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Bowl with 6 Idli dunked in sambar with chutney bowl on the side

Idli Sambar (Tiffin Sambar)

Shweta Arora
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, and upma. Here is how to make an easy hotel-style tiffin sambar at home using toor dal.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Servings 6
Calories 217 kcal



To pressure cook

To make Sambar

  • 2 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds rai
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • teaspoon fenugreek seeds methi seeds, optional
  • 10-15 curry leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon asafoetida hing
  • teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon Kashmiri red chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon Tamarind pulp or imli concentrate
  • 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!



Type of dal (lentils) - I make sambar with toor dal only but you can also use yellow moong dal in combination, (½ cup toor dal and ¼th cup yellow moong) 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 like 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.
Meal prep - 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.
Storage - Leftover sambar can be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. 


Calories: 217kcal | Carbohydrates: 33g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 12mg | Sodium: 828mg | Potassium: 679mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 2115IU | Vitamin C: 49mg | Calcium: 58mg | Iron: 2mg
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