Idli Sambar is a fluffy soft, melt in the mouth fermented and steamed breakfast, served with a delicious, piping hot lentil stew and topped with fresh coconut chutney. Not only is idli sambar a healthy breakfast, but also the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of proteins, and enriches the idli with vitamin B. Low in fat, sometimes its served with a dollop of ghee which is beneficial for healthy joints.
What is Idli?
Idli or Idly is a popular South Indian savory steamed cake which is usually made from rice and black lentils(urad dal). The batter is allowed to ferment overnight without yeast or other raising agents. Next day its steamed in a idli stand or in small bowls. A popular breakfast dish, its usually served with a coconut chutney and sambar. Sambar is a lentil stew or dal, with some vegetables and spices added to it. The idli is soaked in the sambar, topped with chutney and enjoyed. There are a variety of idlis being prepared these days using different grains. Some are of the instant kind and some need fermentation time.
Is Idli popular?
It definitely is. A poor man too can afford a hearty meal. There are so many variations of idlis today. Healthy grains like semolina, millets, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, oats, other lentils, etc are used to make healthier idlis. Idlis have taken on a new birth or avatar as Manchurian idlis, idli chaat, cocktail idlis, sweet and sour idli, idli 65, cheese baked idlis etc. With so many varieties to suit every palate, idlis have become an anytime snack right from breakfast to dinner and in between.
The first time I ever tasted idlis was when I was studying in Mt. Abu. We had them at a restaurant just at the beginning of the road towards the lake. Unfortunately cannot remember the name of the restaurant. My mum had come to drop my sister and me to our boarding school Sophia High School. The sisters would allow us to spend a few days with our parents, guardians, relatives before we all settled in for some serious school work. We would enjoy having meals at the not so many restaurants back then with my mum. One meal for the next few days was at that corner restaurant as my mum loved idli sambar.
The first time I had home made idlis was when Nunu my mother in law made them. I was flabbergasted as at that time I thought making south indian food is rocket science. I thought “wow Nunu is clever”. Nunu taught me how to make idlis and dosas along with the sambar. Her dad at one time use to own a south indian restaurant.
Idli Making is Not Rocket Science – Useful Tips
After watching and learning with Nunu, I can now confidently say that making idli dosa is not rocket science. While in India there is no shortage of the variety of idli rice available, here in Kenya we have to use either pishori or basmati. Sometimes I get the short and thick variety which I like to use when available.
To make soft idlis it is important that the batter ferments properly.
After the soaked rice and lentils are processed with water to prepare a thick, slightly coarse batter, the micro organisms present in the grains and lentils and the atmosphere, actually start the whole fermentation process. These micro organisms produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide, which is why the batter rises.
Why add Methi or Fenugreek Seeds?
Methi or fenugreek seeds contain beta glucans. This compound actually helps to hold carbon dioxide which is vital for fermentation.
NB : I use methi seeds to ferment both my dhokla and handvo batter.
What type of Water you use is important.
What type of water you use for grinding the rice and lentils is important. Highly chlorinated water will hamper fermentation. I usually used bottled water. Water in most western countries tends to be high in chlorine.
Temperature is Important
A very cool place will not allow the fermentation process to begin. A warm place is ideal. In Mombasa I’m blessed with very warm weather which means I don’t have to worry whether the batter with ferment or not. When I prepare the batter in Bangalore, I usually allow it to ferment in the oven. It is recommended that you leave the oven light on which creates the required warm atmosphere.
Don’t Use Airtight Lid
If you close the container with the batter with an airtight lid, it cannot absorb the natural microbes present in the air for fermentation.
Wash Before or After
That is the million dollar question asked by most. I wash the rice and lentil and then soak it. Washing is just to remove dust so its not like I’m trying to wash it squeaky clean. The water that is used for soaking is the one I use for grinding too. While soaking, the grain and lentil have already started taking in some microbes present in the air.
Adding salt before or after fermenting
Add salt before you allow the batter to ferment. After the fermentation has taken place, I don’t want to mix it too much to allow the air bubbles to escape. Also salt is an important part of the fermentation process.
Don’t Use too Much Water
The trick is to use just enough water to grind the rice to a smooth paste. When you grind the dal it should be thick, creamy and fluffy. When you mix both together the batter should not be runny. However, it should not be too thick too. If lifted with your fingers, it should be able to run down slowly between them. If you put too much water, the idlis will not fluff up while cooking.
How do I know the batter is fermented?
We have seen many photos of overflowing batter from the container. However, your batter does not have to overflow! It all depends on the size of the container you have used. Best way to tell if the batter has fermented properly is to pick up a bit with a spoon. You should be able to see tiny holes, the batter will appear fluffy and creamy. The usual time for fermentation is overnight or between 12-16 hours depending on the weather.
A sure test is to drop a small blob of batter in a glass of water. The batter should float if fermented well.
