Sambar

4.88 from 8 votes

Sambar is a spicy and tangy lentil and vegetable stew that is a staple in South Indian homes. Sharing my most sought-after sambar recipe with you all in this post. Serve it with dosa, idli, uttapam, or pongal for a hearty meal (traditional pressure cooker & instant pot versions).

Here are a few more south Indian curry recipes that are absolutely a delight to make for your everyday meals – Beetroot Rasam, Moru Curry, Vegetable Stew, Tomato Rasam, Mullangi Sambar and Veg Kurma.

Sambar served in a bowl.
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About This Recipe

Sambar is a spicy and tangy South Indian stew made with yellow pigeon pea lentils (tuvar dal) and an array of vegetables. It is flavored with sambar powder (a spicy spice mix) and a few more ingredients.

Sambar is a very popular recipe that is prepared in almost all South Indian homes for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You will also find this stew served at the tiffin centres, darshinis and restaurants along with idli, dosa, vada, uttapam, steamed rice and the list go on. It is a delicious lentil dish to include in your protein-rich vegetarian diet.

The key to its unique and authentic flavor is the use of fresh homemade sambar powder, which is an aromatic and flavorful blend of a few whole spices. But if you are short on time, you can definitely use a store-bought spice mix.

Each household has a different way of making sambar and in today’s post, I am sharing the recipe I learned from my mom. She has been making it for many years and everyone who has had a taste of it loved it.

This Mixed Vegetable Sambar is,

  • Healthy
  • Vegan + Gluten-Free
  • Easy to make
  • Protein Rich
  • Loaded with veggies
  • Perfect for everyday meals

Ingredients

You will get all the ingredients to make sambar in any Indian grocery store. Some things like lentils, tamarind paste, etc are available online too.

Tuvar Dal – Traditionally, tuvar dal (arhar dal, toor dal, yellow pigeon pea lentils) is used for making this delicious and traditional Indian dish. You can replace it with moong dal (split and skinned petite yellow lentils) or masoor dal for a lighter version. A mix of any of these dals also works great.

Vegetables – This dish is loaded with the goodness of vegetables. I like to use pearl onions (shallots), drumstick, carrot, eggplant, and yellow pumpkin, but you can go ahead and add any vegetables of your choice. 

This dish is also a great way to use up all the leftover vegetables in the fridge. 

Tamarind Paste – Tamarind add a delicious hint of tanginess to the recipe. If you are out of tamarind, you can substitute it with lemon juice.

I like to use readymade tamarind paste as it is free of any fibers and super easy to use but you can definitely soak seedless tamarind in water and then squeeze it to get the pulp out. Then use this pulp in the recipe. You can also strain the pulp to get rid of the fibers.

Sambar Powder – Sambar powder is a spice mix made using whole spices, lentils, and a few other ingredients and is a must to make homemade sambar. You can make it at home using my easy sambar powder recipe or buy it out.

Oil – While I prefer making sambar in vegetable oil, you can also make it in ghee. In Tamil Nadu, it is made in gingelly oil (sesame oil) while in Kerala it is made using coconut oil.

Other Ingredients – Other than the above ingredients, you will need turmeric powder, salt, curry leaves, whole dry red chilies, mustard seeds, onions, and tomatoes. 

Use fresh curry leaves, as they are very aromatic and delivers a nice flavor to the sambar. If curry leaves are not available, skip them but do not use dry leaves. Dry leaves have a very funny flavor which is not very palatable.

How to make Sambar?

Wash ½ cup tuvar dal and add it to a pressure cooker along with 2 cups of water, salt to taste, and ½ teaspoon turmeric powder. Close the lid.

Tuvar dal, water and turmeric powder added to a pressure cooker.

Cook for one whistle on high heat. Then reduce the heat to low and cook for 8-10 minutes. Remove the cooker from heat and let the steam release naturally.

Open the lid and add tamarind paste (or tamarind water) to the cooker. Mix well using a wire whisk. Traditionally a wooden masher was used to mix the dal. Set the cooked dal aside.

