April 16, 2008

South Indian Sambar - A successful new twist !

Sambar is a stew or soup made with dal and an array of vegetables and seasoned with sambar powder which is a mix of spices. It also has tamarind paste to give a tartness to the stew, which is very appealing. It is served garnished with some tempered seasonings including mustard seeds and dry red chillies. It is a very common side dish/ dipping stew available in South India and is usually served with idlis, dosas and also with rice. There is a wide variety of sambar depending on the vegetables added. When I was young, I always would keep the vegetables aside since I was not very fond of them. But nowadays, I put the vegetables that I like in sambar, which usually are just onions, potatoes and carrots. The way I used to make sambar was cooking the dal and vegetable first and then adding the spices and the tamarind paste, which usually result in a dull-brown sambar. So I wanted to experiment on making a golden-brown sambar, which will look much more appealing. I thought of making rasam (another kind of South Indian soup) and then adding the dal to see how it will be. I was very much satisfied with the result. The rasam recipe that I follow is from pachakam.com and makes a really tasty rasam. Click here for the original rasam recipe. I am posting the recipe for the rasam-derived sambar with the changes in the quantity of ingredients. I hope this will become your favourite in no time!


Roma tomatoes - 3 medium sized, chopped
Garlic pods - 2-3, crushed
Tamarind extract/ paste (thick) - 1 tbsp
Sambar powder - 2 tbsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves - as needed
Cilantro - a few, chopped
Oil - 2 tbsp
Water - 2 1/2 cups
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Dry red chillies - 1 (broken into halves)
Salt - to taste
Toor dal (yellow pigeon peas) - 3/4 cup
Yellow onion - 1 medium, cut into chunks
Carrot - 1 medium, cut into chunks
Asafoetida powder - a pinch (optional)


Wash the dal in water, and transfer to a pressure cooker.

Toss in the carrot and onions.

Pour enough water to just cover the vegetable chunks.

Cook on high heat for four whistles, shut of the flame and keep aside.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauce-pan.

Crackle the mustard seeds and add dried red chilli and saute for a minute.

Add the crushed garlic and stir until fragrant.

Now add the chopped tomatoes and salt.

Stir until the tomatoes are cooked, becomes very tender, mashed and well blended.

Add the turmeric powder and sambar powder and saute for a few seconds.

Stir in the tamarind paste into the tomato mixture.

Add the curry leaves, cilantro and water.

Allow it to boil on a low flame for about 4-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, mash the cooked dal with a spoon, without mashing the vegetables.

Add the dal and vegetables to the tomato soup and stir well.

Allow it to boil for 3-4 minutes more.

Sprinkle asafoetida powder (if using).

Serve hot with rice, idlis, vadas or dosas.

  1. The dal can also be cooked in a saucepan until they are very tender and easy to mash. It will just take a longer time.
  2. Vegetables other than onions and carrots can be added in addition, according to personal preference. The commonly added vegetables include potatoes, drumsticks, pumpkins, okra, eggplant etc.
  3. If using a pressure cooker, do not put the easily cooked vegetables (eg:- okra, eggplant) while cooking the dal as they will get overcooked. They can be added to the sambar once the dal has been added to the tomato soup, and boiled to cook.
  4. Adjust the quantity of water according to the consistency that you prefer. Add more water for thinner sambar, add less for thicker.

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