South Indian Sambar

By DK on Aug 08, 2012
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
The quintessential meal in a South Indian's household is Sambar. The chances of a tangy mouth watering aroma wafting when you enter such a household during evenings (and/or mornings) is high. This humble stew gets various makeovers depending upon the mood, taste, occasion and creativity of the family. It highlights two main flavors - pigeon peas and tamarind. Additional warming spices, typical to Southern region of India completes the picture. I probably am not exaggerating if I say that there are as many versions and varieties to a Sambar as there are South Indian families.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
I know of few bloggers who take offense to name translations of Indian foods. For example: If  I call this a Pigeon Pea and Tamarind stew, I would be disbarred as an Indian cook. But I also realize the responsibility of taking the food overseas and the first thing you do is to put forth in terms understandable what the dish stands for.  Yes, its a stew in its humblest sense but its much much more for each family -  a pot of aromatic Sambar eaten with (hand) mashed steaming rice, combing and mixing the stew with fingers (CLEAN fingers!) until it blends with the rice with an accompaniment of a vegetable curry and a papad is integral to the memory chip of  every South Indian.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
This forms part of a mostly 3 course menu, starting out with Sambar Rice (or sambhar sadam as a Tamilian would call it), followed with a Rasam sadam (Rice)  and finishing off the meal with Curd Rice. At many times, a big pot rice pre-mixed with sambar forms the main course instead of you mixing it in your plate. Oh yes - if you haven't guessed this already - Rice is a staple :) I am a Sambar girl - always have been and continue to be one till today. I always skipped the 2nd course - now not so much, but the point is never would I skip the 1st course. Its taken me ample time to post this recipe inspite of making it like 2-3 times every week. The issue lies in nimble fingers that has its own mind with respect to measurements which is a problem when it comes to blogging about it. But I have managed to do a decent job today. This is my mom's recipe, slightly adapted to accommodate my family and change in taste preference.  Play around the measurements until one of them hits you and binds you to become its eternal flavor slave :)

minimally adapted from mom's recipe

Basic Information
Prep Time: Under 15 min
Cook Time: Under 15 min
Serves: 2 people
Yield: Serves 2 people as a main course and probably around 3-4 as a side dish
    For the Sambar
  • 1/2 cup Pigeon Peas (Toor/Tuvar Dal)
  • 1/4 tsp Turmeric
  • 1 tsp Tamarind Paste (see Tips)
  • 1 tbsp Sambar Powder (see Tips)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp grated Coconut, optional (see Tips)
    For Tempering
  • 1/2 tsp Mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Fenugreek seeds
  • 1 Dried Red Chilli
  • Pinch of Asafoetida powder
  • 1 small Tomato (optional)
    Optional Additions
  • 1 med-large Onion
  • Other Vegetables , see Tips
  • Few sprigs of Curry Leaves
  • Few sprigs of Cilantro
1. Tamarind Paste: The amount will vary depending on the brand you use and the taste. I use a Tamicon brand and for us 1 tsp of this works fine. You can go the traditional route and use regular tamarind (a lime sized ball should suffice), drop it in hot water (1 cup worth) and extract all the juice. Discard the tamarind and use this water instead of regular water in this recipe.
2. Sambar Powder: Like any dutiful daughter, I tend to follow my mom's recipe for Sambar powder. So for us with this powder, 1 tbsp works great. But if you have your own recipe for the powder or are using store bought powder, you will have to adjust the amount. Start with 1/2 tbsp and work around your requirements.
3. Coconut: The addition of coconut takes this humble stew to greater heights. Frozen coconut also works. But in case you do not want to use coconut (health or unavailability reasons), use 1 tbsp Rice flour instead. This is needed to thicken the stew. My mother never used coconut but always rice flour in this recipe and it still would taste good.
4. Vegetables: Almost any kind of vegetables can be added to enhance the stew. More often than not, you would need to parboil the vegetables separately with little salt before pouring the tamarind.You can optionally saute it in some little oil to enhance the taste before boiling. Vegetables like Okra, Brinjal, Drumstick, Cauliflower, Potato, Carrot, Bell Pepper etc can be used.
Cook the lentils in 1-1/2 cups water along with the turmeric. I use a pressure cooker and cook it for 10-12 minutes or to 3 whistles.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Its Ok if its gets mushy. For this recipe, mushy is good :)
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Mash it and set aside.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
While the lentils was cooking, you can alternatively saute or boil any vegetables that you may be using. A rough chop (usually big pieces) would do. I used only onions for this recipe.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Saute the Onion in 1 tsp Sesame oil (not the toasted variety) and salt until aromatic and slightly soft.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Add 1 cup water along with few torn curry leaves.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
When the water starts shimmering, add the tamarind paste and Sambar powder.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Stir to mix and let it come to a boil. This is done to eliminate the raw sweet smell of  tamarind.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
While that comes to a boil, in another pan, heat 1 tsp Ghee (or oil, though ghee imparts better taste to this), add mustard seeds. When it starts popping, add the fenugreek seeds, asafoetida and dried red chillies.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
When the fenugreek seeds starts to change color (do not let it burn 'cos that would give it a bitter taste), add the tomatoes if using. Switch off the flame. A light saute for few seconds is enough for tomatoes. This is not really necessary. You can directly add it to the sambar. I like it better this way and hence opt to do this.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Add that to the tamarind mixture.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Cook for 2-3 minutes and then add the pigeon peas to this mixture.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Stir to mix. You can check the seasoning and adjust accordingly.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
To thicken the stew if needed (the consistency is neither thick nor thin), you can do 3 things. You can either simmer the stew until it thickens, or add some coconut ground with 3 tbsp water to this mixture.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Or you can dilute  1 tbsp of rice flour in 2 tbsp water and add it to the boiling stew until it thickens.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Garnish with remaining curry leaves and cilantro.
How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
Serve hot with steamed rice as a main course as mentioned earlier. This can also be enjoyed along with Tiffin items like  Dosa, Idli, Pongal , Vada etc. How to make Sambar Rice | Sambhar Sadam Recipe
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20 Responses to “South Indian Sambar”
  1. This sambar was really super :-| :-| :wink:

