How to Make Sambar

Five Parts:Preparing the IngredientsMaking the Daal in a Pressure CookerMaking the Daal on the StovetopMaking the TadkaServing the Sambar

Sambar is a spicy south Indian stew traditionally served with rice, rice cakes(idli) and dosa (fried lentil and rice crepes). It's a healthy, flavorful vegetarian dish that is considered a staple of a south Indian meal.


  • 1 cup masoor (red lentils) or toor daal (pigeon peas)
  • 2 tablespoons sambar powder
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
  • ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 4 fresh curry leaves
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable, canola, safflower oil
  • 1 pinch asafoetida (also called “hing”)
  • 1 dried red Indian chili pepper, broken in half
  • ½ red onion chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Fenugreek seeds (optional)
  • Vegetables of choice, peeled and diced
  • Chopped cilantro or mint (for garnish)

Things You’ll Need

  • Access to a stovetop
  • A large pot with a lid
  • A pressure cooker
  • A colander
  • A sharp knife
  • A peeler

Part 1
Preparing the Ingredients

  1. 1
    Make sure you have the 5 main ingredients of sambar. You can find all of these ingredients at an Indian food store or in the world foods aisle of the grocery store. The 5 main ingredients are:[1]
    • Masoor dal (red lentils) or toor dal (pigeon peas)
    • Sambar powder (purchased or homemade)
    • Tamarind paste, which you can make by purchasing dried tamarind and soaking it.
    • Black mustard seeds
    • Curry leaves
    • Turmeric is a sixth optional ingredient.
    • Masoor dal (red lentils) take less time to cook than toor daal. But you can make toor daal easily in a pressure cooker.
  2. 2
    Break down the sambar into two parts: the masoor or toor daal, and the tadka. Like many Indian dishes, sambar is a combination of a grain like masoor or toor daal and a tadka, which is the Indian word for “tempering”.
    • Tadka, or tempering, is done by heating whole or ground spices in hot oil or glee and adding it to a dish. It is a widely used method in Indian cuisine for many dishes, including sambar.[2]
    • In sambar, the tadka is traditionally made with several spices, including mustard seeds, sambar powder, asafoetida (also called “hing”) a key ingredient in Indian vegetarian cooking that helps you to digest[3], Indian chili powder, and curry leaves. However, you can add other spices like cumin, turmeric, and fenugreek seeds[4]
  3. 3
    Choose your vegetables. The nice thing about sambar is you can make it as light or as hearty as you’d like based on the amount of water you add, as well as the types of fresh vegetables you include in the dish. Some possible vegetables for sambar include:
    • Onion: a required vegetable that will serve as part of the base for the sambar.
    • Tomato: this will help to balance out the sourness of the tamarind paste.
    • Spinach: a nice, light dash of green in the stew.
    • Potatoes: heartier but a great addition to the stew.
    • Carrots
    • Drum sticks: a long, green vegetable that resembles a bean, popular in Indian dishes. The soft, jelly interior of the drum sick is eaten and the skin is discarded.[5]
    • Pumpkin, or white pumpkin.
    • Brinjal, also known as eggplant.
    • Okra, also known as “lady fingers”, a highly nutritious pod like vegetable.[6]
  4. 4
    Wash the vegetables. If you are using tomato, spinach, eggplant, or okra, give the vegetables a light rinse before you cut them up. If you are using potatoes, carrots, drumsticks or pumpkin, peel the skin off the vegetables with a peeler or a sharp knife.
    • Peel off the skin of the onion.
  5. 5
    Dice the vegetables. Cut the onion, tomato, and other vegetables into small, bite sized pieces.
    • To chop up the drumsticks, first chop off the tops of the drumsticks and then peel them with a sharp knife. Dice them into finger length pieces of equal size.[7]
  6. 6
    Make the tamarind paste. Tamarind adds a subtle sour flavor to the sambar. To prepare the tamarind paste:[8]
    • Place warm water in a bowl and soak the tamarind for about 30 minutes.
    • Once the tamarind is soft, squeeze the tamarind pods with your fingers and remove the pulp.
    • Strain the tamarind juice with a strainer. Set the tamarind paste aside.