Cooked dal.

While the dal is cooking, prepare the vegetables.

  1. Shallots – Peel 10-12 shallots or pearl onions.
  2. Eggplant – Cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes. We need ½ cup of cubed eggplant. Soak the cubes in water until ready to use to avoid oxidation.
  3. Carrots – Peel the carrots and cut them into slices. We will need ½ cups of sliced carrots.
  4. Drumstick – Cut 1 drumstick into 2-inch pieces.
  5. Yellow Pumpkin – Peel the pumpkin and cut it into 1-inch cubes. We need ½ cup of cubed pumpkin.

Add all the prepared vegetables along with 1 cup water, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder to a pot.

Chopped vegetables added to a pan along with salt, turmeric powder and water.

Cover the pot and cook the vegetables on medium heat until they are tender (8-10 minutes).

Pan covered.

Do not overcook the vegetables otherwise they will become mushy. You can cook the vegetables in a pressure cooker as well (1 whistle on high heat followed by quick pressure release). Set the cooked veggies aside.

Cooked vegetables.

Heat 3 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Traditionally sambar was cooked in ghee but you can use any oil of your choice.

Oil heating in a pot.

Once the oil is hot, add 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 3-4 whole dry red chilies, and 15-20 curry leaves and let them crackle for 5-6 seconds.

Mustard seeds, curry leaves and dry red chilies added to the pot.

Add ½ cup finely chopped onion and fry until they turn translucent (4-5 minutes). You can skip adding onion if going for a no onion recipe.

Chopped onions added to the pot.

Add 1 cup finely chopped tomatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes until they are mushy.

Chopped tomatoes added to the pot.

Now add 2 tablespoon sambar powder and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add some water if the masala is too dry. Add the cooked dal and veggies to this pot and mix everything well.

Sambar powder added to the pot.
Cooked dal and vegetables added to the pot.

Now add more water to adjust the consistency. The consistency of sambar is a personal preference. Some people like it very thin while some like it thick. I personally like it a little thick but still flowy. Cook the sambar for 10-12 minutes on medium-low heat. Remove the pot from heat.

Ready sambar.

Once the sambar is ready, make the tempering. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. You can use ghee or coconut oil in place of vegetable oil as well.

Oil heating in a skillet.

Once the oil is hot, add 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 2-3 whole dry red chilies, and 10-12 curry leaves and let them crackle for 4-5 seconds.

Mustard seeds, whole dry red chilies and curry leaves added to the skillet.

Pour the tempering over the sambar and stir well. Serve hot.

Tempering poured over ready sambar.

Instant Pot Sambar Recipe

To make sambar in Instant pot, I like to cook the lentils and vegetables in the instant pot and make the masala and tempering over the stove top.

Wash the dal and add it to the instant pot along with 2 cups of water, salt, and turmeric powder.

Close the lid of the pot and set the valve to the sealing position. Press PRESSURE COOK and set the timer to 8 minutes. Once the timer goes off, let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes. Release the remaining pressure manually by moving the valve to the venting position.

Open the lid of the pot and add the veggies to it. Close the lid once again and set the valve to the sealing position.

Press PRESSURE COOK and set the timer to 2 minutes. Once the timer goes off, release the pressure manually and open the lid.

Make the masala in a skillet over stove top and add it to the cooked dal and veggies. Press SAUTE and cook the sambar for 3-4 minutes. Make the tempering in a small skillet over the stove top and add it to the sambar. Serve hot.

Pro Tips By Neha

Soak the tuvar dal for 15 to 20 minutes before you start cooking it to fasten the cooking process.

I have added a combination of vegetables in this recipe, but you can add a single preferred vegetable too.

Do not overcook the vegetables. They should be tender yet have a bite. If cooked too soft, they will turn mushy and won’t taste great.

Every household has its own recipe for making this scrumptious lentil stew. Some like to have big chunks of vegetables, while some prefer to have smaller ones. Some like theirs to be of a thick consistency, while others like it to be more on a liquidy side. You can adjust the consistency by adding more or less water.