What is the Batter Does Not Ferment Well?
I would not recommend leaving the batter for over 24 hours to ferment as by then it will begin to rot. If you get a pinkish growth on top then the bad microbes have got in and will spoil the batter. To avoid that, its best then to use a leavening agent. Use either soda bicarbonate (baking soda) or Eno. For the amount of batter prepared below you need only 1 tsp of either.
World Idli Day
30th March has been celebrated as the World Idli Day since 2015. How did this day come about? Its not set by the Government of India or UN or any important body. It is believed that a popular idli only caterer from Chennai, Eniyavan, made a staggering 1,328 varieties of idlis in 2015 to instate this day. A staggering 44 kg idli was also cut by a top bureaucrat to seal the deal as they say and henceforth March 30 became World Idli Day.
Can I have Idli without the Sambar and Chutney?
Yes by all means you can. Hot steaming idli with ghee is delicious. Stir fry the idli with a tempering of mustard seeds, urad dal, curry leaves, chopped chilis. Makes an excellent snack or even a different kind of breakfast. Serve steaming hot idli with a Podi Powder like the one that Priya makes. Try out her Verkadalai Podi ( Peanut Chutney Powder). Making podi powder at home is easy. However, if you can’t then you’ll be able to purchase some ready made podi powder at any South Indian Store. If you live in India then Priya can send it to you. She makes a variety of podi powders to sell. Try some Idli Chaat.
Some Interesting Idli Recipes to Try Out:
Moong Idli – using only moong and urad dal.
Buckwheat Idli – using buckwheat and urad dal.
Instant Semolina Idli – using semolina and the batter is ready within 30 minutes.
Bajri Idli (Pearl Millet Idli) – the fermented batter is a mixture of pearl millet, rice and urad dal.
Idli Chaat – a fun delicious snack to enjoy
Instant Veggie Quinoa Idli – where Sasmita has used semolina, quinoa and veggies to prepare instant idlis.
Oats and Almond Meal Vegetable Idli – Preethi has used oats, almond meal, semolina and veggies to prepare instant idlis.
Cornmeal Oats Soya Vegetable Idli – Sujata likes to add soya flour with corn flour, oats, semolina and vegetables to prepare instant idlis. Soya flour makes them protein rich.
Kancheepuram Idli – my favourite. Check out Priya’s recipe for this famous idli from the city of Kanchipuram. As stated by Priya this idli is offered as prasadam in the famous Varadaraja Perumal Temple.
Maligaipoo Idly – Seema’s dad’s favorite, also known as Khushboo Idly (named after the famous South Indian Actor).
No Rice Kulith Idli – Renu makes idli using horse gram and urad dal only. Now that is definitely so rich in protein and other nutrients.
Ingredients Required For Idli Sambar and Coconut Chutney:
- Rice – if you get idli rice use that or use basmati or any short rice.
- Urad Dal – Black Gram. Generally the split white urad dal is used. Some also use the dal with the skin. For the batter, for tempering.
- Fenugreek Seeds – methi dana. Required for soaking with urad dal, for tempering and cooking with dal.
- Tuvar Dal – toor dal, pigeon pea dal. For the sambar or lentil stew.
- Oil – for the sambar. Also for greasing the idli mould. Can use ghee.
- Turmeric Powder – Haldi, hardar – for the sambar.
- Vegetables – for the sambar, can use peas, carrot, French Beans, drumstick, eggplant, bottle gourd, ridge gourd, pumpkin, etc. The choice is yours. You need about a cupful of vegetables. I have used peas, carrot, drumstick and eggplant.
- Onion – red or white chopped for the sambar.
- Green Chillis – paste for the sambar. Whole for the chutney.
- Ginger Paste – fresh for the sambar and chutney.
- Coriander – cilantro for garnishing sambar and for the chutney.
- Fresh Mint – optional – for the chutney
- Salt – required for the idli, sambar and chutney.
- Fresh Tomato Puree – for the sambar. I like to steam the tomatoes and puree them.
- Curry Leaves – for adding to the sambar, for tempering for both sambar and chutney.
- Asafetida – hing, optional for the sambar. Don’t use if you are preparing a gluten free meal.
- Red Chilli Powder – for the sambar.
- Sambar Powder – I have used ready made one. Can use a home made one.
- Jaggery – either powder or grated, optional for the sambar.
- Tamarind Paste – for the sambar. I like to prepare the tamarind paste and keep it in the freezer.
- Fresh Coconut – for the chutney, grated.
- Roasted Chana Dal – Split chickpea. For the chutney. This is usually available ready made.
- Gluten Free – if you don’t use asafetida(hing) in the sambar.
- Idli Sambar is ideal for aged and toddlers. Just make sure the sambar is not too chilli for toddlers.
