Whole grain Idlis with Ulli sambar, coconut-cilantro chutney and podi

This is one of my favourite dishes that brings back beautiful childhood memories. It was wonderful running around my grandparents’ mango orchards in the heat of summer and then diving into the pool of sambar to cool off. I was splashing around, when my fat aunt Idli and her surly husband Vada claimed I was drowning and yanked me out of there. They then took over the pool …

I love them tales, and wish I had some to tell you, but the fact is I had a boring childhood in a crowded metropolis with no grandparents alive, and an aversion to sambar.

I mean, I get along fine with Sambar as long as I am not required to eat it.
Ulli (onion/shallot) is not my favourite either, and I look forward to Ulli Sambar like I look forward to a root canal.
I posted this just for the ‘U’ dish for Nupur‘s A-Z of Indian Vegetables Event at One Hot Stove.

J loves this stuff. He got the whole pot.

We’re off for a few days. Talk to you when we get back.

- B.

(serves 4)


½ cup split pigeon peas (toor dal)
½ tsp. turmeric
¼ cup chopped tomato
a small walnut-sized knob of tamarind
2 tablespoons fresh or dry dessicated coconut
2 tbsps. coriander seeds
3 dry red chillies
½ tsp. fenugreek seeds
10-12 shallots or 15-18 pearl onions (skinned and kept whole)
2 green chillies
½ tsp. asafoetida (hing)
12-15 curry leaves
3 tbsps. chopped coriander leaves
1 tsp. jaggery or sugar
½ tsp. brown mustard seeds
2 tsps. oil
salt to taste

1. Pressure cook the toor dal with 1.5 cups of water, the tomato and the turmeric until soft – 2 or three whistles. (We usually make a triple batch and freeze it in portions for later use)

2. Add ¼ cup of water to the tamarind and microwave for 30 seconds. Let it sit for a few minutes, and extract the pulp.

3. Toast the coconut in a pan until it begins to turn golden, keep it aside. Then toast the red chillies and half the fenugreek seeds for a few seconds, and separately toast the coriander seeds until they turn just a little darker.

4. In 1 tsp. of oil, fry 1 finely chopped shallot, half the curry leaves and the green chillies until the shallot is transluscent.

5. Grind the dry roasted ingredients and the shallot-green chilli mixture with about 2 tbsps. water to form a smooth paste.

6. Heat the remaining (1 tsp.) oil, add the remaining fenugreek seeds and the mustard seeds. When the mustard begins to pop, add asafoetida and the remaining curry leaves, stir for a few seconds, then add the shallots and cook for 3-4 minutes.

7. Add the tamarind pulp, salt and the ground paste, cook for a couple of minutes until the tamarind loses its raw smell.

8. Add the cooked dal, bring it to a boil, adjust the level of salt, check if the shallots are cooked. Add the jaggery if you wish.

Take if off the heat, garnish with chopped coriander, and serve with rice, idlis or rotis.

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  1. Manasi says:

    Love ulli sambar! infact love all kindsa sambar, just leave out the slimy eggplant!! Enjoy ur holiday!!!

  2. seema says:

    I loved the idlis there. The photo is so clear that one can actually see the pores in it. Lovely. Sambar looks spicy and nice too.

  3. Asha says:

    Bee, I love madras onion sambhar,I have one in the draft too.You don’t like Sambhar!!What kinda southie are you?!:D
    Whole grain idlis sounds great.Ever since I made brown rice Adai,I am in love these brown thingies.looks yummy.
    Just came back from Tushar’s school.He graduated fro 6th grade and got a bunch of awards.Phew! Done for this yr!:)

  4. Dumela says:

    haaaaaa beee, lovely write up… i was laughing so much… with your ‘i dont like the stuff’… cant tell u how much i love the way you write

  5. TheCooker says:

    Such a beautiful picture!
    You don’t like sambar but find Sallu cute? Kya yaar?

  6. Suganya says:

    I was all ears for yr interesting :-/ childhood memories.. Have a fun holiday!

  7. pelicano says:

    B- I can’t believe you don’t like sambar! What’s not to like? I have a recipe for this particular sambar too (with pearl onions) and its my favorite of sambar recipes; keep trying it B, the answer will come to you! hehehe Have fun!

  8. Coffee says:

    You don’t like sambhar!!!!!! Now what kind of a south indian are you!!! (Seems like I have heard this line before somewhere ;) )

    Have a lovely vacation!!! And come back with some lovely pics from there!!! :)

  9. Nabeela says:

    Hi Bee! That’s a beautiful arrangement of south Indian dishes…I especially love the color of the cilantro chutney…as well as the podi with the ghee(?) in the middle!

  10. Nabeela says:

    And may I add I only just noticed your rss feed link…can’t believe myself how I missed looking at the link all these days.
    Blame my eyesight…..or my stupidity

  11. indosungod says:

    Bee have fun!
    Sambhar looks delicious but you don’t like it? I love the small onions we get in India but the pearl onions come close but it is still not the same.

  12. Deepa says:

    wow!!!!this is so yummy and nice …..nice sambhar and chutney …..very yummy yummy one …

  13. nandita says:

    We are running together as far our posts are concerned…the kovakkai and now I have the same chinna vengaya araichuvitta sambar waiting to be posted! Its my all time favourite comfort food, rice and vengaya sambhar with some potato curry, carb bliss!

  14. sra says:

    I don’t like sambar either, put it down to years and years of hostel, canteen and restaurant food, and still having to see that and coconut chutney served unfailingly with every single thing – aargh!