Part 2
Making the Daal in a Pressure Cooker

  1. 1
    Get out your pressure cooker. While you can make sambar in a pot on the stovetop, using a pressure cooker will cut down on the cooking time.
  2. 2
    Rinse the toor daal. Use a colander to rinse the toor daal under cold water until the water underneath runs clear.[9]
  3. 3
    Add the diced onion, tomato,and 1 cup of the toor daal to the pressure cooker. Then, pour enough water to just cover the contents.
    • To further save time, you can also soak the toor daal for 15 minutes in hot water before putting it in the pressure cooker.[10]
  4. 4
    Add a pinch of turmeric powder and one tablespoon of oil to the toor daal. Close the lid of the pressure cooker and weigh it down. Leave it on high.[11]
  5. 5
    Boil the ingredients for three whistles or until the daal is mushy and completely cooked. Open the lid of the pressure cooker and mash the daal with a ladle or spoon. They should be soft and mushy.
  6. 6
    Add the chopped vegetables to the pressure cooker. Stir well. Then, add in the turmeric powder, the red chili powder, a pinch of asafoetida, and salt.
    • Add two cups of water. Stir the ingredients well.
  7. 7
    Pressure cook the ingredients for one whistle on medium to high. Be careful not to overcook the vegetables.
  8. 8
    Add the tamarind pulp to the cooked vegetables. Add the sambar powder.
    • Add water if needed to give a medium thick consistency to the stew. Add more water for a thinner stew.
  9. 9
    Simmer the stew for 10-12 minutes, uncovered, over a low to medium flame. Once the stew is done cooking, keep it covered and set it aside.

Part 3
Making the Daal on the Stovetop

  1. 1
    Rinse the masoor or toor daal. Use a colander to rinse the daal under cold water until the water underneath runs clear.[12]
  2. 2
    Add the drained daal and 7 cups of water to a pot. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat and then turn the heat down to a simmer.
    • While the daal is cooking, ladle out any foam that comes to the surface.
    • Once the foaming stops, mix in the turmeric.
  3. 3
    Cook the daal for 30-40 minutes, until the lentils are falling apart. If you are using spinach in your sambar, add the chopped spinach and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the spinach is wilted.
    • If you are using other vegetables like carrots, potatoes, eggplant, drumsticks, or okra, add them to the daal.
  4. 4
    Add the sambar powder to the lentils. Mix well. Simmer for 5 minutes. A golden residue should form on the surface of the lentils.
  5. 5
    Season the mixture with salt and add the tamarind. Make sure the tamarind dissolves completely.
    • Add more water to the daal if you want a thinner stew.
    • Cook the stew for a few more minutes and then remove it from the heat.

Part 4
Making the Tadka

  1. 1
    Place a wide pan on the stovetop. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil or ghee.
  2. 2
    Add the mustard seeds and the asafoetida to the pan. Wait for the mustard seeds to start popping.
    • To speed this up, you can cover the pan with a lid.
    • Once the mustard seeds have popped for a few seconds, turn the heat down and add the curry leaves and the dried red chili.
    • You can also add in the fenugreek seeds if you are using them.
  3. 3
    Coat the leaves and chili with oil. Fry them for a few seconds.
    • Some recipes recommend adding the chopped onions at this point, rather than in the pressure cooker with the daal.
    • If you add the chopped onions, sauté them in the spices on low heat for about 10 minutes until they turn transparent.
  4. 4
    Add the tadka to the daal. If you are adding it to the daal in a pressure cooker, immediately cover the cooker once you’ve added it, so the aroma and flavor from the tadka gets infused in the daal.[13]
    • If you are adding the tadka to daal in a pot on the stovetop, mix the tadka into the daal and cover the pot.[14]

Part 5
Serving the Sambar

  1. 1
    Prepare the sambar two to three hours before you are planning to serve it. Like most stews, the flavors of sambar become better and deeper with time.[15]
    • However, you can also serve sambar as soon as it is made.
  2. 2
    Garnish the sambar. Sprinkle chopped cilantro or mint leaves over the sambar before serving.[16]
  3. 3
    Serve the sambar over rice, or with dosas. Dosas are fermented lentil and rice crepes that are easy to make.[17]
    • You can also purchase dosas at an Indian supermarket.
    • Another option is to add yogurt or achar (Indian pickles) on the side to complement the sambar.[18]


  • Make sure you add asafoetida to sambar as it helps with digestion.


  • Be careful when frying the spices for the tadka as this can be a burn hazard. Always use a long spatula or spoon and a lid.
  • Do not open the lid of the cooker until the pressure is released as this can be a burn hazard.

Article Info

Categories: Soups