FOR THE IDLIS:
- 1½ cups rice
- ½ cup urad dal split skinless black gram lentils
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp fenugreek seeds methi
FOR THE SAMBAR (LENTIL STEW):
- 1 cup tuvar dal split pigeon pea lentils
- 6 cups water
- 1 tsp turmeric powder haldi
- ½ tsp fenugreek seeds methi
- 1 cup mixed vegetables
- 1 medium brinjal/ eggplant cut into big cubes
- 1 drumstick cut into 3 inch size
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 cup thick tomato puree
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp mustard seeds
- ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 tbsp urad dal
- 8 to 10 curry leaves kari patta
- ¼ -½ tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- ½ - 1 tsp chilli paste
- 1 - 1½ tsp salt
- pinch asafoetida
- 1-2 tbsp tamarind pulp thick
- 1-2 tsp ready made sambhar masala
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
- 1 tbsp jaggery powder or grated
FOR SAMBAR TEMPERING:
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 1 -2 dry red chillis
FOR THE COCONUT CHUTNEY:
- 2 cups fresh grated coconut
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup fresh mint and coriander chopped
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1 green chilli
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp chickpea lentils (chana dal) roasted
- 2 tbsp urad dal roasted
FOR THE CHUTNEY TEMPERING:
- 1 tsp oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- a pinch of asafoetida optional
- 6 to 8 curry leaves
SOAKING RICE, LENTIL AND FENUGREEK SEEDS:
- Wash the rice and dal separately.
- Soak the rice and urad dal separately in normal/bottled water for 6 to 8 hours. Add the fenugreek seeds to the dal.
PREPARATION OF THE IDLI BATTER AND STEAMING IDLIS:
- First grind the dal in a liquidizer using about ½ - ¾ cup of water. Use the soaking water first. Add more normal water if required.
- Pour the paste into a big bowl.
- Grind the rice using about ¾ - 1 cup of water. Use the soaking water first. Add more normal water if required.
- Pour into the bowl.
- Add salt and mix both the paste very well. The consistency of the batter should be like that of a pancake.
- Cover and keep in a warm place to ferment overnight or 12-16 hours. Fermentation time will depend on how warm the kitchen is.
- The fermented batter should be about double or triple in size.
- Grease the idli stand with oil. Put some water in a deep pan to boil. Put enough water so that the bottom tray of the idli stand does not touch the water.
- Pour a ladleful of batter into each idli mould.
- Put the stand into the pan with the water. Cover and steam for 10 minutes.
- Remove the stand. Let the idlis cool and then gently remove them using a spatula.
- Repeat with the remaining batter.
- This batter will make about 20 depending on the size of mould you use.
PREPARATION OF SAMBAR (LENTIL STEW):
- Wash and soak the tuvar dal in 2 to 2½ cups of water for half an hour.
- Put the dal along with the water into a pressure cooker.
- Add ½ tsp turmeric powder and ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds. Cover and let the dal cook over medium heat for 3 whistles.
- Prepare the vegetables. Chop them into chunks.
- Heat oil in a deep pan.
- Add mustard, cumin and fenugreek seeds. Add urad dal and stir fry for a few seconds.
- Add curry leaves and asafetida if you are using any. Stir fry for a 2-3 seconds.
- Add chopped onion. Stir fry till the onion is soft.
- Add the tomato puree. Cook till it becomes hot.
- Add the prepared vegetables, salt, ginger and chilli paste.
- Add the cooked dal with 6 cups of water in the pan.
- Allow the dal with the vegetables to simmer over medium to low heat till the vegetables are cooked.
- Add sambar powder, red chilli powder, jaggery and tamarind paste.
- Simmer for 5 minutes.
PREPARATION OF THE SAMBAR TEMPERING:
- Heat oil in a small pan over medium heat.
- Add mustard and cumin seeds.
- Add curry leaves and stir fry for a few seconds.
- Add dry red chilis. Mix.
- Pour the tempering over the ready sambar or stew.
- Garnish with chopped coriander.
PREPARATION OF THE CHUTNEY:
- Put all the ingredients for the chutney into a liquidizer or blender jug. Blend to a slightly coarse paste.
- Take out the chutney into a serving bowl.
PREPARATION OF THE CHUTNEY TEMPERING:
- Heat the oil in a small pan. Add the tempering ingredients and immediately pour it over the chutney.
- Mix well.
- Put 2-3 idlis into deep dish. Add the sambhar on top. Add chutney onto each idli and serve.
Can freeze the batter to make more idlis, dosas, uttapas, white dokhras.
Adjust spices and salt according to your taste.
Some sambars have a bit of gur some don't. Its your choice. I prefer a bit of gur.
If your family loves idlis, its best to invest in an idli maker.
If you do not have an idli stand, put the batter in small steel bowls or silicon muffin cups and steam. Remember to grease them.
If the sambar becomes too thick, just add a bit of water.
I have added mint in the chutney as most restaurants in Bangalore make the chutney with it. If you want, you can use only coriander.
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