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  • Sambar – Spicy Lentils and Vegetable Stew

    Posted on | September 6, 2011 | 12 Comments |


    Anyone who has ever had a South Indian Vegetarian meal will be familiar with this quintessential South Indian dish that has so many small variations and deviations that you won’t be able to find the exact same recipe in two different households. I am not sure if it is a Tamil Naadu thing or not, but at Siv’s home they normally make Sambar with just one type of vegetable as the main ingredient. They have onion Sambar, tomato Sambar, okra Sambar etc. But my mom throws in any vegetable she can find into her Sambar, the more varieties the better. So needless to say, my Sambar also follows the same trail as my mom’s, always a medley of vegetables!

    If you ask me, there are four essential vegetables required for a proper Kerala Sambar – drumsticks, okra, potatoes and tomatoes. Other than these you can add whatever you have handy – carrots, radish, eggplant etc. Apart from the vegetables, the main ingredients of a Sambar are lentils – (I use toor dal (pigeon peas) or mung dal (green gram) depending on what is available at the time) and a mix of powdered spices commonly known as Sambar Powder. Most of the times it is easier to buy a pre-packaged Sambar powder readily available in almost all Indian grocery stores; but for a real Kerala Sambar taste, make sure that the ingredient list contains Asafoetida and Fenugreek along with Chili and Coriander powders. If you can’t find a Sambar powder that has these ingredients, just buy some asafetida and fenugreek powder and mix your own, I have a very basic recipe with powdered spices at the end of this post to make a quick Sambar powder mix. 


    Anyway, here’s my way of making Sambar, I am sure you have a different one. There is another variation of Sambar in Kerala with coconut as well, but I don’t usually make that one.


    • ½ cup mung dal (toor dal)
    • 3 tbsp Sambar powder (See Recipe below)
    • 1 medium sized potato, skinned and cubed
    • 2 drumsticks – halved lengthwise and cut into 2” long pieces
    • 6 okras, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2” long pieces
    • 1 large carrot, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2” long pieces
    • 3 baby eggplants – quartered
    • 6 small boiling onions, skinned and halved (Or use regular onions or shallots, thinly sliced, ~3 tbsp)
    • 2 small tomatoes, quartered.
    • 1 tbsp oil
    • ¼ tsp mustard seeds
    • 3 dried red chilies
    • A few curry leaves
    • 1 tsp tamarind paste
    • Salt to taste


    Wash and soak the dal for at least 4 hours or overnight. Drain the water, transfer to a pressure cooker, add 2 cups of water and cook for 5 minutes after the first whistle (translation for pressure cooker novices: The first whistle is the equivalent term for when full pressure is reached). Once the pressure cooker cools down, open the cooker and give it a small stir, no need to mash the dal.

    While the dal is getting cooked, boil 2 cups of water in a large saucepan and boil the potatoes. When the potatoes start to soften, add the rest of the vegetables except tomatoes and onions and cook until all the vegetables are softened, but not cooked to a mush. Pour the cooked dal along with its liquid to this pan. Add tamarind paste and bring it to a boil and let it simmer on low heat when we prepare the spices and seasonings.

    Place a small frying pan on a different burner. Add the oil to this pan and when the it starts to heat up, add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start to splutter, add the dried red chillies, curry leaves and the onions (or shallots). Sauté till onions start to soften. Reduce the heat and add the Sambar powder and sauté for 2 minutes on low heat, making sure that the spices are not burned. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 2 more minutes. Add 1 cup of water into this pan and bring to a boil. Pour this into the saucepan with the vegetables. Add salt to taste and mix well. If the Sambar looks too thick at this point, add some more water.

    Bring this to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to medium low and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Serve hot. Sambar goes well with rice, idly and dosas.


    Quick and Easy Sambar Powder

    Mix the following ingredients to make ~3 tbsp Sambar Powder

    • 5 tsp red chili powder
    • 3 tsp coriander powder
    • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
    • 1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
    • 1/2 tsp fenugreek powder
    Category: India - Kerala, Side Dish - Gravy, Vegetarian

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    12 Responses to “Sambar – Spicy Lentils and Vegetable Stew”

    1. kadhyaa
      September 6th, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

      Who can say no this comfort food..all time welcome..Sambhaar with rosametta rice is my all time fav…

    2. Srivalli
      September 7th, 2011 @ 5:21 am

      Sig good to see that lovely sambar..Happy Onam!..We love sambar with any vegetable or as a mix too..:)

    3. nags
      September 7th, 2011 @ 5:51 am

      that plate right there in the last picture is what dreams are made of!

      • Ritika
        October 3rd, 2011 @ 3:47 am

        So true!! Especially after living in Hyderabad for 4 years and now living in Melbourne, I crave for the simple things like nice warm sambar and rice..all just a dream! *sigh*

    4. Laavanya
      September 7th, 2011 @ 6:16 am

      I don’t think i’ve made sambar with all kinds of veggies in it.. i usually stick to 1 or max 2…
      The plate with the rosematta rice and sambar… heavenly! :)

    5. Reva
      September 7th, 2011 @ 7:14 am

      Simple delicious dish:) Will make anyone feel at home..:)

    6. notyet100
      September 7th, 2011 @ 8:16 am

      I prepare both ways sometimes with single veggie or with medley of vegetables ,:)

    7. BongMom
      September 7th, 2011 @ 10:08 am

      How I am craving some now

    8. Roops
      September 7th, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

      I must be the only south Indian out there who doesn’t like sambar :| . My mom makes with one vegetable as well except when it’s P,O,T combo 

    9. Premalatha Aravindhan
      September 7th, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

      wow love the platter,really makes me hungry…

    10. Seema
      September 9th, 2011 @ 8:35 am

      Roops, I am with you. I hate Sambhar, I wouldnt eat it until it is accompanied with fried fish or omellete. Give me only rice and sambhar and I’ll remain hungry uless my mom feeds me :)

      Lovely pic though Sig

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