Sambar | Mixed Vegetable and Lentil Curry

Sambar, the classic south Indian mixed vegetable and lentil curry make a hearty meal when served with idly, dosa, vada or rice for breakfast or lunch. Leftover sambar gets even tastier the next day. 

Sambar and idli with chutney

I never ever had plans to share a sambar recipe because it is an extremely common dish and the internet must have been saturated with the number of recipes floating for all kinds of sambar. But "Sambar" tops the list on my blog search stats and Instagram dm requests. I am guessing because I always share my plate of lunch or breakfast on Stories. So here I am with a detailed recipe for my version of Sambar powder and how to make an easy and simple Sambar without the need of grinding coconut. (I detest that task) 

Also, please note that all the images used here are the random clicks that I shared on Instagram stories and was not originally meant for the blog. I didn't want to delay the post any longer and Thank you for your patience. I hope you find this post useful and get your Sambar game better! 

When I started cooking sambar, I always used store-bought sambar powder and our family favourite is Sakthi sambar podi. But after marriage and moving abroad etc, I can proudly say that I have used almost all the major brands of Sambar powder and I released each taste different and good in a way. But this year, I worked on a homemade sambar powder and it makes all the difference!  

What Dal is sambar made of? Sambar is traditionally made using Toor / Tuvar / Split Pigeon Peas. You may use a mix of tuvar dal and masoor dal. 

What vegetables to include in sambar? Sambar is made with one or more vegetables like carrots, any kind of green beans, potato, yam, brinjal, any kind of gourds or winter melon, drumsticks, okra, raw plantains, pumpkin, and white radish. There may be more that I am not aware of. It can be daunting to go shopping for each vegetable when you need only one piece of each. So, I usually buy the ready to use sambar veg mix from Lulu. Some vegetable vendors will be happy to send your sambar veggies by weight... like you can ask for 1 kg of sambar veggies. 

How can I make my sambar taste better? The taste of sambar depends on the mix of vegetables and lentils used and the sambar powder or podi that you have used. To improve the taste of an already cooked sambar, you may stir in more sambar powder or more tamarind extract, a little jaggery or just a knob of ghee. Don't forget the methi seeds in tempering, they impart a flavour too. 

How can I make my sambar thicker? If you want to make your sambar thicker, you may add more cooked tuvar dal. To prevent a watery sambar, always include a few starchy vegetables like potatoes, yam and raw plantains. Taste and add more sambar powder as the powder has lentils, it will act as a thickener too. But do remember that lentil-based stews always gets thicker as it sits. 

Sambar served with rice, cheera, pappadam and pickle

Each state of South India has their own version of Sambar and they taste different too. My recipe is Tamil Nadu version and maybe leaning towards Karnataka too. 😉

Recipe for Sambar | Lentil-based Mixed Vegetable Stew


For pressure cooking/boiling the lentils:
  • 1/2 cup toor dal
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • a pinch of turmeric powder
  • 1 and 1/2 cup water
  • a dab of ghee (optional)
For tamarind extract:
  • 2 tablespoon tamarind pulp
  • 1/4 cup hot water
For cooking sambar:
  • 1 tablespoon ghee (or any cooking oil)
  • 1/4 cup pearl onions (mini shallots) 
  • 500gms chopped mix sambar veggies*
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped roughly
  • 2 to 3 green chillies (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kashmiri red chilli powder 
  • approx 3 cups of water to cover the veggies
  • 2 and 1/2 tablespoons sambar powder (my recipe)
  • Tamarind extract from soaked tamarind pulp
  • 1 teaspoon jaggery (optional)
  • all of the boiled lentils with water
  • Salt to taste
*ready to use carrots, any kind of green beans, potato, yam, brinjal, any kind of gourds, drumsticks, okra, raw plantains, pumpkin, white radish, etc. I always buy the fresh Sambar veggies box from Lulu. If using okra (lady's finger), it is better to roast them in oil and add them in the end to prevent slimy sambar. 

For Tempering (tadka):
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 2 sprigs of curry leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • a pinch of hing
  • 2 dried red chillies
For finishing off:
  • freshly chopped coriander leaves 
  • a few curry leaves
  • 2 green chillies
  • 1 teaspoon of ghee to be stirred in before serving


  • You may replace tamarind extract with tamarind concentrate or pomegranate molasses (1 tbsp)
  • You may use sesame oil aka gingelly oil or coconut oil instead of ghee 
  • You may replace pearl onions with 1 medium-sized red onion, sliced thinly
  • You may replace kashmiri chilli powder with a regular one or paprika if you cannot source. 
  • You may use store-bought sambar powder and add more or less as per pack instructions.


  1. Pressure cook or pot cook the lentils: Rinse the dal a couple times until the water runs almost clear. Soak the lentils in enough water for at least 20 minutes. Add to a small pressure cooker along with garlic clove, turmeric and a smidge of ghee. Pressure cook for 10 minutes or 3 to 4 whistles. Let the pressure release on its own. The cooked lentils should be mushy and easily mashable with a spoon. 
  2. Prepare the tamarind extract: Soak the tamarind pulp in hot water and keep covered until required or at least for 10 to 20 minutes. 
  3. Cook the veggies for sambar: You may start with the tempering process or you may do it in the end. You may buy the ready to use sambar veggies box of 500gms or have a mix of any 3 to 5 vegetable like carrots, any kind of green beans, potato, yam, brinjal, any kind of gourds, drumsticks, okra, raw plantains, pumpkin, radish, etc. Chop them chunky and in similar size. Heat some ghee in a deep thick bottomed saucepot. Saute the pearl onions or onions until translucent. To have the veggies retain their shape till the end, it is better to first add the vegetables that need more time to cook to give them a head start. Add all the vegetables along with tomatoes, turmeric, red chilli and salt. Stir the veggies on high flame for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour water just enough to cover the veggies and bring this to a full boil. Reduce the flame to medium and cook partially covered until the veggies are almost cooked. 
  4. Prepare sambar: Check the veggies by poking a knife through the centre of each vegetable used to make sure if they are almost cooked. The veggies should not be hard. Stir in the tamarind extract through a strainer or squeeze using hands and mix well. Stir in the sambar powder and all of the cooked dal. Mix everything thoroughly, taste and adjust the flavours - you may add more sambar powder or more tamarind water or jaggery to balance. Let it simmer on low to medium flame until the sambar comes to a boil. Switch off and move on to preparing the tempering. 
  5. Prepare the tempering (tadka): Heat ghee or any cooking oil in a small tadka pan on low flame. Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to splutter. Next, add the curry leaves, methi seeds and hing and fry until curry leaves are crisp. Switch off and add the dried red chillies and fry in the residual heat until they turn crisp. Pour this immediately into the pot of sambar, stir and cover the pot.
  6. Serve and store Sambar: Stir in the freshly chopped coriander leaves, curry leaves and a teaspoon of ghee before serving with steamed rice, idli, dosa, vada, etc. Store any leftovers covered in the refrigerator for not more than 3 days. You can use it up soon in Sambar Sadam or Idly upma, etc. 
Radish sambar served with idli and chutney

All the idli shown in the images here are made using store-bought idly dosa batter and my favourite so far is the Lulu brand. 

Now, go make my chutneys! You will love it! 

I would love to know if you tried this recipe. You may leave a comment below or follow me on Instagram and mention @butfirstchaai or tag #butfirstchaiblog so that I can see your creations! Thank you! 


  1. wow..thanks for this recipe .pls add idli recipe Famidha


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