South India Recipes – Sambar

Dilip Muralidaran - Sambar in Chennai

This Sambar recipe is one of the most loved dishes in South Indian cuisine. It accompanies most every meal.


  • ½ lime sized ball tamarind
  • 1 cup toor dal (or red lentils) 
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp oil
  • salt to taste
  • 5 small dry red chilies (or to taste)
  • 8 curry leaves (see note)
  • 1 medium onion (shallots are preferable) 
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ¼ tsp asafoetida (optional)
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 large tomato
  • 2 tbsp sambar powder (see note) 
  • ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 cup of a vegetable of your choice like green beans, chopped carrot


  1. Soak the tamarind in 1 cup water for 20 minutes.
  2. Squeeze it out, adding water little by little to prepare 1 cup of juice.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Garnish with coriander and serve.

NOTE: Sambar Powder –
High quality sambar powders can be bought pre-mixed. If you want to make it yourself:

  • ½ cup coriander seeds
  • ½ cups red chilies (or to taste
  • 1/8 cup Bengal gram
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp peppercorn
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 pinch ground clove
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder