How to Make Idli and Araichavitta Sambar with Drumsticks (Sambar with Freshly Ground Spices)

idly and sambhar

Idlies are a staple in our home. We can eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes on the same day!! I try and make the batter on Sunday so as to see me through 3 meals. It saves precious time and energy when you would rather be doing something else than tearing you hair out over a menu option. Depending on its availability, i use regular sona masuri or boiled idly rice. The results with the idly rice are far superior as the idlies turn out real fluffy. The key to making good idlies is to have well fermented batter at room temperature. And a good robust steamer. Steaming hot idlies with sambhar, chutney or podi. Yum!

I was looking at my dal/ sambhar category, I realised I didn’t have a post with sambhar. Now, Sambhar is like biryani, everyone has their own recipe. I didn’t know what the fuss was all about. In my home, there was no Holy Grail for sambhar. Soon after we got married, K craved for his mom’s version even though I used the very fabulous MTR sambhar powder. On the next trip we made to his parents place, I got down to work and got myself the recipe. Amma makes it fresh each time, but I am a bag of lazy bones and I will have none of the roasting and grinding, especially when pressed for time. While I sometimes still use a combination of readymade dry powders, this masala can be made fresh coconut and all, stocked in the freezer to be had at a moments notice. I also add an assortment of whatever vegetables I have on hand. At K’s parents place, its one veggie at a time. So it will either be shallots, ladies finger (okra) or drumsticks but not a combination. Sambhar is best paired with hot steamed rice, idlies or as in my case, bread.


Its been raining steadily in Hyderabad over the last few weeks and i am loving the weather. Nothing like a bowl of steaming hot idlies, sambhar with a dollop of ghee to get you off to a good start. The pictures are of breakfast on a recent morning. I shot it for my photoblog, where i am hoping to capture everyday moments of my life. Read on for the recipes.

Idlies (makes 16 idlies)

½ cup skinned urad dal/ black gram

1 ½ cups of rice (i use boiled rice, sona masuri works fine too

½ teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds

Soak all of the above for atleast 6 hrs. Grind with 1-1/2 cups water to a smooth batter. Some would ask you to grind the lentils and rice separately and mix, but i cant be bothered about this and i have not had bad results to make me want to try. I grind mine in a wet grinder but a regular food processor works fine too. Again i speak from experience.

Transfer to a large vessel and leave to ferment for 5-6 hours. Add salt to taste and Mix well.

In a large pot with a lid/ steamer/ pressure cooker without the whistle, pour 3-4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Grease the idly plates with a dab of oil, spoon out 1/3 – ¼ cup of batter or according to your mould. Stack the plates and place in the steamer. Make sure the water doesn’t come above the lowest plate. Steam for 12-15 minutes. Cool and unmould using a blunt knife. Serve hot with podi / chutney or sambhar

Drumstick / Munagakaya/ Murungakai Sambhar

1 c tur dal/ kandi pappu/ yellow pigeon peas

¼ teaspoon of asafoetida/ hing/ inguva

¼ teaspoon of turmeric/ haldi / pasupu

6-8  2 inch pieces of drumstick/ munagakaya/ murungakai

1 c tamarind extract, made from a lemon sized ball of tamarind, soaked in hot water and pulp extracted

½ c sambhar powder (recipe follows)

Salt to taste

For the tempering

1 teaspoon oil

8-10 curry leaves

2 small dried red chillies (or one long one broken into two)

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

Pressure cook the dal/ lentils with the turmeric and asafoetida and 1 c water till well cooked. After the pressure releases from the cooker, open and mash the cooked lentils with the back of a spoon till smooth. Steam the drumstick pieces in 1 c water on a stove top or microwave (about 6-7 minutes) till just cooked. Discard the, water they were cooked in. Combine the tamarind extract, sambar powder and cooked dal, drumsticks and 1-1½ cups of water and return to the stove. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about 3-4 minutes. In a small pan, heat the oil, add the ingredients for tempering, heat through till the mustard seeds pop and add to the sambhar. Serve hot with idlies or rice and a dry vegetable dish.

Vegetables for sambhar: any vegetable that will not turn to mush can be used for sambhar. some of the more popular choices individually as in K’s home or a combination (i like a medley) are:

shallots/ sambhar onions/ pearl onions, okra/ bhindi / vendakkai/ bendakaya, radish, drumsticks, brinjal, carrots, beans, yellow pumpkin, bottle gourd, etc. tomatoes can be added in addition to the vegetables.

Sambhar powder

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds

2 tablespoons Bengal gram / chana dal

1 teaspoon fenugreek . methi seeds

¼ teaspoon asafoetida/ hing

3-4 dried red chillies (adjust according to your spice tolerance)

½ c freshly grated coconut

1 teaspoon oil

Heat a heavy bottomed pan with the oil. Add the coriander seeds and Bengal gram and roast them for about 1 minute or till they turn golden. Make sure they do not burn or it will spoil the flavour of the sambhar. Remove to a plate. In the same pan, add the dried red chillies, fenugreek seeds and asafoetida and roast stirring all the time, about 20 seconds till golden, remove onto the same plate as the Bengal gram. To the same pan, add the scraped coconut and roast till just turning golden. Remove onto the plate with the other roasted spices. Leave it to cool.  Grind all together with ½ cup water to make a smooth and thick aromatic paste.

To store this sambhar masala: Roast and cool all the masalas and dry grind it along with the freshly grated coconut in a spice grinder. This can be stored in an airtight container or ziplock bag in the freezer for upto 2 months. Before using, remove from the freezer, add ½ cup water at room temperature and pulse for a few seconds before adding it to the cooked dal / lentils mix. I increase the ingredients proportionately about 5 times to make this in bulk.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Preeti says:

    i simply love idli sambar…the picture is damn tempting…want it right now!gee…;)

  2. Rupa says:

    Hi Anu,

    Loving the 365 days wala blog. But still dont know why I can’t comment there. And what yummy muffins. I bought an OTG a ocuple of days and am on the lookout for recipes. You said its eggless…wow, thats amazing. Can you please pass the recipe? Anything eggless will do.Sadly I do not have any recipes and am dying to use the OTG ,to show off my baking skills 🙂
    Should I buy the tarla dalal ka book ?


    1. arundati says:

      i still can’t get why you are unable to leave comments there… its puzzling… is there an error message that you get when you try? i have almost no comments there, so yours would be so so gratifying!! 🙂

  3. s says:

    the ultimate south indian comfort food…

  4. A&N says:

    Ayyo, I used to hate Idli, but now crave it like crazy. And I prefer mine with Molaga pudi. But Sambar will do now 😛

    BTW, I finally discovered how I know you. I read Jessie’s blog and she was my colleague at Google! 🙂

    1. arundati says:

      hi a&n…its a small world huh!!

  5. Divya says:

    So true..everyone has their own recipe for a Sambhar:).I’ve struck gold with the new found sambhar powder and have not looked back ever since.Its a brand called Eastern and I’ve stocked up enough packets to last us through the year,well almost:).

    Love the bowl of Idli-sambhar and what better way to have them cuddling on a sofa,sitting by the balcony,enjoying the rains:).

  6. Happy Cook says:

    Wow I think i nedd a bucket for my drool.
    Love love idli sambar, just hubby and daughter don’t like it. And i have never made idli here. Always wait till i get back to india. Wish i could grab that bowl.

  7. Aparna says:

    What’s idli without sambhar (or mulagapodi, in my case)?
    In our place, we do make sambhar with a mixture of vegetables also though the single vegetable ones are usually preferred.
    A loves her sambhar so much, she will even have it with pooris!!!

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