  15. viji says:

    This is my all time favorite Bee. Nice photo and nice recipe. Viji

  16. Dee says:

    Have a great time bee and Jai. Will miss you guys!

  17. Arundati Rao says:

    Dear Bee…..yay!! thanks for adding me to the blogroll(my first!!) i suddenly feel i have to live up to expectations!! thanks again….ulli sambhar is a family favorite….which sometimes disappears before the idlies do!! for someone who looks forward to it like a RC, it was lavished with some love thats very apparent in the pictures !!

  18. Cynthia says:

    Will miss you lots. Safe travels to and fro.

  19. archana says:

    I can drink bowls of sambhar. I enjoyed reading your post. I just read your post on whole grain idlis, liked it.
    I used to put coconut water in the batter soon after grinding for easy fermentation (the water we get from the coconut used for chutneys).
    Though I have not stayed in cold places like yours, but it used to help me when we stayed close to Ooty.

  20. Nirmala says:

    Thats a wonderful plate Bee…I love shallot sambar with tiny idlis and ghee…The idlis shud float in the sambar and u shud dive into to the bowl. I love the kothumalli smell in that sambar…u’re idli plate is really mouth watering…Happy hols…have a great time

  21. prajusha says:

    iddli sambhar is my all time favourite and this looks yummy yummy.

  22. Sukanya says:

    O o this is my favorite dish…..YUM! YUM! YUM!…

  23. Linda says:

    What, you’re on “U” already!? Always a step ahead of the game huh Bee? ;)

    Sambhar looks lovely. Maybe Jai will share with us. Have a great break! :)

  24. Anjali says:

    Bee you are exactly Mumbai bred SI what you don’t like all other Mumbaiite die for. I love the ulli sambar! U guys enjoy your trip and get back lots of pictures for us.

  25. Jyothsna says:

    Hey Bee, thats making me long for some sambar!! I love sambar but cannot stand the ulli in it, and my hubby, he has only the ulli and throws every other veggie out!!! Have a nice break guys!!

  26. sunita says:

    I’ve never tried making South Indian recipes before…love devouring them though…looking at all the recipes around, I think I’ve got to try making them soon…

  27. sunita says:

    …forgot to wish you a nice break…have fun…

  28. Sharmi says:

    I loved the idea of whole grain idlis. I am a big , big fan of that whole palate. anytime, anywhere no matter what.

  29. mallugirl says:

    bee, i love shallot fact the only kind i like! whole grain idlis is a great idea. gotto to try that now.

  30. PauaPrincess says:

    Wow kind of looks like a more intense version of a country french onion soup/stew. You’ll be pleased to know with you in mind and now that it is winter, I’ve been experimenting with a lot more spices in my soups, stews and I’m currently working on a kiwi version of a chicken curry with cocoanut cream, green curry paste and a host of other things I wouldn’t have tried if not for your influence. :)

  31. n says:

    surprising to note that there is someone who does no like sambar!
    great post.. enjoyed reading!

  32. sandeepa says:

    Come back soon…

  33. mandira says:

    that’s funny Bee… you made it for “u” and Jai got the whole pot LOL… have fun and enjoy your trip.

  34. Dumela says:

    Cant believe I’m addicted to chai and jugalbandi like this… come back soon …missing you already….. :)

  35. Stephanie says:

    this looks superb…. but just how many dishes is it possible to cook in a day …? My list of must-cooks just keeps getting longer.

  36. Dilip says:

    super recipe…been meaning to make for a long time…I have to now…thanks for sharing…and thanks for the prompt…

  37. Latha says:

    Hi Bee! A very different take on sambar ( i mean from the regular using sambar powder). I have made it twice already… yummy! How did you get that fantastic colour, btw?

    glad it turned out well for you. i guess the colour is from the tomato. – b.

  38. Prajakta says:

    Hi Bee and Jai,

    Am a very regular visitor of your blog, though am leaving a comment for the first time!! I love coming here…….U know today sunday morning breakfast was Idlis and this lovely sambar, was meaning to make this for just so long.

    And you know it turned out YUMMMMMM!! My husband who knows my sambar making skills, was just so skeptcial seeing my preparations, but then he has been all praises and while I was serving, was asking for more!! (That never happenned with sambar before!!)

    When I added the dal to the shallots and the ground paste with the tamarind, the color was way different than the one in your picture. I was like, oh not again! I thought I had messed it up somehow. I then went away to bathe my baby while it simmerred with hubby dear keeping an eye on it. My husband comes in between and says, hey that is tasting nice. And yes it was tasting great, and after simmering for a few minutes the color too changed very much indeed. Thanks so much for this great recipe.

  39. [...] complaints pertaining to radishes (and sambar, Bee adds) will be summarily dismissed. They are meant to taste [...]

  40. [...] Ulli (Shallot) Sambar (Tamil Nadu/Kerala) [...]

  41. chemcookit says:

    Dear Bee,
    thanks to you, I tried my first Indian cooking experiment with this delicious Ulli Sambar. I was extremely happy with the result, even though I missed some important ingredients, unfortunately. I am really thrilled about this completely new experience, and inspired for a lot more attempts.. thanks again!!

  42. Anu says:

    I just tried this y’day. All I can say is Yummmmm!!! :)
    Thank You

  43. [...] the ingredient list. No sambhar powder. In fact, it sounded like a flavourful dal, not like a sambhar at [...]

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