Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hotel Saravana Bhavan Inspired 14 Idly - Sambar (Rice Cakes Soaked in Lentil Sauce)

 This month the theme for Free Spirit Bloggers was picked by Siri, We had to recreate that one dish we have had in a restaurant and and relive those moments/ memories, and it had to be a main course.

  My pick was 14 Idly from Hotel Saravana Bhavan (HSB). It is a dish unique to this restaurant. I have had Sambar-Idly in other Bhavans, but none of them can even hold a candle to HSB's 14 Idly. When ever I go to HSB I order this for sure, apart from some dosa be it in New York City or Chennai!. I am pretty surprised that food in HSB New York tastes just like the one in Chennai! Over the dozen times we have visited NYC, I make it a point to religiously visit HSB like it is a holy shrine. Once we are in the restaurant the rules are short and sweet (maybe not!), DO NOT TOUCH MY 14 IDLY, EVEN IF YOU JUST WANT A PIECE OR 2 TO TASTE. I NEED THE 14 IDLIES, SO GET YOUR OWN  and I will share everything else. Usually if I order any dish with sambar as the side, the sambar will almost remain at the same level as it was when left on my table. Even after I am done eating! This is one dish where I lick the sambar clean of the oblong bowl that they serve it in.
  I have been on the quest for Saravana Bhavan sambar for a long time now. Thanks to my genius mother, I   think I finally nailed it!. Here is the recipe for all of you to lick clean ;).I will come up with a detailed post for making idlies. The proportion of rice and dal is different, plus there are several tips and tricks!

For Idlies: ( This is a 2-in-1 batter. I use it for Idly and dosa)
Idly rice - 4 Cups
Urad dal - 1 Cup*
Fenugreek seeds - 1 Tsp
Toor Dal - 2-3 Tbsps (optional)
Water - 4 cups

  • Soak the rice, fenugreek seeds and toor dal ( if using) for 6-8 hours.
  • Soak the Urad dal for some 45 mins, seperately.
  • Grind the Urad dal to a fine soft paste using about 3/4th cup of water.  Empty into a big vessel.
  • In the same grinder/food processor add a little rice mixture and water and start grinding. Gradually add the rest.
  • Grind to a fine paste. Try not to use more water than the 4 cups mentioned for the entire grinding . Its always better to have a thicker batter and add water as needed than to have a batter thats runny an you need to do a lot of golmal to fix it!!!. Empty in the same container as you did the urad dal batter.**
  • Add salt about 2 tsp. Mix it with your hand. It is an important step. The "good yeast" in your hands help in fermentation. And result in a fluffy idly.
  • Set the batter aside overnight, in a warm place. Well this again depends on where you live. In Chennai I remember the batter will ferment in some 4 hrs!!!. I keep my batter in the oven with lights turned on. Sometimes I warm up the oven and keep the batter in. So if you live in a cold place you can try this method.
  • Once it has fermented. Mix the batter and deflate it. Add water to the batter as you make idly/ dosa as per your requirement. The batter should not be too thick or thin. When you pour it from a ladle it should flow like a ribbon. Always make Idly first before making dosa. The Idlies do not come out fluffy if you make dosa out of the batter first.
To make the Idlies:
  • I make my idlies in the pressure cooker. I am sure you can make it in microwave (I've seen microwave idly plates in India), electric cooker etc. though I have not tried it personally.
  • Fill up the pan of the cooker with atleast 1 inch water. Use the stand that comes with the cooker. If not use lesser water. Close the pressure cooker and keep the flame on high. Let a big jet of steam come out. Do not use the cooker weights.
  • In the meanwhile, oil the cavities of the idly pan(s)and fill it with the batter. Using a small ladle or a big spoon.
  • Once you get a nice big jet of steam. Reduce the flame wait for a few seconds and open the cooker lid carefully. Place the filled Idly pan(s) into the cooker and close the cooker. And keep the flame on high and again do not use the cooker weights.
  • Set a kitchen timer for 7- 9 minutes.
  • Once done. Reduce the flame wait for a few seconds before opening the cooker. And remove from the cooker. To test for doneness stick a knife/spoon/fork in the middle. If it comes out clean its done 
  • This step is optional. You can show the Idly plate under cool running water. This helps in cooling the idlies faster and make it easier to remove it from the plates.
  • Next step is a must(according to me!!!!) Drizzle some sesame oil on your idly. You can have it with some molagai podi, chutney, or/and sambar, or even Sugar with ghee.... yummmmmmm!!!!
For the 14 Idly Sambar: (This recipe makes a lot of sambar.Well!! you need a lot of sambar to soak you idlies in! )

Onion - 1 Medium sized,( Shallots would be ideal! but I had none :( )
Tomatoes - 3-4 medium (be generous!)
Toor dal - 1/2 cup
Turmeric powder -1 Tsp
Tamrind Paste - 1 Tbsp (I use a brand called tamicon.Its pretty strong)
Sambar Powder - 3-4 tsp (Adjust according to the strength your sambar powder.)
Hing - A generous pinch
Salt to taste
Curry leaves - Divided
Cilantro/ corriander leaves - a handful
Sesame Oil - 1 tsp
 A handful of vegetables like drumstick, capsicum e.t.c can be used to add to the flavor of the sambar. Do not use too many vegetables though.
Milk - 1/2 cup 

