Recipe for Sambar


Recipe for Sambar

The surprise find of moringa leaves some days back in an Indian store near me inspired me to make Adai, a south Indian breakfast made with lentils and rice. Since I had a big bunch of moringa leaves still in the fridge, the next dish that I made with it was Sambar. 

Sambar is a stew in which Toor Dal (pigeon peas) are combined with vegetables and cooked in a tamarind base. A special spice called Sambar Powder is added, which gives Sambar its characteristic taste.

This powder is a combination of many spices that are individually roasted and ground and then mixed. Sambar powder has been traditionally made in homes, with each home having its recipe passed down through generations. However, these days many big brands sell Sambar Powder, which is available prepackaged in India’s supermarkets. Due to the lack of time and the ease and convenience it offers, people prefer buying them instead of making them at home. Each brand has a slightly different taste, and people buy the one closest to the taste they prefer. 

Each of the south Indian states has its recipe for Sambar, and there are different recipes followed based on whether Sambar is made for breakfast ( to be eaten in Dosa, Idly, Vada, etc.) or lunch/dinner ( to be eaten with rice). 

Recently I made Sambar at home, and here is the recipe for it.

Ingredients needed for Sambar:

  1. Tur dal (Pigeon Peas): 1 cup
  2. Turmeric Powder: 1 -1 1/2 teaspoon
  3. Kashmiri red Chili Powder: 2 teaspoons
  4. Sambar Powder: 1 tablespoon
  5. Salt: to taste
  6. Oil: 2 tablespoons for cooking the veggies and optionally one teaspoon for tadka
  7. Mustard Seeds/Cumin seeds: 1 teaspoon
  8. Asafoetida: 1/2 teaspoon
  9. Curry leaves: 8-10
  10. Green Chilies: 3-4
  11. Dry red chilies: 3-4
  12. Onion: 1 big, diced
  13. Tomato: 1 big, roughly chopped
  14. Tamarind Juice: 1 cup ( extracted from about one tablespoon of tamarind pulp)
  15. Powdered Jaggery: 1 teaspoon
  16. Vegetables of your choice ( Pumpkin, ladysfinger, Moringa, Brinjal, Raddish are the common vegetables used in Sambar: diced, about 2 cups
  17. Water: Enough to soak the lentils, cook the lentils, and then later add extra to get the right consistency
  18. Fresh Coriander leaves: For garnishing 

Method to make Sambar:

  1. Wash and then soak the pigeon peas in water for about 30 minutes.
  2. Add the soaked pigeon peas, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder, roughly chopped tomato, and 3 cups of water in a pressure cooker and cook till the pigeon peas are soft and mushy. 

    pigeon peas being cookedcooked pigeon peas
  3. While the pigeon peas are cooking, take a pan and heat the oil. Add mustard seeds/cumin seeds( whatever is your preference) and asafoetida.

    frying cumin seeds
  4. Once the seeds crackle, add green chilies and red chilies.

    tadka for sambar
  5. Then add curry leaves and onions and fry till the onions become translucent.

  6. Add vegetables of your choice. I had some zucchini, carrots, and moringa leaves in my home, so I used those.

  7. Add salt, cover with a lid and let the vegetables cook to about 80%.

  8. Add the vegetables to the pressure cooker where pigeon peas have been cooked.

  9. Add Tamarind juice, sambar powder, and jaggery. Taste and adjust salt.

  10. Close the lid and let everything cook together for 5 minutes more.

  11. Remove from heat. Garnish with Coriander and serve with boiled rice.


Some additional notes:

  1. Although pigeon peas can be cooked in an open pot, it is best to cook them in a pressure cooker. In this recipe, they need to be very soft, so the pressure cooker works best.
  2. The most commonly used vegetables in Sambar are Moringa, brinjal, reddish, okra, pumpkin, and bottle gourd. However, if you don’t have access to these vegetables, you can add zucchini, carrots, etc., just like I did.
  3. To extract the juice from the tamarind pulp, soak the tamarind pulp in warm water for 10-15 minutes. Then squeeze the with your hands and discard the seeds and fiber. If you don’t have tamarind, you can replace it with lime juice.
  4. If you don’t have jaggery, you can replace it with sugar.
  5. In the traditional recipe, one last step of adding Tadka is done after cooking the sambar. For this, take a pan with one teaspoon of oil. Heat it. Add one teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they crackle, add asafoetida and curry leaves. Put this into the cooked sambar. In this recipe, I have skipped that step. You can do it to enhance the taste of sambar further.
  6. Sambar powder can be easily purchased from any Indian shop. I prefer the following brands-24 Mantra, Shakti, and MTR. However, you can try different brands and decide what suits your palette more.
  7. This sambar can be had with rice or idly/dosa.
  8. The taste of sambar always becomes better the next day. So, if some of it is left, keep it in the fridge. The next day, heat it in a saucepan before eating. Add water if it has thickened.

Check out other recipes from my kitchen here.

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