South Indian Sambar

This is a delicious lentil recipe made with vegetables and sambar powder. It compliments idlis(steamed rice cakes), vada(fried lentil donuts) or rice. There are many variations of sambar powder as well as the recipe itself. I usually stick to mom's sambar powder, or the MTR brand from Bangalore.

What you need: Makes 4 to 6 cups
1 cup yellow or orange toor dal / thogri bele
10-12 small sambar onions/mini purple onions, peeled or 1 cup of red onions, diced.
1 cup tomatoes diced
1 cup vegetables, cut (carrots, beans, squash, drumsticks, zucchini)
2 tsp sambar powder, more if you like it spicier.
2 Tbsp fresh or dry coconut, grated
1 tsp brown sugar or raw sugar (jaggery)
1/2 tsp thick tamarind paste
2 tsp finely chopped cilantro for garnish
1 tsp dry coconut, for garnish
1 tsp of ghee/clarified butter
Salt to taste

For the tempering, you need
2 tsp ghee/ clarified butter
4 to 6 sambar onions/mini purple onions, peeled
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
A pinch on hing/asafoetida
1/2 tsp of crushed garlic
2 to 3 whole dry red chilies
A sprig of curry leaves


Soak the dal in water for about 10 to 15 minutes. In a heavy quart pan or pressure cooker, add a tsp of ghee. When it starts to smoke, add in the mini onions, and let them brown a bit, toss the tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes on medium high. 

Add in the chopped vegetables and saute them for about 3 to 5 minutes.  Drain the lentils and add them into the pan. To his, add 3 cups of water and cook covered until its soft and mushy. Set aside. 

Heat ghee in a large pan; when it smokes, add in the mustard and cumin seeds. Cover and let the seeds splutter. Now add in the curry leaves, sambhar onions and red chilies. let them roast in the ghee. 

After a minute, lower the heat to low, and wait another minute, so the pan cools down a bit.This is so that the sambhar powder does not burn. Add in the sambhar powder, salt, sugar and hing. Saute the powders in the tempering and melted ghee. 

When the sambhar powder is soaked well and starts to give out a flavorful aroma, add in the tamarind paste, followed by salt and the cooked lentil and vegetable mixture. Raise the flame to a medium high and bring it to a frothy boil, meaning the mixture should form froth on the top, but not a rolling boil. Turn it off. Serve hot with rice or idlis. Enjoy!