Idli sambar is a popular South Indian breakfast combination where fluffy soft idli (savory steamed cake) is served with hot sambar (vegetable lentil stew). It makes a delicious, healthy, comforting, and protein-packed meal. The spicy, soupy lentil curry- Sambar is also known as tiffin sambar as it is often served with other tiffin varieties like dosa, uttapam, medu vada, poha, upma.
I'm sharing how to make an easy hotel-style tiffin sambar at home using toor dal.
When those hot soft idlis soak up that spicy sambar it makes everything better.
We prefer a spicy soupy hotel-style tiffin sambar with our idli. I have another sambar recipe which we also love but with rice. It is thicker, more like a mixed veg dal, and pairs better with rice.
So as promised here is my easy recipe of idli sambar, hotel-style that you can make at home.
About This Recipe
In South Indian restaurants, hot soft idli is often served with piping hot sambar and this winning combination is known as Idli sambar.
Coconut Chutney is another popular side served with idli sambar and the three together are referred to as Idli Sambar Chutney.
There are many variations of sambar but this one is an easy and delicious version that pairs best with South Indian breakfast or tiffin recipes like Idli, dosa, uttapam, vada, poha, upma, and even Pongal. Hence it is also known as tiffin sambar.
Every home has its own recipe for idli sambar. I like to keep my tiffin sambar recipe easy and simple and I use store-bought sambar masala but you can make the powder from scratch too.
This Idli dosa sambar recipe is meal prep friendly as well. You can cook the dal, prep the veggies the night before, and keep refrigerated. That way you can make sambar while your Idli is steaming.
I love eating idli dunked in sambar. They absorb all flavor and become so delicious. My kids love it too so I often make mini idli and serve it with ghee and sambar.
Dal or lentils - I make my idli sambar using Toor dal which is also known as tuvar dal or arhar dal in Hindi and yellow split pigeon peas in English. Along with toor dal, you can also make sambar with yellow moong dal, masoor dal (red split lentils), or a combination of these.
Veggies - I have used onion, tomato, small eggplant (optional), french beans, carrots, potato, and drumsticks. You can use veggies of your choice.
For the onion, I prefer using a combination of red onion cut in cubes and pearl onions for that restaurant-style feel. You can use either of them too. The other veggie that is a must for me in idli sambar is drumsticks. I always keep frozen drumsticks stocked in my freezer for days when fresh ones are not available.
Most hotel-style sambar has pumpkin that lends a nice sweet taste. Add if you have it.
For tempering - you will need the basics like mustard seeds (rai), cumin seeds (zeera), fenugreek seeds (methi seeds), asafoetida (hing), and fresh curry leaves (don't skip these).
Spice powders - turmeric powder, Kashmiri red chili powder, sambar masala, and salt is all you need. You can use your favorite store-bought sambar masala or a homemade one.
Jaggery - A little jaggery helps to balance all the flavors and impart a slightly sweet taste to the sambar. You can substitute sugar instead or skip if you don't prefer it. But recommend adding it for that hotel-style sambar.
Tamarind - I use the wet seedless tamarind that comes in slab form and soak some of it in hot water to make pulp. You can also use store-bought tamarind paste or tamarind extract but I find it changes the sambar color so I prefer the tamarind.
In addition, we will need some oil for cooking and cilantro (coriander leaves) to finish the recipe.
Please refer to the recipe card for exact measurements of ingredients.
How To Make Idli Sambar
Cooking the lentils
1 - Rinse dal 3-4 times until the water runs clear.
2 - Transfer the rinsed dal to an Instant Pot stainless steel insert, or stovetop pressure cooker with 2 cups of water, 1 teaspoon salt. Close the lid.
In Instant Pot, cook with vent sealing on manual (pressure cook) high for 10 mins followed by natural pressure.
For the stovetop pressure cooker, cook on medium heat for 4-5 whistles. Let steam release naturally.
You can also cook dal in a pot on the stovetop until the dal is soft and mushy just that it will take a longer time.
3 - When the pressure comes down (pin drops) open the lid
4 - Using a whisk, mash the dal for a smooth texture.
You can cook the dal the night before, cool, and then refrigerate in an airtight container.
To make tamarind pulp, soak the wet seedless tamarind in ¼ cup hot water for 10 mins. Mash it a little with fingers or a spoon and keep it aside.
Chop all the veggies and gather the rest of the ingredients.
Making idli sambar
5 - Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, add the mustard seeds and allow them to pop.
6 - Then add the cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, asafoetida, and curry leaves. Saute for a few seconds until the curry leaves crisp up.
7 - Stir in the onions (I am using some red onion and a few pearl onions), and saute for 1 min.
8 - Add the rest of the veggies, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, french beans, and drumsticks. Saute for 2 mins.
9 - Stir in tomatoes and saute until tomatoes are soft. You can cover and cook them for faster cooking.
10 - Now add the spices - turmeric, red chili powder, sambar powder, and salt. Saute on medium-low heat for a minute, be careful not to burn the spices.
11 - Add 3 cups of water and mix well.
12 - Cover, and cook until the veggies are soft/ cooked (approximately 7-10 mins). Stir intermittently if required.
13 - Strain the soaked tamarind using a sieve into the veggies. Mix well and simmer the sambar for 5 mins.
14 - Add the cooked mashed dal and water as required to adjust the consistency. I added 2 cups. Bring the sambar to a boil and simmer for 2 mins.
I prefer my sambar on the thinner side with idli. You can add more or less water depending on your preference.