If your sambar has turned sour from excess tamarind, then add a little bit of jaggery to compensate the taste.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is sambar powder?

It is a blend of various aromatic spices such as whole coriander seeds, cumin seeds, whole dry red chilies, fenugreek seeds, black peppercorns, chana dal (Bengal gram), urad dal (skinned and split black lentils), curry leaves, mustard seeds, asafetida, and turmeric powder.

All these spices are dry roasted one by one and then ground into a fine powder.

Sambar powder is easily available in all the Indian grocery stores, but you can also make it at home. Check out my detailed sambar powder recipe and make a batch at home.

Which vegetables can be added to sambar?

Here are some of the vegetables which are mostly used to make sambar and how to prepare them. You can always choose a combination of vegetables as per your taste and preferences.

Carrots (Gajar) – Peeled and cubed
Eggplant (Brinjal, Baingan) – Cubed and soaked in water until ready to use
Drumsticks (Sahjan ki Fhali) – Peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
Yellow Pumpkin (Kaddu) – Cubed, peeling is optional
Shallots (Chote Pyaaaz)- Peeled
Radish (Mooli )- Peeled and cubed
Tomatoes (Tamatar) – Chopped
Bottle Gourd (Lauki) – Peeled and cubed
French Beans – Cut into 1-inch pieces
Plantain (Raw Banana) – Kaccha Kela – Peeled and cubed
Spinach (Palak) – Chopped
Amaranth (Chaulai) – Chopped
Snake Gourd (Chichinda) – Peeled and cubed

Serving Suggestions

Sambar tastes great piping hot just out of the pot.

It goes really well with hot idli, dosa, medu vada, uttapam, or steamed rice. When serving with rice, do not forget to add an extra dollop of ghee on top with a side of your favorite Thoran/Poriyal and fried rice papad.

If you wish you can serve it along with soft chapatis as well. Quinoa, brown rice, or couscous also taste great with it.

I like to serve my Ragi Idli or Ven Pongal with a bowl full of this yummy sambar.

Storage Suggestions

If you have leftovers, you can store them in the fridge for a couple of days in an airtight container. If you make extra, don’t temper the entire sambar. 

Just temper the amount you want to consume, refrigerate the remaining without tempering. When you are ready to serve it, reheat and give it a fresh tempering.

Sambar tends to thicken when refrigerated. Add some more water while re heating it.

Variations

There are many variations of sambar. Each household has its own way of making it and it also differs from region to region.

Sambar made in Tamil Nadu uses sesame oil in its preparation, while the people in Kerala add coconut powder or coconut paste.

When we move towards Karnataka, a bit of jaggery is added in it to give it a nice sweet taste.

Vengaya (onion) and Mullangi Sambar (with radish) are quite popular in Tamil Nadu.

Arachuvitta and Kerala style Varutharacha Sambar are two of the most popular Kerala Style recipes, but, when it comes to Karnataka, Mysore and Udupi Style Sambar are absolutely loved by all.

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Sambar is a spicy and tangy lentil and vegetable stew that is a staple in South Indian homes. Sharing my most sought-after sambar recipe with you all in this post. Serve it with dosa, idli, uttapam, or pongal for a hearty meal (traditional pressure cooker & instant pot versions).
4.88 from 8 votes

Sambar Recipe

Sambar is a spicy and tangy lentil and vegetable stew that is a staple in South Indian homes. Sharing my most sought-after sambar recipe with you all in this post. Serve it with dosa, idli, uttapam, or pongal for a hearty meal.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 people

Ingredients 

For the Dal

  • ½ cup yellow pigeon pea lentils (tuvar dal)
  • salt to taste
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind paste

For the vegetables

  • 10-12 shallots
  • ½ cup cubed eggplant (keep in water until ready to use)
  • ½ cup sliced carrots
  • 1 drumstick (cut into 2 inch pieces)
  • ½ cup peeled and cubed yellow pumpkin
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder

