South Indian sambar recipe

This Sambar recipe is one of the most loved dishes in South Indian cuisine. It accompanies most every meal. In South India, there are variations to this sambar recipe, but this is the one I use.


1/2 lime sized ball Tamarind
1 cup Toor Dal (or red lentils)
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric Powder
2 teaspoons oil
Salt to taste
5 small dry red chilies (or to taste)
8 Curry Leaves (see note)
1 medium onion (shallots are preferable)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida (optional)
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 large tomato
2 tablespoons sambar powder (see note)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves (also known as coriander leaves)
1 cup of a vegetable of your choice like green beans, chopped carrot

Soak the tamarind in 1 cup water for 20 minutes. Squeeze it out, adding water little by little to prepare 1 cup of juice.

Choose a heavy cooking pot. Wash and clean the dal. Boil 2 cups of water and add the dal, turmeric powder and 1 teaspoon of oil. As the dal boils, skim off the foam and discard. Boil until the dal is soft and then mash it coarsely. If needed, add more water as it is boiling but do not let it get too watery. If you use a pressure cooker it will take about 5 minutes.

In a separate pan, heat to medium and pour in the remaining oil. Once the oil is hot, add the chilies, mustard seeds, fenugreek and curry leaves and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the onion and brown lightly. Add the tamarind extract and let boil lightly until the onions are cooked. Add this mixture to the dal with asafoetida, tomato, vegetable of choice and sambar powder. Allow this to boil for 5 to 10 minutes and remove from the heat. Garnish with cilantro.

A Note on Ingredients:

Curry Leaves
Curry leaves are found in tropical climates. They add a wonderful piquancy to the Sambar recipe. I you do not have curry leaves do not substitute something else. They can be found in specialty shops that have Indian foods.

Sambar Powder
High quality Sambar powders can be bought pre-mixed at the store. If you do not have that available you can make it yourself by adding the following ingredients:
1/2 cups coriander seeds
1/2 cups red chilies (or to taste
1/8 cup Bengal gram
1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
1 Tbsp. pepper corn
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 pinch of cinnamon
1 pinch ground clove
1/2 tsp. Turmeric powder

Traditionally, these ingredients would be broiled separately and ground and stored. Use pre-ground if you desire.

is one of the unique ingredients found in South India. It gives a sour taste to the sambar recipe and it can be found in different forms. The most common way to find it is in packages where the tamarind seeds are compacted together. To use it in a dish like this sambar recipe, take a piece off and soak it in water. The size of the piece will be indicated in the recipe. After it has soaked for 2 hours squeeze it between your fingers to extract the juice and discard the pith and seeds. Tamarind can be found in specialty stores in your area or shop online for ingredients for this sambar recipe.

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