove.
I usually make mini idli or the regular idli to go with this sambar. But this also goes well with other breakfasts like pongal, dosa, uthappam , vada .
You may want to check this detailed recipe of soft idli.
Place the idlis in a deep serving bowl or plate. Add ghee and then pour the sambhar. Serve hot.
- The taste and aroma of a sambhar depends on the powder used. So if you like to use a ready powder, use one that has a good aroma. You can also make the powder from this sambar powder recipe.
- To make tiffin sambar avoid using veggies like brinjal, and bhindi as they lend a different flavor that doesn’t go well with idli or any breakfasts.
- Most hotels use pumpkin to make tiffin sambar as it lends a unique sweet flavor & thickens the sambar. If you have golden pumpkin just go ahead and add few cubes along with the dal to pressure cook. Mash them up very well along with dal.
- Most tiffin centers use a mix of tuvar and masoor dal to make idli sambar. I prefer to use toor dal and moong dal. You can experiment with these 3 kinds of lentils.
- I make the sambar powder the previous night as it saves some time in the morning.
- This idli sambar can be prepared just under 35 mins including cooking dal, making sambar powder and making the sambar. If you add veggies like drumsticks it will take longer.
Idli Sambar Recipe | Tiffin Sambar
For best results follow the step-by-step photos above the recipe card
Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )
- ¾ cup dal (lentils) (refer notes)
- 2 cups water to cook dal
- 2 tablespoon tamarind (use as needed)
- Salt as needed
- 12 to 15 shallots or 1 medium onion diced
- 6 to 8 french beans (green beans)
- 1 medium carrot diced
- ½ cup pumpkin cubed (optional)
- 1 large tomato chopped or mashed
- ⅛ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon red chilli powder (optional, for heat)
- 2 tablespoons coriander leaves with stalks (chopped finely)
- 4½ cups water (adjust depending on quality of dal)
- 1 tablespoon oil or ghee (adjust to taste)
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- 1 dried red chili broken
- ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ¾ teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 pinch methi seeds (fenugreek seeds)
- 1 pinch hing (asafoetida)
for idli sambar powder (or use 1 to 1½ tbsps store bought)
- ½ tablespoon urad dal (skinned black gram)
- 1 tablespoon chana dal (bengal gram)
- 3 dried red chilies (adjust to taste)
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ¼ teaspoon methi seeds (fenugreek seeds)
- 2 tablespoon coconut grated fresh (optional)
- Rinse and pressure cook dal with 2 cups of water for 2 whistles or until soft.
- Or alternately cook in a pot until soft. If using a Instant pot, pressure cook on high pressure for 10 mins & wait for natural pressure release.
- Mash it and set aside. If you like the hotel style tiffin sambar, you can also add pumpkin to the dal for cooking.
- Mash everything together and set aside.
- Soak tamarind in little hot water, squeeze and extract the pulp. Keep this aside.
Make tiffin sambar powder
- In a pan, dry roast red chilies, chana dal and urad dal on a medium flame until lightly golden.
- Next add coriander seeds and roast all of them until a nice smell comes.
- When the dals turn deep golden remove to a plate.
- Next in the same pan saute methi seeds until slightly dark then add cumin.
- When the cumin turns aromatic remove to a plate. Cool these completely and make a fine powder.
How to Make Idli Sambar
- Add oil to a pot and heat up. Throw in the cumin, mustard and methi.
- When they pop, add red chilies, curry leaves and hing.
- When the leaves turn crisp, set aside half the tempering if you wish to add at the end.
- Add veggies and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and saute until soft.
- Sprinkle sambhar powder and red chilli powder if using. Saute for a minute without burning.
- Pour water and cook until the vegetables are soft cooked.
- Next pour filtered tamarind and then the mashed dal. Stir and bring the idli sambar to a boil.
- Taste test and add more tamarind or salt as needed. Add the rest of the tempering and coriander leaves.
- When it begins to bubble. Switch off. You can also make a fresh tempering but I don’t do.
- Serve idli sambar hot with soft idli, dosa, uthappam, pongal & vada.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.
For best results follow my detailed step-by-step photo instructions and tips above the recipe card.
NUTRITION INFO (estimation only)
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I’m Swasthi Shreekanth, the recipe developer, food photographer & food writer behind Swasthi’s Recipes. My aim is to help you cook great Indian food with my time-tested recipes. After 2 decades of experience in practical Indian cooking I started this blog to help people cook better & more often at home. Whether you are a novice or an experienced cook I am sure Swasthi’s Recipes will assist you to enhance your cooking skills.
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