Sambar is a delicious dal & vegetable curry commonly eaten throughout Southern India with specialties such as idlis, dosas, vadas & rice. It has a very distinctive taste & flavor attributed to a very special mix of spices known simply as sambar powder or sambhar masala. Now nothing beats fresh homemade sambar powder, but you can also buy ready made sambar powder in any Indian grocery store. My personal favorite is the MTR brand, it’s a great timesaver! If you are so inclined, I have included my special Sambar Powder recipe below, it’s really worth the extra little effort.
There are countless variations to this recipe & most of them can be attributed to the specific vegetables used in making this dish that will affect the final taste of the dish. So generally in India, people will either use their favorite combination of vegetables or they will use whatever vegetables they happen to have on hand at the time. Feel free to use local seasonal vegetables or simply add your family’s favorite vegetables.
3 tbsp toor dal (split yellow pigeon peas or arhar dal)
2 tbsp chana dal (split Bengal gram dal)
2 tbsp urad dal (split & skinned black gram dal)
6-8 dried red chilies, to taste
6-8 fresh curry leaves
1 tbsp desiccated coconut flakes, optional
4 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
½ tbsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
¼ tsp smoked Spanish paprika
Roast all of the ingredients (except the paprika) one by one in a dry skillet on medium low heat until fragrant. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Grind into a coarse powder, add in the paprika & mix well to combine. Store in an airtight bottle for up to 6 months.
SAMBAR (South Indian Dal & Vegetables)
1½ cups toor dal (split yellow pigeon peas or arhar dal)
3 cups of vegetables (I used green beans, potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, green peas & baby corn)
1 cup of cherry/grape tomatoes, halved (or you can use a medium tomato, diced)
½ tsp turmeric (haldi)
salt to taste
1 tbsp tamarind pulp (tamarind concentrate or tamarind powder)
2 tbsp sambar powder
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1-2 dried red chilies
5-6 fresh curry leaves
pinch of asafetida (hing)
1 tbsp oil + 1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or you can use regular butter
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
If you using a pressure cooker, cook the toor dal until it is completely tender. Alternatively, you can also make the dal on the stovetop – just combine the dal with 2 cups of water & let cook until the dal is completely tender. Then using the back of a large spoon or ladle, slightly mash the dal against the sides of the pot. Let cool & set aside until needed.
While the dal is cooking, trim & prepare all the vegetables as needed. Cut them into similar size pieces, so that they will cook evenly.
In a large pot on medium high heat, combine the cooked dal with about 2 to 2½ cups of water. Season with turmeric & salt. Mix well & add in all of vegetables along with the tamarind. Stir & bring to a gentle boil, cover, reduce the heat & let simmer for 10-12 minutes or until all of the vegetables are tender. Then add the sambhar powder & the tomatoes. Mix well to combine all of the ingredients & let cook for another 5-6 minutes.
Meanwhile in a small saucepan on medium high heat, add the oil & ghee. When hot, carefully add the mustard seeds. When the splattering stops, reduce the heat and add the dried red chilies, curry leaves & asafetida. After about 30 seconds or so, carefully pour this entire hot oil mixture over the sambar. Garnish with the cilantro leaves & serve with idlis, dosas, vadas & rice.