Tiffin Sambar | Saravana Bhavan Hotel Sambar

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It is funny how some terms in English are interpreted differently in some parts of the world. No, I am not here with a lesson in English but how a word like Hotel is colonialized in most parts of India. Growing up in suburbs of Chennai, hotel had only one meaning – a place that provides food. Not until years later did the fancy term restaurant came into our lives. Even today, you would see hundreds of hotels in many parts of South India that have nothing with do with the accommodation. Be it a small sized hut or a big establishment with air conditioning, if it serves food – it is a hotel. Just like how hotels are quite popular, so are their recipes for Chutney or Sambar.

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I know I have posted a Sambar recipes before but this is going to be different. This Sambar is a hotel style recipe (specially – Hotel Saravana Bhavan) that is served alongside breakfast items like Idli, Dosa, Pongal or Upma. I am not a fan of HSB (gasp!) and particularly don’t like eating there but I have heard a lots about their sambar and how good it tastes. This recipe came to my rescue and with a few modifications of my own, the sambar did turn out great. Filled with loads of vegetables and lentils, this is so good and simple to make too. Keep in mind though – would not taste great with rice at all. I served this with my pillow soft fluffy idlis and my coconut chutney – breakfast like a king, as they say!

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To make

  • Servings:
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

What I used –
  • Shallots, 8-10 + 3 (for tempering)
  • Toor/Tuvar Dal/Split Pigeon Peas, 1/3rd cup
  • Mixed Vegatbles, 1 cup (I used Brinjal, Potato and Carrot)
  • Tomatoes, 2 medium
  • Tamarind Pulp, 1 tsp
  • Sambar Powder, 1 tbsp
  • Turmeric Powder, 1/3rd tsp
  • Coconut Grated, 3 tbsp
  • Fried Gram Dal, 1 tsp
  • Coriander Leaves, a few
  • Curry Leaves, a few
  • Oil/Ghee, ½ tsp + ½ tsp
  • Mustard Seeds, ½ tsp
  • Jeera, ½ tsp
  • Dried Red Chillies, 1 or 2 (optional)
  • Asafoetida, a generous pinch
  • Salt, as required
  • Water, as required

 How I made –

1. In a pressure cooker, add washed toor dal/Split pigeon peas and cover it with enough water. Cook for 3-4 whistles and let the pressure drop before opening the cooker lid. Using a potato masher/paruppu mathu, blend the dal until mushy. Set aside.


2. In a pan, heat ½ tsp of oil. Add peeled shallots. Fry until translucent. Add one chopped tomato, fry for a couple of minutes. Add the cut vegetables and add the turmeric powder along with salt required for the veggies. Fry for 4-5 mins until slightly roasted.


3. Meanwhile, in a mixer jar add one chopped tomato, coconut pieces and 1 tsp of fried gram dal (pottu kadalai). Blend until smooth by adding little water. Add 1 tbsp of sambar powder and blend again. Set this aside.


4. Add two cups of water to the roasting vegetables and bring the mixture to a boil. Add mashed toor dal and mix well. Add tamarind pulp and salt required for the sambar. Let it come to a boil on low flame.


5. Add the ground paste to the boiling sambar and mix well. Keep the flame on low. Add roughly chopped coriander leaves and keep boiling the sambar for another 5-7 mins. Meanwhile, heat ½ tsp of oil/ghee in a small pan and add mustard seeds, jeera, halved dried red chillies, finely chopped shallots (2 or 3) and the large pinch of asafoetida. As the mustard seeds splutter, add washed curry leaves and remove from heat. Add this tempering to the sambar. Mix well.


6. Serve hot with idli/dosa/pongal/upma along with coconut chutney.

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Note –
  • Instead of cooking the toor dal in pressure cooker, soak the dal for 30 mins in warm water and cook it directly on stove top. The taste is much better but takes a lot of time.
  • Instead of using shallots, normal onions can be used in this recipe.
  • Instead of making the tempering with oil, adding ½ tsp of ghee does wonders to the sambar recipe. A good trick to please your family members 🙂
  • I used my MIL’s Sambar powder (will post the recipe soon), store bought sambar powder works too but the taste is not the exact same.
  • Using fried gram dal in the sambar recipe adds to the thickness of the sambar – apparently a trick used by the hotels to easily increase the sambar quantity.
  • The sambar can be too thick soon after adding the coconut paste owing to the fried gram dal. I have limited the use of it to just a tsp – can be skipped if desired.
  • Don’t boil the sambar too much after adding the paste.

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Bring this tasty, flavorful Sambar to Fiesta Friday #116. This week’s party hosts are Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju and Cynthia @ eatmunchlove.

21 thoughts on “Tiffin Sambar | Saravana Bhavan Hotel Sambar

  1. Great recipe – I will use the top of the stove as I no longer have a pressure cooker for cooking (canning, yes). The word “hotel” for me has always been sleeping accommodations and often food even if it is only a complimentary breakfast. Thanks for coming to the party…

  2. I’ve been away for a few weeks – what a delicious treat to get back to! And how interesting that a hotel is what we call a cafe or restaurant. I had no idea. I really must try this Sambar …. my mouth is watering. Keep doing what you do, my friend – you always perk up my day 🙂

  3. Thats a great recipe share.. We are sambar lovers.. trust me, I hated eating Idli Sambar, Dosa etc before marriage.. But after shifting to hyderabad, I truly adore south indian food.. Serve me dosas all day long and I am a happy soul ?
    I Know south indian food is beyond idli dosa but they are a treat to we north indians ?

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