15 and 16 - Add jaggery and cilantro. Mix well and simmer for another 5 mins. Hotel-style Tiffin sambar is ready!! Serve hot.
The best way to serve idli (in my opinion) is soft pillowy warm idli dunked in hot sambar. This helps idli absorb all the flavors and get all soft and more delicious!! Add coconut chutney on the side and enjoy!!
If you are the kind that doesn't like dunked idli, serve sambar on the side along with chutney.
Whichever way you prefer, eat it fresh and warm for the best experience. You can also add some raw chopped onions on top if you like.
Idli sambar is famous for breakfast but it's a complete meal in itself and can be served for brunch, lunch, or even dinner.
Type of dal (lentils) - I make sambar with toor dal only but you can also use yellow moong dal in combination (¼th cup) like in restaurants. It gives the sambar a unique flavor.
Dal quality - Use good quality, freshly stocked lentils since age-old lentils will take more time and water to cook.
Soaking dal is not required for this recipe. But to speed the process, soak for 30mins and pressure cook just for 6 mins.
Sambar taste and color depend heavily on the sambar powder used. So use a good quality sambar powder. If using store-bought make sure it smells and tastes fresh/good. You can make your own sambar masala or use a storebought one.
I prefer my sambar powder not too spicy that way I can control the spice level and use Everest or MTR brand sambar powder. In addition, I use Kashmiri red chili powder for a good sambar color without making it too spicy.
Adjust spices to your preference by adding more red chili powder or sambar powder or reducing it to make it less spicy.
Sambar consistency - I like my sambar served with idli on the thinner side. You can adjust consistency to your preference by adding water a little at a time. Sambar thickens over time so adjust the consistency with water and taste for seasoning.
For gluten-free, skip hing (asafoetida).
Jaggery and Tamarind - don't skip these, they add that authentic hotel sambar taste by adding slightly sweet and tangy flavor. Add tamarind pulp after the veggies are cooked as sometimes that slows down the veggies cooking process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Tiffin sambar tastes best when served fresh but yes, you can make sambar before, cool it completely, and store it refrigerated for up to 2-3 days. Before serving, heat it on a stovetop or microwave until completely heated through.
Idli and sambar both are vegan. To make sambar gluten-free too, just skip the asafoetida.
More Indian Breakfast Recipes
Hope you enjoy this Hotel-Style Idli Sambar Recipe !! If you give this recipe a try, please rate by clicking stars ⭐️ on the recipe card. Thank you ❤️! You can also follow me on Facebook | Instagram to see what’s cooking in my kitchen!!
Idli Sambar (Tiffin Sambar)
To make Sambar
- 2 tablespoon oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds rai
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ⅛ teaspoon fenugreek seeds methi seeds, optional
- 10-15 curry leaves
- ¼ teaspoon asafoetida hing
- ⅛ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri red chilli powder
- 1 tablespoon Tamarind pulp or imli concentrate
- 1¼ tablespoon sambar powder
- ½ teaspoon jaggery optional
- ¼ teaspoon cilantro leaves
- 1-2 teaspoon salt
- 1-2 drumsticks scraped and chopped in 2 to 3 inch pieces or 6-8 pieces of frozen.
- 1 medium potato peeled and chopped
- 1 medium tomato chopped
- 6-8 french beans chopped (approx ¼ cup)
- 1 medium red onion cut in cubes or use 10 pearl onions or 5 shallots halved
- 2-3 small eggplant brinjal or baingan cut in 2-4 pieces each
- 1 medium carrot peeled and chopped
Cooking dal (lentils):
- Rinse dal 3-4 times until the water runs clear.
- Transfer the rinsed dal to an Instant Pot stainless steel insert, or stovetop pressure cooker with 2 cups of water, 1 teaspoon salt. Close the lid.
- a - In Instant Pot, cook with vent sealing on manual (pressure cook) high for 10 mins followed by natural pressure.b - For the stovetop pressure cooker, cook on medium heat for 4-5 whistles. Let steam release naturally.c - You can also cook dal in a pot on the stovetop until the dal is soft and mushy just that it will take a longer time.
- When the pressure comes down (pin drops) open the lid. Using a whisk, mash the dal for a smooth texture.
Making tamarind pulp
- Soak the tamarind in ¼ cup warm water for 10 mins. Strain the pulp using a sieve, mash tamarind with a spoon to get the maximum pulp. Keep aside.
How to make idli sambar
- Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, add the mustard seeds and allow them to pop.
- Then add the cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, asafoetida, and curry leaves. Saute for a few seconds until the curry leaves crisp up.
- Stir in the onions and saute for 1 min.
- Add the rest of the veggies, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, french beans,and drumsticks. Saute for 2 mins.
- Stir in tomatoes and saute until tomatoes are soft. You can cover and cook them for faster cooking.
- Now add the spices - turmeric, red chili powder, sambar powder, and salt. Saute on medium-low heat for a minute, be careful not to burn the spices.
- Add 3 cups of water and mix well. Cover, and cook until the veggies are soft/ cooked. approximately 7-10 mins. Stir intermittently if required.
- Add tamarind pulp, mix well and simmer the sambar for 5 mins.
- Stir in the cooked dal and 1-2 cups water or as required to adjust the consistency. Bring the sambar to a boil and simmer for 2-3 mins. You can add more or less water depending on your preference.
- Add jaggery (optional) and cilantro. Mix well and simmer for another 5 mins. Hotel-style Tiffin sambar is ready!! Serve Sambar hot with freshly made idli and chutney. Enjoy!