Sambar Powder and Paste: How to make

Sambar Spices

Sambar Powder is indispensable in South India. Bee of jugalbandi let me know in a comment, that in Kerala (South West India), Sambar Paste is made, rather than a powder.

It is usually, but not always, a fairly hot 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. But this occurred some time ago, before I knew many Indian cooks, so I invite and welcome comments and other recipes from my dear readers. We can refine and develop this page together.

To make Sambar Powder

First Made: 2000
Source : inspired by my growing love for Indian food at that time, and from my old Food_Matters site
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 15 mins

General Recipe

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

coriander seeds
dried chillies
toor dal
cumin seeds
black peppercorns
curry leaves

Kerala Sambar Powders and Pastes

coriander seeds
dried chillies
fenugreek seeds
curry leaves

[In comments, bee of jugalbandi and vimmie let me know that Kerala Sambar paste contains coconut.]

[SriValli of Cooking 4 All Seasons says in a comment that 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!]

Cooking a Sambar

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
pinch tumeric
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 tomato
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
sea salt
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.

[I am updating this post with information from readers. Thanks for your comments, and I will incorporate additional information as I receive it and/or after I am back from holidays.]

Important Reads:

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About Ganga108

Heat in the Kitchen, Cooking with Spirit. Temple junkie, temple builder, temple cleaner. Lover of life, people, cultures, travel. Champion of growth, change and awareness. Taker of photos. Passionate about family. Happy.
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12 Responses to Sambar Powder and Paste: How to make

  1. Asha says:

    Absolutely love this post! As a south Indian, nothing pleases me more than a cup of delicious Sambhar, not necessarily spicy, infront me, specially when I come home after a long vacation!
    There are as many variations of the same Sambhar pd as there are people in India!:D

  2. Peter says:

    Thank you for expanding my ingredients knowledge. Great to still find out there are undiscovered ingredients in this now small, virtual world.

  3. vimmi says:

    I am from north india but learnt sambhar from my friend who hails from kerala. I make fresh powder on the day of making sambhar and also add grated coconut along with the above mentioned ing. tatstes great.

  4. Rajitha says:

    sambhar..i can almost smell it from has been months i have made it…am ashamed to call myself a southi :D

  5. bee says:

    nitpicking here. in my mom’s family (kerala), they do not use sambar powder. sambar paste is freshly ground each time and includes coconut. a lot of north kerala families do not have sambar powder. other parts of south india do.

    Hi bee – no, not nitpicking. I love to learn new things and to experience the varieties of cultures and of life. I will be in Kerala soon, so will look for the paste. Any recipes for the paste ….. ?

  6. Srivalli says:

    thats a cool one coming from you!..sambar paste is normally the same ingredients freshly blended and fried coconut is added. Since the quantity will be small, you will need to add water to get a smooth paste…

    When you are making the fresh powder, you need to roast all the ingredients in little oil and grind with water to get a smooth paste!..this also tastes yummy!

  7. swaroopa says:

    cool post! sambar paste is new to me.

  8. Pravs says:

    When making sambar paste the kerala way… cinnamon is not one of the ingredient, i must say. Yeah coconut is a must ingredient in kerala cooking :D. Asafoetida is a must ingredient for samabar. I hope you don’t mind my suggestions :) Very nice post.

  9. simpleanddelicious says:

    Very nice post!
    Yeah, we Keralites makes sambar pastes and powders.
    I have posted one with fried coconut, pls check.

    Fabulous. I will add the link to the post. Thanks for letting me know.

  10. nisha says:

    What a wonderful collection of sambar powders. Just thought of brining one point to you notice Kerala sambar powder never use cinnamon or any garam masala spices. Cinnamon is commonly used in Kannadiga sambar powder i think they use cloves too.

  11. Paste says:

    For other instructions about how to make sambar paste, one may have a look at this nice and entertaining video:

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