Global Veg » A Culinary Journal

Sambar (a spicy lentil gravy)


Sambar is the quintessential South Indian dish. It was traditionally part of most household’s daily main meal.

Consequently, there are quite a few variations.

It is vegan, gluten free and full of protein and vitamins.

It’s really just cooked dal (lentils) + tamarind water + vegetables + spices. It’s usually served with rice and a side of even more vegetables.


The first time you make it, reserve about an hour and a half of your time.

Subsequently, it will be more efficient. It can be made very quickly with minimal involvement.


Make a large pot on a Sunday evening to last for a few days. In fact, some people think it tastes better the day after you make it.


Learn this basic version well. I will be sharing many more varieties and efficiency tips in future posts.

Note: You will need to go to an Indian market for many of the ingredients listed below.


1 cup toor dal (or red lentils, if you do not have a pressure cooker)
2 cups water
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
~1 pound of vegetables, chopped (any combination of green peppers, radishes, onions, eggplants, etc)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground asafoetida
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
4-5 fresh curry leaves, chopped
1/2 cups tamarind concentrate (Swad brand works well)
3 1/2 cups water
1-2 teaspoons salt (to taste)

spice blend:
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons bengal gram dal
1/4 teaspoon of ground asafoetida
2-3 dried red chiles (depending on your spice tolerance)
2 teaspoons grated coconut (unsweetened, dry is fine if you don’t have fresh)

a handful of roughly chopped cilantro (about 4 tablespoons)
4-5 fresh curry leaves, chopped


The most efficient way of making sambar is to multiprocess.

Start by cooking the toor dal in a pressure cooker- wash the dal well, add 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon of turmeric. Mix well and cook until soft. If you do not have a pressure cooker, use red lentils and cook with 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon of turmeric in a heavy pot on the stovetop until the lentils are soft.


There is a lot you can get done while the dal is cooking.

First, prepare the spice blend.

Sauté all the spices for the spice blend (not coconut) in 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil in a small skillet on the stovetop.


Once they are golden add to a spice blender with 2 teaspoons of coconut and blend well. Set aside.




Now, prepare your vegetables. I used about 1 pound of vegetables (1/2 daikon radish, 1 small tomato, 1/2 green pepper and 2 small eggplants). You do not have to combine them as I have done. You can also add onions if you would like.


Just chop them roughly and set aside.


By now, your toor dal has most likely finished cooking. Make sure it is cooked well by giving it a stir. If everything is soft and creamy you do not need to cook further. Set aside cooked dal for now.


In a large, heavy pot heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.

Add 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1/4 teaspoon ground asafoetida and 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds. Keep the heat on a medium-low.


When the mustard starts popping, add the chopped curry leaves.


Add the vegetables and mix well.


Let the vegetables cook for about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the tamarind. Mix 1/2 cup of the paste into about 1 1/2 cups water.


Add the spice blend and one teaspoon of salt to the vegetables, followed by the tamarind paste. Mix well and add two more cups of water.


Cook covered (with a slight opening so there is no bubbling over) on medium-low for about 20 minutes.



Once the vegetables are cooked and the sambar has been simmering for about 20 minutes, add the cooked dal.

Add salt to taste.

Garnish with cilantro and curry leaves.


Serve mixed with cooked rice.


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