Sambar – How to make Sambar

South Indian lentil stew made with vegetables and spices! This flavorful and spiced Sambar goes well with rice, idli or dosa!
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Sambar – south Indian lentil stew made with vegetables, lentils and a special blend of spices.

It’s best enjoyed with rice, idli or dosa. Don’t let the list of ingredients intimidate you, it’s actually easy to put together!

sambar served in a grey bowl garnished with curry leaves with twigs on cilantro and more curry leaves scattered all around

When we eat South Indian food in restaurants, my focus is always more on the sambar and chutneys than the idli and dosa.

Sure, I love my idli and dosa but a good sambar and chutney makes all the difference in my opinion.

Unfortunately, most of the restaurants here make really bad sambar. It’s usually tasteless and lacks flavor. So I compensate for the lack of it by making a good sambar at home.

My sambar recipe is pretty basic and straight forward. I don’t use a ton of veggies either but I can promise that this make a good basic sambar.

What is Sambar

Sambar is a lentil and vegetable stew, most popular in South India.

Even though I am not south Indian, I have always loved it as far as I can remember. So, I guess it’s safe to say it’s popular all across India.

Here are the key ingredients required to make a sambar.

Lentil (dal): Lentils form the base of sambar. Usually it’s made with toor dal (split pigeon peas lentil) but can also be made by mixing moong and toor dal  or masoor (red lentils) and toor dal.

You can cook the dal either in a stove top pressure cooker or Instant Pot.

Vegetables:  a number of vegetables are traditionally used in sambar like pearl onion, tomatoes, pumpkin, eggplant, drumstick, carrots, okra etc. Using different vegetables makes the sambar flavorful.

However, my recipes doesn’t use a ton of veggies. I use tomato, drumstick, eggplant and carrots. You can add more veggies as you like.

Always remember to not overcook the veggies for your sambar. They should hold their shape and not become mushy.

a hand digging into a bowl of sambar with a spoon

Sambar powder: the taste of the sambar depends heavily on the sambar powder which is a spice mix made by grinding several spices. Use your favorite brand of sambar powder or make one at home (see recipe below).

Tamarind & Jaggery: these ingredients add the little tartness & sweetness to the sambar respectively.

Final Tadka: and a good tadka (tempering) at the end with mustard seeds, curry leaves and hing is what makes the sambar so delicious!

I like using ghee for the tadka in my sambar. You can use oil if you want to keep this recipe vegan.

And that’s pretty much it what you need to make sambar at home. The consistency of sambar can be adjusted to preference.

Some like really thin sambar while others prefer it thick. I prefer mine on the thicker side.

Homemade Sambar Powder

In case you can’t find sambar powder, here’s a quick recipe to make it at home.

In a pan over medium heat, dry roast the following spices in a pan on medium heat until fragrant, around 3 to 4 minutes.

  • 1 tablespoon chana dal
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 dried red chilies (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 clove

Let cool and then grind to a powder. Store in an airtight container and use as needed.

Serving Suggestions for Sambar

Sambar is served traditionally with idli, dosa, vada, rice.

But honestly you can eat it with anything you like. I also eat it with my roti, quinoa, brown rice!

3 pieces of idli served with sambar in a black bowl

Method

1- To a pressure cooker, add the rinsed dal with 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt and 3 cups of water. Cook for 5 whistles on medium-high flame, then lower the heat to medium-low and let it cook for another 5 to 6 minutes.

Once the pressure releases naturally, open the cooker and mash the cooked dal lightly with a potato masher. Set aside.

If using an Instant Pot, pressure cook for 9 minutes on high pressure with natural pressure release.

2- Meanwhile soak 1 tablespoon tamarind piece in 1/3 cup of hot water for 15 to 20 minutes.

3- Then strain the liquid using a strainer.

4- You will get 3 to 4 tablespoons of tamarind water/juice. Set it aside.

step by step collage to make sambar at home

5- In a pan, heat 2 teaspoons oil on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped eggplant and cook for around 2 minutes.

6- Add carrots and frozen drumsticks and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 2 more minutes.

7- Add the chopped tomato and cook for 1 minute.

8- Then add around 3 cups (24 oz) water and stir.

step by step collage to make sambar at home

9- Add 2 tablespoons sambar powder (or adjust to taste).

10- Also add jaggery powder, again adjust to taste.

11- Add 4 tablespoons of the tamarind water that you had extracted earlier.

12-Stir in the cooked dal.

step by step collage to make sambar at home

13- Also add the kashmiri red chili powder, if using.

14- Stir everything together and let the sambar simmer on medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes.

15- For the tempering, heat 1 tablespoon ghee (or oil if you want to keep this vegan), in a small pan on medium heat. Once the ghee is hot, add mustard seeds and let them pop.

Then add the hing and curry leaves for stir for few seconds until leaves turn crisp.

16- Pour tempering over the simmering sambar.

step by step collage to make sambar at home

Serve the sambar hot with idli, dosa or rice!

overhead shot of a bowl of sambar garnished with cilantro and curry leaves

If you’ve tried this Sambar Recipe then don’t forget to rate the recipe! You can also follow me on FacebookInstagram to see what’s latest in my kitchen!

