Sambar is a very popular South Indian stew, made of toor lentils, vegetables, tamarind and a special Sambar masala mix. This dish is defined by it’s unique taste – a perfect balance of spicy, sweet, sour and slightly nutty. It is one of my favourite lentil-based Indian dishes so I always make this in bulk so I can freeze half of it for a rainy day. 

What makes Sambar what it is?

  • The use of Toor Dal (also called Split Pigeon Peas) which are typical to the southern region of India. 
  • Sambar is packed full of veggies making this is a really nutritious meal. Typically veggies such as okra, aubergine, peas and tomatoes are used but really you could add any kind that you enjoy or that’s seasonal. 
  • Tamarind paste is added, bringing a delicious fresh tang to the whole dish and also helps to highlight the other flavours in the dish.
  • Sambar masala – a unique blend of spices are toasted, ground and then cooked with a mix of vegetables. 
  • Like many Dals, tempered spices are stirred through at the end, giving a depth of flavour to the stew thanks to the layers of spices that are added at different steps.

Don’t be intimidated by what looks to be many steps and ingredients, it’s actually a very simple dish to create. You could of course use shop-bough Sambar powder in place of making your own Sambar masala which would speed things up. I tend to make a larger batch of Sambar powder as it will keep for a couple of months and can be added to all sorts of soups and kitchen experiments.



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Course: Lunch, DinnerCuisine: indianDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time




  • Sambar Masala
  • 1 tbsp Chana Dal

  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds

  • 2 dried red chillies

  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

  • 1 clove

  • Dal
  • 225 g Toor Dal

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 tsp turmeric powder

  • 5 large tomatoes, roughly sliced

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

  • 2 tbsp Garlic & Ginger Paste

  • 200 g seasonal vegetables of your choice (such as aubergine, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, frozen peas, okra), chopped into big, rough chunks

  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste

  • 1 small bunch fresh coriander, chopped

  • Tarka
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds

  • a pinch of asafoetida

  • 20 fresh curry leaves or 40 dried ones

  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper


  • Soak the Toor lentils in warm water for 30 minutes or overnight if possible whilst you crack on with making the Sambar powder. 
  • Sambar Masala
  • To make the Sambar powder, heat a pan over a medium heat then add the Chana Dal. Dry roast on a low flame until they turn golden in colour.
  • Add the remaining Sambar powder ingredients and dry roast until the seeds begin to darken slightly and turn aromatic. Be careful not to burn everything here or it will taste too bitter and be unusable. Remove from the heat immediately as soon as they are toasted and transfer to a cool bowl. When completely cool, grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar. 
  • Dal
  • Drain and rinse the lentils until the water runs clear then pour into a large saucepan along with the salt and turmeric.
  • Cover with around 1 1/2 litres of water and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. As the liquid is boiling, skim off the foam that will begin to rise to the surface. 
  • Simmer until the lentil are tender – this should take around 20-30 minutes, depending on how long you previously soaked them for. Add the sliced tomatoes and sugar in the final 5 minutes.
  • This step is optional but I like to roughly blend half of the dal to create a thicker, smoother consistency. This step is entirely personal preference however as you may prefer a slightly soupier consistency where the lentils are nuttier in texture. Remove from the heat.
  • Next you want to create the seasoned vegetables that get added to the dal. Heat the vegetable oil in a separate frying pan, add the garlic and ginger paste and fry for 20 seconds. Add the Sambar Masala that you made earlier and fry for another 20 seconds.
  • Add the chopped mixed vegetables and fry for 2 minutes, tossing to coat everything well. Add the tamarind paste and cook for a further minute then add the seasoned vegetables to the pot of dal. 
  • Tarka
  • In a small saucepan, heat the oil until hot but not spitting. Add the black mustard seeds and cumin seeds. When the mustard seeds begin to pop, ass the asafoetida, curry leaves and cayenne pepper. Remove from the heat immediately by pouring it straight into the dal. Stir through the dal, bring back to heat and taste for seasoning. Add salt accordingly and then garnish with fresh coriander before serving. Serve hot with rice, dosas, ildi, chapatti or a crusty loaf.  

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