Sambar is this delicious South Indian lentil and vegetable stew that you’ve never heard of. It’s something you need to try for yourself.
It really should be popular. I think it’s only on two Indian restaurant menus in town. The two best restaurants. But still. Just not enough South Indian restaurants around. Not yet anyway. But it’s coming. And it’s about time.
More restaurants need to serve sambar – seriously
I know. I rant about the world needing Indian restaurants to mix it up a lot. But it does. And if we don’t ask for it we won’t ever get it. Seriously.
There are more than 20 dishes served in India. Restaurants should try harder to represent their culture. Their food. That wonderful, wonderful food.
Traditional sambar is served with different South Indian flatbreads you’ve probably never heard of. Idli. Dosa. Or vadas. Vadas are these super tasty fried ground lentil donuts. Crazy good. And they eat it for breakfast. My kind of breakfast!
Convinced yet? You should be. Big flavours in this dish. Curry leaves. Green chilies. Tamarind. Spice. Tomato. All working together. Perfect against the lentils.
Vegetarian, healthy and delicious
This is a vegetarian meal. Vegan even. But it’s not just for vegetarians. It’s deeply satisfying. For anyone. And it makes a great addition along side other curries. A counterpoint for whatever curry you feel like cooking. That’s how I eat sambar. Equal footing with other curries.
A little spice wakes thing up
This sambar recipe is a bit different from many out there. I find a lot of them could use a bit of heat. Just to wake your taste buds up a bit. I’m not talking blow your head spicy. But a little something.
The green chili add a bit of heat. They also add flavour. Another layer. More complex. They are a really nice touch. Don’t know why all the sambar recipes out there leave this out.
Ingredients have been simplified a bit in this version. Authentic sambar has this vegetable called drumsticks in it. I like drumsticks. Like a fibrous okra.
That’s hard to find. And not everyone gets it. So I left it out. Beans are easy to find. And the flavour profile works.
You can use all sorts of vegetables
Lots of vegetables work. Carrots. Peas. Okra. All good candidates. Up to you. Keep in mind that the sambar will pick up the flavours of the vegetables you cook in it. Choose wisely.
Or par-boil your vegetables. Some of the flavour goes down the drain when you do that. Can’t believe I’m suggesting you let flavour go down the drain. But you don’t want to overpower the sambar.
The onions are every day ordinary pearl onions. Easy to find. Bit of a pain to peel though. Shallots work too. Not that they are easy to peel either. But at least they are bigger. So you don’t have to peel as many.
This is one of those dishes you may never taste if you don’t make it yourself. Which is too bad. Sambar is worth trying.
Make it for your friends. Share the experience. People need to know there’s more to Indian than chicken tikka masala…
south Indian sambar
- 1 cup toor dal - you can substitute masoor dal
- 3 1/2 cups water plus more at the end
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 1/2 cup diced tomatoes fresh in season, canned otherwise
- 2 tbsp sambar powder - available at any Indian grocer
- 1 tsp kashmiri chili powder
- 1-2 green chilies seeded and diced
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 10-12 pearl onions - boiled for 3 minutes and peeled
- 1 cup green beans - your choice of any vegetable here
- 1-2 small potatoes cut into 1/2 inch pieces and par-boiled for 7-8 minutes(optional)
- 2 tbsp tamarind paste - paste is not the same as concentrate. Do not use concentrate.
- 1-2 tbsp cilantro finely chopped
Tempering (the final flavour blast)
- 2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seed
- 4-5 dried red chilies broken into large pieces
- 20-25 curry leaves fresh
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
Cook the lentils
- Combine the toor dal, water and turmeric in a pot. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, over low heat until they start to fall apart. This takes 20-30 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, green chilies, sambar powder and chili powder. Simmer until the lentils are pretty much broken down. This can take another 20-30 minutes.
- Add the potatoes, beans, onions and salt. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Make the tempering
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a small skillet. Add the chilies, mustard seed and cumin seed and cook until the seeds start to pop. Press the chilies into the oil. Flip them. This takes about 30 seconds.
- Add the curry leaves and cook another 20-30 seconds.
- Add the tempering into the sambar. Stir in the tamarind and cilantro. Cook for 5 minutes. Add enough water to make the consistency a bit runny. Taste for salt and adjust
- Serve with Indian flatbreads or rice as a vegetarian meal or serve as a side with whatever other curries you want. No rules here...
19 thoughts on “sambar – south indian lentil and vegetable stew”
Great recipe. I invested in curry leave shoots a few years ago, and have them fresh. This recipe (and the sambar powder recipe) puts them to good use. Make this often.
I’ve never managed to keep a curry plant alive. I’m very jealous!
Hi romain, have traveled Indian 11 times and have had samber, loved it, so I want to serve Sambar in my restaurant, it’s fantastic thanks Armen
I’d be keen to come by and try it if I ever to your neck of the woods.
I’ve discovered that sambar powder is not available in all Indian shops.
Would you consider adding a post explaining how to make it?
Hmmm… That’s not a bad idea. Will see if I can come up with a twist that makes it glebekitchen.
Hi Romain, I have been making Sambar from time to time. Today I had Sambar-cravings again, but decided I was going to try something radical. Instead of adding turmeric directly to the water, I decided to bloom it in oil together with the Sambar and the chili powder before adding the water (I also added a very small pinch of turmeric directly to the water to retain some of that raw spice flavor). The outcome was a new take on Sambar stew that I really enjoyed. It got this nice nutty warm aroma and a more brown color. Would love to hear your thoughts about it, and thanks for the inspiration and confidence to experiment!
Any sambar is a good sambar in my books. I will try your variation next time I make sambar. I love the raw turmeric flavour with lentils but I also love the flavour of properly bloomed spices so I can’t see how this wouldn’t be delicious.
Delighted to hear you are playing around with recipes now. That’s awesome!
Great vegetarian cooking!
A good sambar is a wonderful meal and so under-rated. Delighted to hear you tried it. The world needs more sambar!
Great as always thanks! I cut the red chilli down to only one, as we like a lentil based dish to be comforting, rather than hot. A lovely warmth with just the one. Actually quick question, in a lot of your recipes you state “chilli, seeded”. Does this mean seeds removed? I read it first as “seeds in” rather than “de-seeded”, but I think it’s seeds removed that you mean?
Anyway, great recipe and thanks for recommending it to me from a previous comment.
Great to hear you enjoyed it. I love a good sambar.
Seeded means (in my vernacular) with the seeds removed.
This looks great! Can’t wait to try it.
Can you substitute the tamarind concentrate for Maggi tamarind sauce?
I’ve updated the recipe as it really should have been tamarind paste (not concentrate). I love Maggi tamarind sauce but it is sweet and this recipe calls for more the sour of regular tamarind paste. I think with Maggi the result would have an odd (sweet) element.
This is truly incredible. The flavors blow me away. I took the tamarind concentrate down to 1/4. 2 TBS seemed to kill a lot of the flavor for me.
Glad you liked it! Good thing you rolled back on the tamarind concentrate. The recipe calls for tamarind paste – which is not at all the same stuff as tamarind concentrate.
A great explanation, the way you describe s very easy to make it!!
thanks for sharing.
Another great cozy recipe! I just recently bought tamarind, so it’s great to see a different use for it!
That little bit of sour from tamarind is a great addition to this dish.