Sambar

sambar served in a grey bowl garnished with curry leaves with twigs on cilantro and more curry leaves scattered all around
Manali
South Indian lentil stew made with vegetables and spices! This flavorful and spiced Sambar goes well with rice, idli or dosa!
5 from 31 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Servings 8
Calories 238 kcal

Ingredients

To Pressure Cook the Dal

  • 1 cup toor dal/arhar dal pigeon peas lentil
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups water 24 oz

Tamarind Juice

  • 1 tablespoon tamarind piece
  • 1/3 cup hot water

For Cooking The Vegetable

  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped eggplant
  • 2 medium carrots diced
  • 7-8 drumsticks I used frozen ones that I got from Indian store
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt adjust to taste
  • 1 medium tomato chopped
  • 3 cups water 24 oz
  • 2 tablespoons sambar powder homemade or store bought, adjust to taste
  • 2-3 teaspoons powdered jaggery
  • 1/2 teaspoon kashmiri red chili powder optional

Tadka/Tempering

  • 1 tablespoon ghee or use oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds black
  • 1/4 teaspoon hing (asafoetida)
  • 10-15 curry leaves
  • chopped cilantro to garnish

Instructions
 

  • To a pressure cooker, add the rinsed dal with 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt and 3 cups (24 oz) of water. Cook for 5 whistles on medium-high flame, then lower the heat to medium-low and let it cook for another 5 to 6 minutes. Once the pressure releases naturally, open the cooker and mash the cooked dal lightly with a potato masher. Set aside. If using an Instant Pot, pressure cook for 9 minutes on high pressure with natural pressure release.
  • Meanwhile soak 1 tablespoon tamarind piece in 1/3 cup of hot water for 15 to 20 minutes. Then strain the liquid using a strainer. You will get 3 to 4 tablespoons of tamarind water/juice. Set it aside.
  • In a pan, heat 2 teaspoons oil on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped eggplant and cook for around 2 minutes.
  • Add carrots and frozen drumsticks and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the chopped tomato and cook for 1 minute.
  • Then add around 3 cups (24 oz) water and stir.
  • Add 2 tablespoons sambar powder (or adjust to taste). Also add jaggery powder, and 4 tablespoons of the tamarind water that you had extracted earlier.
  • Stir in the cooked dal. Also add the kashmiri red chili powder, if using.
  • Stir everything together and let the sambar simmer on medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes.
  • For the tempering, heat 1 tablespoon ghee (or oil if you want to keep this vegan), in a small pan on medium heat. 
  • Once the ghee is hot, add mustard seeds and let them pop. Then add the hing and curry leaves for stir for few seconds until leaves turn crisp.
  • Pour tempering over the simmering sambar.
  • Serve the sambar hot with idli, dosa or rice!

Video

Notes

  1. Use oil in place of ghee in the final tadka to make this recipe vegan.
  2. You can also use a mix of toor and moong dal to make this sambar.

Nutrition

Calories: 238kcalCarbohydrates: 18gProtein: 18gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 65mgSodium: 529mgPotassium: 473mgFiber: 8gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 2800IUVitamin C: 29.2mgCalcium: 37mgIron: 2.4mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @cookwithmanali or tag #cookwithmanali!

69 thoughts on “Sambar – How to make Sambar

  1. Thanks Manali. I am great fan of your recipes. Be it palak paneer, sambhar, malai kofta, etc, simply love them all.
    Thanks a ton for sharing all these with us. Keep posting new ones 😍🤗❣

  2. Hi Manali!

    First of all, I love your website and recipes! Also, how can I make this without a pressure cooker or without an Instant Pot?

    Thanks!

    1. I would say soak the dal for few hours or overnight and then first cook the dal in a pan until it’s completely cooked/mashed consistency. If you have soaked it, should cook in 40-45 minutes. Then same steps.

  3. 5 stars
    All these years I had cooking sambar the way my mum does it. We liked it and had no reason to change. Last week, out of curiosity I tried your recipe. My hubby, daughter and me love it! Definetely a recipe I would keep. Thank you.

  4. A few suggestions when you make your sambar next time.

    1. Use only one vegetable. Each vegetable gives a characteristic flavour that is unique. In our homes we just don’t say sambar but brinjal sambar, drumstick sambar, okra sambar, pearl onion sambar. And each is considered as a different in their own might as they give different flavour profiles.

    2. Next time, instead of sambar powder, try the ground coconut version of sambar, the original version of sambar.

  5. Hello Manali,
    The recipe is great. Even my wife loved it.
    I would suggest adding some coconut milk/cream and a bit more tamarind.

  6. Hi, under preparing the spices you list one tablespoon of chana dal. When I look that up I’m directed to a different recipe for a dish called chana dal. What is the spice to which you are referring?

    Thanks.

    1. In India chana dal is both- an ingredient (a type of lentil) and the final dish that’s made using that lentil is also called chana dal. Dal is just a term we in India use for both the ingredient and also the dish. I am referring to chana dal only (not the dish, the lentil that you can buy at Indian grocery store). Hope it clears it up.

  7. 5 stars
    This sambar recipe actually gets more than 5 stars from me! So simple, amazingly flavorful and very fast to come together!!!
    Thank you for this awesome recipe! I used carrots and celery, since thats all I had.

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