For the masala

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 3-4 whole dry red chilies (stalk removed)
  • 15-20 curry leaves
  • ½ cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 cup finely chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons sambar powder

For the tempering

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 2-3 whole dry red chilies
  • 10-12 curry leaves
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Instructions 

  • Wash ½ cup tuvar dal and add it to a pressure cooker along with 2 cups of water, salt to taste, and ½ teaspoon turmeric powder. Close the lid.
  • Cook for one whistle on high heat. Then reduce the heat to low and cook for 8-10 minutes. Remove the cooker from heat and let the steam release naturally.
  • Open the lid and add tamarind paste (or tamarind water) to the cooker. Mix well using a wire whisk. Traditionally a wooden masher was used to mix the dal. Set the cooked dal aside.
  • While the dal is cooking, prepare the vegetables.
  • Shallots – Peel 10-12 shallots or pearl onions.
    Eggplant – Cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes. We need ½ cup of cubed eggplant. Soak the cubes in water until ready to use to avoid oxidation.
    Carrots – Peel the carrots and cut them into slices. We will need ½ cups of sliced carrots.
    Drumstick – Cut 1 drumstick into 2-inch pieces.
    Yellow Pumpkin – Peel the pumpkin and cut it into 1-inch cubes. We need ½ cup of cubed pumpkin.
  • Add all the prepared vegetables along with 1 cup water, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder to a pot.
  • Cover the pot and cook the vegetables on medium heat until they are tender (8-10 minutes).
  • Do not overcook the vegetables otherwise they will become mushy. You can cook the vegetables in a pressure cooker as well (1 whistle on high heat followed by quick pressure release). Set the cooked veggies aside.
  • Heat 3 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Traditionally sambar was cooked in ghee but you can use any oil of your choice.
  • Once the oil is hot, add 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 3-4 whole dry red chilies, and 15-20 curry leaves and let them crackle for 5-6 seconds.
  • Add ½ cup finely chopped onion and fry until they turn translucent (4-5 minutes). You can skip adding onion if going for a no onion recipe.
  • Add 1 cup finely chopped tomatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes until they are mushy.
  • Now add 2 tablespoon sambar powder and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add some water if the masala is too dry. Add the cooked dal and veggies to this pot and mix everything well.
  • Add more water to adjust the consistency. The consistency of sambar is a personal preference. Some people like it very thin while some like it thick. I personally like it a little thick but still flowy. Cook the sambar for 10-12 minutes on medium-low heat. Remove the pot from heat.
  • Once the sambar is ready, make the tempering. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. You can use ghee or coconut oil in place of vegetable oil as well.
  • Once the oil is hot, add 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 2-3 whole dry red chilies, and 10-12 curry leaves and let them crackle for 4-5 seconds.
  • Pour the tempering over the sambar and stir well. Serve hot.

Notes

Soak the tuvar dal for 15 to 20 minutes before you start cooking it to fasten the cooking process.
I have added a combination of vegetables in this recipe, but you can add a single preferred vegetable too.
Do not overcook the vegetables. They should be tender yet have a bite. If cooked too soft, they will turn mushy and won’t taste great.
Every household has its own recipe for making this scrumptious lentil stew. Some like to have big chunks of vegetables, while some prefer to have smaller ones. Some like theirs to be of a thick consistency, while others like it to be more on a liquidy side. You can adjust the consistency by adding more or less water.
If your sambar has turned sour from excess tamarind, then add a little bit of jaggery to compensate the taste.

Nutrition

Calories: 363kcal, Carbohydrates: 41g, Protein: 14g, Fat: 18g, Saturated Fat: 12g, Cholesterol: 17mg, Sodium: 53mg, Potassium: 948mg, Fiber: 13g, Sugar: 14g, Vitamin A: 4989IU, Vitamin C: 221mg, Calcium: 97mg, Iron: 4mg
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3 Comments

  1. Very nice recipe. Thank you.
    About the photographs accompanying the recipe, please note that they are all posted upside down. You may want to correct it.