Idli Sambar | Street Food of India.

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Idli Sambar Video.

Both idli and sambar have derived their names from Tamil language. Idly sambar are staple breakfast in all South Indian households. Apart from South Indian region, in all other parts of India, idli sambar are available as popular street food used for evening snacks too. Road side restaurants often offer free refills of sambar for idli.

Idly is a white and fluffy savoury sponge cake that is popular throughout India and neighbouring country Sri Lanka. The cakes are usually four to five inches in diameter and are made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented de-husked black lentils and rice.

The fermentation process breaks down the starches in rice so that they can be more readily metabolized by the body. Idli is always served along with sambar. Sambar (also spelt sambhar) is a lentil-based vegetable stew or chowder based on a broth made with tamarind.

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There are lots of variants available for idli sambar. A variant of idli known as ‘sanna’ is very popular amongst the Goans and other Konkani people. Another variant known as ‘enduri pitha’ is very popular in Odisha. In regions that abundantly grow coconuts, notably some areas of Kerala, coastal Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, they make sambar with a paste of fresh, grated and roasted coconuts and spices, instead of sambar powder. Sambar without lentils (but with vegetables/fish/dry fish) is called ‘kuzhambu’ in Tamil Nadu.

Making Idli Sambar.

To make idly, uncooked rice and split black lentil (urad dal) are mixed in 2:1 ratio. These are soaked separately for at least four hours. Optionally spices such as fenugreek seeds can be added at the time of soaking for additional flavor. Once done soaking, the lentils are ground to a fine paste and the rice is separately coarsely ground, then they are combined.

Next, the mixture is left to ferment overnight during which its volume becomes more than double. The finished idly batter is then put into greased moulds of an idly tray for steaming. The tray is held above the level of boiling water in a pot and the pot is covered until the idlis are done. Sambar is made with combination of vegetables – okra, carrot, radish, pumpkin, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and the whole shallots or onions.

Sambar powder is a coarse powder made of roasted lentils, dried whole red chillies, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves with regional variations including cumin, black pepper, grated coconut, cinnamon, or other spices. The vegetables, tamarind pulp, sambar powder, turmeric, salt and asafoetida are boiled together, until the vegetables are cooked. After the vegetables are cooked, the cooked lentils are added. Mustard seeds and curry leaves tempered in vegetable oil is added to the cooked sambar for flavour.

Idli Sambar History.

Food etymology says, Shivakotiacharya mentioned a food ‘iddalige’ in his Kannada book “Vaddaradhane”. He mentioned iddilage was prepared only from an black gram (urad dal) batter. The Western Chalukya king and scholar Someshwara III, reigning in the area now called Karnataka, included an idli recipe in his Sanskrit encyclopedia “Manasollasa”.

He described the food as ‘iddarika’. The food prepared using this recipe is now called ‘uddina idli’ in Karnataka. The word Sambar (earlier knows as ‘Champaar’ in ancient times) stemmed from Tamil word ‘Champaaram’ meaning spicy condiments. History reveals that it was originated in the kitchen of Thanjavur Maratha ruler Shahuji during the seventeenth century from Tamil Nadu.

Shahuji was trying to make a dish called amti, experimented with pigeon peas instead of mung bean, and tamarind pulp for kokum and the court named it ‘sambhar’ after the guest of the day, Sambhaji, second emperor of the Maratha Empire.

Different ways to cook Idli.

With the emigration of south Indians throughout the world, many variations of idli have been created. Difficult ingredients and differing cooking customs have required changes in both ingredients and methods. Parboiled rice can reduce the soaking time considerably.

Similarly, semolina or cream of wheat may be used for preparing rava idli (wheat idli). Yogurt may be added to provide the sour flavour for unfermented batters. Pre-packaged mixes allow for almost instant idlis. Sugar may be added to sambar to make them sweet instead of spicy or savoury.

As reported by reputed food television channels, idli sambar has ranked among top ten most widely available street food items in India.