Monday, October 8, 2012

Sambar Recipe

My mum's been after my life for years about learning to cook. I never bothered. She used to tell me no one would marry me if I couldn't cook good food. Well, I am married but I sure wish I had listened to her and learned to cook. Now I only started cooking six months ago and realized, it wasn't that big of a deal but there are days when I'm totally lost in the kitchen and can't figure out how to make something taste good. I went out and bought all the Indian spices I could think of but I just wish someone would tell me how to do it right and I wouldn't need to figure things out on my own. Ankit thinks I'm a natural because he likes my food. I've noticed I just cannot follow a recipe. I've tried following recipes several times and the food wasn't very nice.
Ankit told me a while ago that he really liked South Indian food. I barely ever ate South Indian, let alone cooked it so I went through all sorts of recipes online to figure it out. Sambar is a South Indian lentil and vegetable stew. After going through a lot of recipes and failing to follow them, I came up with my own :) and it works! Ankit loves it and I (surprisingly) like it, too!

So here goes...

1. Arhar/Toor Dal (when I didn't have arhar, I used lal masoor and it tasted just fine) - 1/2 cup.
2. Vegetables (Green beans, carrots, okra, drumsticks, cauliflower, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes) - as much as you like. It's the best way to get some vegetables inside you (should be cut bite-size) and it's healthy!
3. Ginger - 1 inch piece finely chopped
4. Garlic - 3-4 cloves finely chopped
5. Serrano Pepper - 1 finely chopped
6. Sambar Powder - 2 big tbsp (found at any Indian store)
7. Garam Masala - 1 tbsp
8. Tamarind pulp (I used 1 tsp tamarind concentrate because I didn't have the paste or the pulp)
9. Amchoor (Mango powder) - 3 tbsp
10. Chili powder - 1 tsp
11. Fenugreek Seeds (Methi) - 1/2 tsp
12. Mustard Seeds (Rai) - 1/2 tsp
13. Asafoetida (Hing) - a pinch
14. Turmeric Powder (Haldi) - 1/2 tsp
15. Dry Whole Red Chili - 3-4
16. Curry Leaves - 8-10
17. Cumin Seeds - 1 tsp
18. Olive Oil - 2 tbsp


1. Cook the lentils in the pressure cooker to save time with a tsp of salt and turmeric powder. You may add extra water. Sambar is not supposed to be thick in consistency.

2. In a pan, heat olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, dry whole red chilis, curry leaves and asafoetida. This cooks fast so make sure you don't burn it. 

3. Once you smell the fragrance of the spices, add ginger and garlic. Cook a few seconds and immediately add chopped onions. Cook the onions for a minute and then add all the vegetables. You can choose how much you want to add in your sambar. I'll share a picture of how mine looked.

4. Cover the pan and let the vegetables cook. 

5. While the veggies are cooking, take a bowl, put tamarind pulp (or concentrate) and add one cup of hot water. Let the tamarind mix in the water evenly so it should look like tamarind water. 
Note: Tamarind concentrate taste really bitter, so add a tbsp of sugar to the water for it to taste tangy.

6. Now add the tamarind water to the vegetables and cover again. Let the vegetables boil in the tamarind water.
Note: The water should cover half of the pan. The vegetables should still be visible (not drowning). But if you put a lot of vegetables like I do, you might want to make more tamarind water.  

7. After 5 minutes of boiling, remove cover and add sambar masala, garam masala, 1 tbsp amchoor powder and salt. Mix everything properly and cover with lid again. Let the vegetables cook until tender.

8. Once you think the veggies are cooked, put the entire thing into the cooked lentils pot. It should float like a thin soup.

9. Let it boil for 10 minutes.

10. Now taste check for salt and add as required. Also check for the flavor. If it's not tangy enough, add more amchoor powder. I usually add two more tbsp of amchoor and half a tsp of red chili powder at this point. 

But it totally depends on your taste. My husband likes his food slightly spicy and tangy so I usually add a little extra at the end. But it might already be too spicy for you because of the serrano pepper, the whole red chilis and all the spices. 

11. Now let it simmer for another 15 minutes and let the flavors come together.

And you're done!

Sambar is eaten with idli or dosa. Idli is a sorts of a cake made of rice and lentils. Dosa is like a crêpe or pancake made of rice and lentils, too. I've made dosa before but it was a pain. Idli is much easier to make if you have an idli maker. You get idli mix packets in the stores. All you have to do is add some water to it and cook it in the idli maker. Takes 10 minutes to do that. Ankit made some a while ago, they were great. Or if you're too lazy to cook, you can even get frozen ones; they taste just as good. 

These are the ones we get. You just have to microwave them for 3 minutes. It's quite simple.

Dip the idlis into the sambar and enjoy! :)

But if you don't have either, sambar tastes really good with basmati rice. 

Try it and let me know how it went! 

Best of luck! :)


  1. Hey Thanks!! I tried this and turned out really tasty. I didn't hv tamrind so i just used a lot of mango powder and I put in a little sugar too. It is another thing that my kids didn't eat it because of all the vegetables. So i ended up eating most of the Sambhar.....

  2. No problem! :) Glad it worked out. Ankit loves it and usually eats all the veggies.