  2. Jessica

    :-D Great recipe, thanks for sharing! You make it sound so do-able that I’m going to give it a try! I think it’s great that you’re using the English translation of these recipe names too, but don’t shy away from using the Indian names for these recipes – It’s good cultural knowledge for everyone to know what it’s originally called whether or not we can pronounce/write/read it :)

  3. Gowri

    Hi DK,
    I really enjoy reading this sambar making, you have a flavourful way with writing, which is a delight to read. Yes you are right, thinking about it , the western name for our sambar will be ‘pigeon peas and lentil onion stew’ but you will be ostracised for it.

    like ti see more of your receipies please.

    Best wishes,


  4. Manju

    Very nice recipe i like it very much. Thank you :-P

  5. Gayatri Johnston
  6. Gayatri Johnston

    I was look for soft buns and came upon your page. I must cook this as my husband loves sambar. Thank you x

  7. Nivedita

    :lol: Oh! I’m so happy to find a nice sambar recipie.

  8. shabana

    Very delicious sambar….. Thank you :-D

  9. Khushbu

    I will surely post this recipe to mom!!! Heehee :mrgreen: :twisted:

  10. Jessica

    I have tried several sambar recipes and this is by far the best yet! I love the step by step pictures. Thanks so much for sharing! My husband is from India and I am an American and without internet recipes I wouldn’t be able to prepare his favorite home tastes. Thank-you!

    I am glad to hear that. Thank you :) –DK

  11. Made this just now – it takes a solid two hours but the result is amazing! Thank you :)

    2 hours?? I am curious – how? –DK

  12. Ravi

    Hi Could you email me how to make sambar for 60 persons. ( sixty) Thanks

  13. shruthi
  14. sheetal

    very easy to cook all this things
    :-P :lol: :lol: :-D

  15. kiran singh

    its really very delisious.. i like to serve it with dosa

  16. Looks like a great recipe. I’ll definitely be trying this one…my wife will be very pleased if i do!

  17. Irresistible sambhar..

  18. Adding some Asofoetida(Perungayam powder) and few drops of Ginglee oil(Nallennai),while boiling the lentils will add to the taste. We can put one Green chilly, along with vegetables. Before bringing it down, half spoon of ghee will enhance the aroma.. I have tried these and many liked.

  19. Even I luv sambhar with a bowl of steamed rice and some Alloo bhujia,,,:)

  20. I love onion sambar with dosas-YUM!

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