Sambar is a South Indian lentil based dish (curry/stew?) which is vegetarian and has a little sour kick to it. It usually has vegetables like moringa (drumsticks) and eggplant, is flavoured with tamarind making it a little sour and is served with idli, dosa or rice.
While traditionally it takes a bit more time and is a little tedious, it can also be made as a one pot meal and is something my mum started doing for weeknight dinners. With lentils being a good source of protein and it being full of vegetables, it had everything you needed for a hearty weeknight dinner. However, on weekends when time is on my side, it is a main that is easily paired with a variety of sides. My favourite combination being egg sambal, fried tofu and beans. On a weeknight, a simple fried egg on the side does the trick.
The way I make this dish, is in no way traditional – I do not temper the spices at the end, nor do I mash up the dal or make my own sambar powder. It is meant to be quick and easy, so it is store bought sambar powder (though this is not strictly necessary as I have made it without too), spices, masoor dal (which is much quicker to cook) and my favourite vegetables such as carrots, beans and potatoes, occasionally throwing in some cabbage and eggplants too. It’s made in one pot, done in under an hour and usually served with a fried egg on the side with rice. Also, Dan and I really like our sambar on the thicker side, so I tend to not add as much water to it.
If you have come here looking for a proper South Indian sambar, this is not the recipe for you. If you are looking for a healthy yummy one pot weeknight meal which tastes like it, then give this a go.
1 cup (150gms) masoor dal (red split lentils) washed
1 red/white onion chopped
6-7 cloves of garlic
2 whole tomatoes chopped
6 curry leaves
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1.5 tbsp sambar powder (this is optional)
5 dried chillies (you can swap with 2 fresh red chillies)
3 potatoes cut into quarts
1 Carrot sliced
2 cups tamarind water (300mls total) **
– Use one 2cm ball of tamarind pulp soaked in warm water, strain out the seeds.
150ml water (omit if you do not use sambar powder)
0.5 tbsp of salt (adjust to taste)
1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan.
2. Add garlic and onions to pan and fry for 1-2 minutes.
3. Then add the dry chillies and curry leaves, followed by mustard seed and cumin seeds.
4. Once the onions are translucent, add the tomatoes.
5. Once the tomatoes start to become mushy, add in the turmeric, chilli powder and cumin powder. If using sambar powder add it in now too.
6. Add the potatoes to the dish and give it a good stir (you may also add carrots in now and when using eggplants I usually add them in now).
7. Add the lentils to the dish with 300ml of tamarind juice to the dish followed by 150ml of water (if using sambar powder) and salt.
8. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally so that the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
9. Once it comes up to a boil, drop the heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.
10. The sambar will start to thicken and you can decide whether you would like to add more water to it now. I usually add the carrots in after about 10 minutes of simmering.
11. Last but not least add in the beans, give it an additional 2-3 minutes. Once they are cooked it is ready to serve.
1. You may use Tamarind paste instead (I have only done this once before) but it depends on the brand you use and the concentrations of it. You will also have to adjust the water content of the dish too. Previously I have used 4 tbsp to get the same flavour, so I suggest using 2 tbsp and taste and top up as you go. Also, start with 300mls of water only, and only add more if you would like the sambar to be a little more watery/thicker. It is quite difficult to say how much to use per se, I will try and make it again another day with tamarind paste that is easily available in supermarkets and update once I have. I do think tamarind pulp is the way to go though if you can find it.
2. Depending on how you like your vegetables, I always add the carrots and beans in towards the end as it starts to boil as I like them with a little more bite. If you prefer your carrots softer just add them in earlier when the potatoes go in. When I make sambar properly I usually fry them on the side with the spices I use for tempering and then add them in at the end, but this is a one pot samabr so it is slightly different. Generally I’d say 5 – 7 minutes for carrots to cook to a consistency I like and 3 minutes for green beans. So I add them in based on that.