top of page

Sambar - a Vegetable Lentil Stew

Sambar is another staple in South Indian households. It's main ingredients are lentils, along with a medley of vegetables and spices. While the list of ingredients might seem daunting, I'm here to tell you that once you get the general flow, its not complicated. In India, families will have this as an accompaniment to a plate of rice and a few other side dishes OR with other common mains, like dosa or idli. Sambar has also been hailed as one of the healthiest Indian dishes. Given the inclusion of lentils as your protein source, it can be enjoyed on its own, as a soup too. However you choose to eat it, I assure you this is one comforting, flavorful and healthy stew.

Recipe is for 8-12 servings (adjust to smaller quantity, as needed)


  • Produce:

  • 3/4 cup masoor daal (cleaned red lentils)

  • 2 cups vegetables roughly chopped (your choice i.e. 6 okras, 1.5 tomatoes, 1 cucumber, 1/2 cup carrots, 1/2 cup green beans, 1 green plantain)

  • 1 green chili cut in half lengthwise (optional, if you can't handle heat)

  • 1 tbsp tamarind (soak in warm water)

  • 1/4 turmeric powder

  • 1/4 tsp asafetida powder (also known as hing)

  • 2 tsp coconut oil

  • Main Spice Mixture:

  • 3 tbsp sambar powder (recommended store bought brands are below)

  • 1 tsp turmeric powder

  • 1 tsp asafetida powder (also known as hing)

  • 1/4 tsp red chilli powder

  • Tempering Spice Mixture:

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil

  • 1 tsp mustard seeds

  • 2 whole red chilis (broken up)

  • 1/4 tsp asafetida powder (also known as hing)

  • 1 small diced shallot

  • 1 sprig curry leaves

  • Set aside following:

  • 2 tbsp roasted ground coconut (can microwave for 2 mins) and a sprig of curry leaves (optional addition in some households for more flavor)

  • 1/4 chopped cilantro

(Note: Veggie choice is up to you. You can use only non starchy vegetables if looking to keep lower carb. My mom says don't let the long list of veggies discourage you from making it. You can just use 3 basic vegetables).

How To:

  1. Into your conventional pressure cooker, add clean red lentils. Then add 2 cups filtered water, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp turmeric powder and top with 2 tsp coconut oil. Turn on stove to medium high and cook for 1 whistle. Note: If you're using an Electric Instant Pot, I recommend setting to high pressure for 12 mins. After time lapses, check on the items inside to whether more time is needed. Visit this blog for a good pressure/time conversion table at bottom of page.

  2. Open the pressure cooker and stir the mostly cooked lentils. Now add in all the vegetables of your choice. Throw in all the spice mixtures and stir lentils and vegetables, so that spices are evenly distributed. Add 2-3 more cups filtered water (should sit above vegetables). Break up warm tamarind into pot. Check salt and add more, if need be. Close with lid and pressure cook for one more whistle. On instant pot, set on high pressure for another 6-10 mins. Check to see if vegetables are cooked and leave pot open to cook a bit more, if needed.

  3. For tempering, in a small pot, add 3 tbsp of coconut oil. When its heated, add 1 tsp mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds start to splutter, add red chilis, diced shallot, curry leaves and 1/4 tsp asafetida powder. Keep stirring for max flavoring.

  4. Turn off heat on tempered spice mixture, and now add roasted coconut shreds + curry leaves and mix it all together.

  5. Now add the tempered spice mixture to the cooked vegetable lentil mix.

  6. Put the vegetable lentil mix back on the stove top without a lid and heat it again for the tempered spices to be spread throughout. Cook on stove till you see gentle boiling and then switch off. Top with diced cilantro and stir. Transfer to a serving bowl immediately to avoid overcooking the vegetables.


Gather all your ingredients (Note: tempering spice mix not shown below):

Pressure cook lentils:

Add all the vegetables, spice mixture, tamarind and water before cooking some more:

When the stew is cooked, it will look like this:

Temper spices for final flavoring:

Add the tempered spices, switch off then add cilantro and ground toasted coconut and curry leaves.

Place it back on the stove and heat everything together for a quick low boil:

bottom of page