Indian · South Indian · Vegetarian

South Indian Sambar (Spicy Lentil Soup)

Sambar is a very popular South Indian recipe. Any South Indian meal is incomplete without Sambar. It is a spicy, flavorful lentil soup made with yellow lentils (toor dal) mixed with variety of assorted vegetables and an aromatic coconut oil tempering. The coconut oil and dry red chilies tempering fills the house with its aroma making sambar totally irresistible. This nutritious lentil soup is very versatile that can be enjoyed at breakfast or with meals. One of my favorites, that I can enjoy everyday.


Serves: 4
Cooking time:  40 mins


1 cup split pigeon peas (toor dal)
½ tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
¾ tsp asafoetida (hing)
½ tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
12 curry leaves
40 red pearl onions, whole peeled
½ cup baby eggplant, halved
½ cup radish, sliced
1 tomato, medium size, chopped
6 green chilies, medium size, chopped in 1 inch pieces
3 tsp sambar masala
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp red chili powder, or adjust as per spice tolerance
½ inch piece of tamarind (imli / chincha)
2 tbsp coconut oil, for tempering
½ tsp mustard seeds (mohri)
2 dry red chilies
2½ tsp salt, or adjust as per taste


1.  Rinse dal and add it to the pressure cooker. Add to it 3 cups water, turmeric powder, ½ tsp asafoetida, fenugreek seeds, 6 curry leaves and pressure cook for 3 whistles on medium-high heat. Then turn off heat. Wait for 10 mins for the cooker to settle.
2.  Soak tamarind in ½ cup of warm water in a bowl and keep aside for at least 10 mins. Then mash it with a spoon to break up the flesh and separate the seeds. Strain the water in a bowl and discard the solids. Keep the strained tamarind liquid aside for later use.
3.  After 10 mins, open the cooker and place it back on the burner (medium heat). Add 2 cups water to the cooker, mix well and bring to a boil.
4. Add pearl onions, chopped tomato, green chilies and salt to the dal. Mix well and boil for 10 mins.
5.  Add sambar masala, garam masala and red chili powder to the dal. Mix everything together and boil for 3 mins on medium heat.
6.  Add tamarind water, mix and boil or 5 mins on medium-low heat. Then turn off heat.
7.  Tempering / Tadka : Heat coconut oil in another small pan on high heat. Add remaining asafoetida, mustard seeds, 6 curry leaves and dry red chilies to the pan. Let it sizzle for 20 sec on high heat and turn off heat.
8.  Add this tempering to the sambar and quickly cover the pan with the lid, so that the aroma stays in and mixes with the dal.

Serve piping hot with white steamed rice, Idli, Vada or Dosas.


spoonful O’ tips

1.  Instead of pearl onions, you can add 1 cup cubed red onions.
2.  Quick / Easy way to peel pearl onionsTrim both ends of pearl onions. Boil water in a vessel and add pearl onions in the boiling water for 20 sec. Quickly strain and remove the pearl onions into a bowl so that the onions can be easily peeled but do not get cooked from the inside.
3.  Lemon can be added instead of tamarind to the sambar.
4.  Cover the cooker with a lid if you want the vegetables to cook faster.
5.  Vegetables like pumpkin, drumstick, potatoes, french beans can also be added to sambar. Choice of veggies depends on personal choice.
6.  Dal can also be cooked in a pot. I prefer pressure cooking it since it reduces the cooking time.
7.  Add more water if required to bring sambar to the required consistency.

4 thoughts on “South Indian Sambar (Spicy Lentil Soup)

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