Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Sambar is a spicy and aromatic preparation very popular in the cooking of southern regions of India. It is liked by North Indians also and is taken mostly with idli, dosa, vada and rice.

Basically it is a vegetable stew made with tamarind and toovar dal. Each state in the South - Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, prepares it with a typical variation, adapted to its taste and environment. Andhra (especially Guntur) is famous for generous use of chili powder, oil and tamarind while in Karnataka palm sugar or jaggery with fewer chilies is used.

I have developed my own adaptation of Sambar by containing the common elements like toovar dal, tamarind, vegetables, sambar powder, and an oil-fried spice seed seasoning in different proportions, which suits the taste of my family members. My mother-in-law used to like hot and more flavorful Sambar and she used to call it ‘Chasak wali sambar’. I dedicate this recipe to her.


Section A (Dal):

Section B (Vegetables):

  • 1 bitter gourd cut in rings
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • 5-6 pieces of drumsticks
  • 1 medium tomato diced

Section C (Sambar Powder):

Section D (Tamarind Water):

  • Tamarind paste (size of golf ball)
  • 2 pinches of asafetida
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves

Section E (Seasoning):

  • 2-3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 tsp Mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp urad dal ( split skinned black lentil)
  • 2 dried red chilies
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves
  • 2-3 pinches of asafetida

Section F (Garnish):


  • Boil ingredients of section ‘A’ in 4 cups of water. Keep it aside
  • Wash the vegetables of section ‘B’ and cut them into desired size pieces.
  • Prepare sambar powder (section ‘C’): Roast chana dal, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, asafetida, dry grated coconut and red chilies for a few minutes, and then grind them to powder using coffee grinder.
  • Mash the tamarind (section ‘D’) in 1 cup water and strain.
  • Boil the tamarind water with red chili powder, salt, curry leaves and asafetida.
  • When it boils, add the vegetables and cook till done. Now add the prepared dal into it.
  • Bring to a boil and add the sambar powder. Simmer on low heat. Adjust the consistency of sambar by adding boiled water to it.
  • Prepare seasoning for the sambar (section ‘E’): Heat 2-3 tbsp cooking oil in a small pan. Add mustard seeds, when they stop spluttering add urad dal, red chilies, and asafetida and curry leaves.
  • Immediately pour the seasoning over sizzling sambar. Remove from fire after boiling.
  • Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and curry leaves before serving.
  • Serve with Idli or Dosa or Rice or Vada.


  1. You can omit section C if using readymade sambar powder.
  2. Fresh curry leaves are an essential element of authentic sambar; their aroma and flavor provide sambar with a distinct and pleasant herbal essence.
  3. More vegetables of your choice can be added to sambar.

Do You Know?

In regions that grow coconuts, notably Kerala, coastal Karnataka, Udupi, Mangalore and Tamil Nadu, Coconut Sambar is made with a paste of ground coconuts and spices. Grated coconut is roasted with lentils, cumin, few grains of rice, fenugreek, and red chilies. It is then ground into a fine paste, added to the vegetables and tamarind broth, and then cooked.

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