It is usually, but not always, a fairly warming masala or mix of spices blended to particularly suit liquid lentil dishes, called sambar. A sambar is a dish of various liquidity (from very runny to slightly liquid) and consists of pureed toor dal lentils cooked with fresh vegetables, tamarind and spices. It is very yummy. In the south of India, vada sambar and idli sambar are popular breakfast foods.
It is always best to make your own sambar powder or paste, if you can. Use a blender or grinder, or, like I do, grind in a mortar with a pestle. The aroma of it alone will have you wanting to make a fresh batch each week time you make sambar.
The powder can be stored in an airtight container for several months, but every self respecting South Indian household will make it as required. You can buy Sambar Powder (MTR make a fairly good one), but it is very very much better to make your own. The recipes below make about 1.25 cups. Of course, you can make smaller amounts.
The amounts mentioned below are guides only. Each family in South India will have their own sambar powder or paste recipe, and their own making the sambar using the powder or paste. Play with the recipes below until you find one that you suits your tastes and cooking styles.
I have in this post the information that I have collected in my Book of Many Things – a chaotic collection of things to save.
To make Sambar Powder
Source : My original sambar powder recipe, decades old
Prep time: 15 mins
Ghee (1 tspn)
coriander seeds (5 Tblspns)
mustard seeds (1 tspn)
moong dal (1 tspn)
chana dal (0.5 tspn)
urad dal (0.5 tspn)
fenugreek seeds (1 tspn)
black peppercorns (1 tspn)
asafoetida (0.25 tspn)
cumin seeds (1 tspn)
curry leaves (20)
dried chillies (12)
Heat the ghee in a heavy frying pan or wok over a medium heat.
Put in the dals, coriander, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, peppercorns, asafoetida and cumin seeds. Stir roast for 3 – 4 minutes, allowing the mustard seeds to pop.
Add the curry leaves, stir and roast gently for around 5 minutes.
Add the dried chillies and continue stirring and roasting for 2 – 3 minutes until the chillies darken.
Remove spices to a plate. When they have cooled, grind them as finely as possible. Store in an airtight container.
Goan Sambar Powder
Kerala Sambar Powders and Pastes
To make sambar paste you blend the ingredients and add fried/toasted coconut. Since the quantity will be small, you will need to add water to get a smooth paste. Otherwise, to get a paste from the fresh powder, you roast the ingredients in little oil and grind with water to get a smooth paste!..this also tastes yummy!
Parsi Sambar Powder
source: My Bombay Kitchen
3/4 cup cayenne pepper
1Tblspn ground turmeric
1.5 tspn asafoetida powder
0.5 cup fenugreek seeds
2 Tbspn black mustard seeds
1 tspn black peppercorns
1 tspn broken star anise pods
1 tspn whole cloves
1-2 stick cinnamon
1 Tbspn Indian sesame oil or ghee or peanut oil
Grind the fenugreek, mustard seeds, pepper corns, star anise, cloves and cinnamon to a fine powder. Add cayenne pepper, salt, turmeric and asafoetida.
Heat the oil until it starts to shimmer. Make a well in the middle of the spice mixture and pour in the hot oil. Keep mixing with a spoon until the oil is completely incorporated and the mixture loses its powdery look. Store in a cool dark place.
A Simple Sambar Recipe
There are millions of sambar recipes, just search the internet, but here is a simple one, if you wish to try one. For a more traditional Recipe see below for links.
Sambars are often served as part of a meal with a number of Indian dishes, but can also be served on its own with rice, naan or other Indian bread, maybe with a small salad containing cucumber, tomato and raw onion, for a simple but great lunch.
125 g Toor dal
1 tspn ghee
knob of tamarind to make tamarind water/paste
juice of 1 lime or 1/2 lemon
small lump of jaggery – about 0.5 size of a walnut
1 – 2 chopped onions
other cooked or semi cooked vegetables (optional)
2 tspn black mustard seeds
6 or more curry leaves
pinch asafoetida powder
coriander (cilantro) leaves
4 tspn sambar powder
Cook Toor dal in 0.75 litre water with turmeric and ghee until cooked and quite soft. For me this takes up to an hour if I have presoaked the toor dal overnight.
Add chopped onions and any other cooked or semi-cooked vegetables.
Add tamarind water or lime juice with salt, jaggery and chopped tomato.
Add 4 tspns of sambar powder. Cook over low flame for 10 minutes.
Separately fry mustard seeds, and curry leaves in additional ghee and add with pinch asafoetida.
Pour the tadka into the lentils, mix and sprinkle with coriander leaves.
- Seasoned Sambar, Method One
- Seasoned Sambar, Method Two
- Seasoned Sambar, Method Three
- On cooking Vegetables for Sambar and here
- On the making of Sambar Powder
- Sambar Powders and a Simple Sambar
- More on Cooking Sambar