Although eaten for breakfast in some parts of India, idli sambar is a perfect, palate-whetting snack. On their own, idlis - small steamed cakes - can taste bland but, when served with sambar - lentils and vegetables cooked in a thin stew - they make for a delicious, nutritious treat.
To make idlis, you need to soak rice and urad dal (skinned and split black lentils) separately, grind them, then let the ingredients ferment overnight. The fermentation adds a slightly sour flavour while also lightening the batter to make the idlis puffy. The batter is spooned into a metal mould that has shallow indentations, before being steamed. That's the usual method, anyway. Earlier this month, when I ate at Gaggan (No1 on the list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants), in Bangkok, the idlis served during the long tasting menu were particularly light and delicate: the batter had been microwaved. The sambar, instead of being served in a bowl alongside the idli, took the shape of an ethereal foam, and the whole mouthful (only one, sadly) was topped with a fried curry leaf.