For Tempering:
Sesame oil (perferable) - 2 tsp
Mustard Seeds- 1 Tsp
Dry Red Chillies- 1-2 (as per your perference)
Curry leaves 

For Garnish:
Finely Chopped Onion - 1/2 - 1 medium onion (depending on how much you like or hate raw onions. )
Finely Chopped Cilantro/ Corriander leaves- A small bunch (Absolute must)
Ghee - 1/2 - 1 tsp per serving
Sesame Oil - 1/4 - 1/2 tsp per serving 
  • Pressure cook the toor dal with turmeric and tomatoes. Let it cook for atleast 4-5 whistles. The dal should be really mushy. Also steaming the tomatoes along with the toor dal gives it a different flavor!
  • In a saucepan add the sesame oil and sauté the onions till translucent.
  • Add the tamrind paste (dissolved in 1 cup warm water), sambar powder, turmeric powder,hing,salt, corriander leaves, and some curry leaves.
  • Give it a boil till the raw smell of the powder leaves the mixture.
  • Add 1 more cup of water and addthe mushy dal- tomato mixture.
  • Give it a boil.. And in the meanwhile taste it and add salt ,sambar powder or more tamrind paste if needed. This sambar should not be too spicy or tangy. Rather the tang should come from the tomatoes rather than the tamrind.
  • Add the milk in the end. Do not boil too much after adding it. Yes, this is the secret ingredient in most hotel sambars!
  • Also the consistency should be slightly watery. And not too thick like the usual sambars.

  • In a bowl place 14 mini idlies. Yes, there should be exactly 14 idlies! It's not called 14 idly for nothing. I'm just kidding you can use as many idlies as you want!

                                           No prizes for guessing the number of idlies in there!  
Thanks to my MIL who generously donated this Onlong bowl to me :D.
  • Drizzle some sesame oil. 
  • Pour sambar over the idlies, generously.

  • Drizzle some ghee and some more sesame oil. You can omit the ghee and/ or the oil. But I think this gives it the restaurant feel! 
  • Sprinkle some onions and top it off with some finely chopped cilantro/ corriander leaves.

  • Enjoy the Idlies as they go in one by one! Its strange, I always count my idlies at HSB everytime I eat there and  I've never been lucky enough to get even one idly extra! :(

* If you are using a mixie or food processor to grind the batter, use 1.5 cups of urad dal.
**  It is important to use a large container as the mixture ferments and if it is a small container it will spill over.

  Do check out what my team-mates :Anu, Deepti, DK, Lata, Madhuri, Nags, and Siri are cooking up in their kitchens!


  1. OMG! I am hungry now, Mittu!! This is my hubby's must-order dish everytime we hit any Saravana Bhavan. Unfortunately the one HSB we have in NJ, we did not like as much as others. This sambar recipe is a keeper. I don't have the mini-idly mould. But, I'll make regular sized ones and down them with your sambar. Yes, I'm still drooooooling!

  2. wow am really carving for this now,luks too gud...

  3. Ooh join the club of 14 idli idli plate has 15 slots and i am always wanting to know what they do with the 15th in HSB! LOL!!!!
    My usual proportion for idli is 3:1, but if i need the idlis for the 14idlis, I too increase the rice (which also works well for idli upma). I think your mother's sambhar is the key to this dish....loving it:)

  4. @ deepti - Let me know if it was like the HSB sambar ;)
    @premalatha - Thank you. You must really try it out sometime if you are an Idly fan!
    @Lataji- I never knew 14 idly had so many fans! The day Siri announced I had decided this was it! I tried some 2-3 sambar recipes before I zeroed in on this recipe. Before I got a grinder some 2 yrs back I used to grind it in my MIxie using 3:1 ratio. This recipe is a dosa cum idly batter henc ethe higher rice ratio. Idlies come out decent though.

  5. Ah! milk in sambar. that is new to me. :-). the dish is making me hungry now Mittu. Super.


  6. Thanks for sharing this recipe! Toor dhal with tomatoes and tumeric makes wonders. I sauted the sambar with ghee,mustard and asfoetida and it added additonal flavour to sambhar.

  7. This tastes just like the original saravana bhavan sambar!!!! The milk really does the trick.

  8. Hey chennai people!!no time to do shopping,just do online shopping at

  9. Tried your sambar and it tasted exactly like Saravana bhavan sambar. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe.

  10. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.

    Diwali Sweets to Chennai

  11. Can you give more details on the sanbar powder, store bought/ homemade? If homemade would you mind sharing the recipe?

  12. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks once again.
    Rice online shopping chennai

  13. There are a number of South Indian food that enjoy a lot of popularity among the customers. With rich taste and flavor, these food items are extremely delicious and tasty.

  14. Did u get the Rava like texture on the idly like as in hotel