Indian Essentials: How to Make Sambar Powder and Paste

Making spice powders at home is simple

How to Make Sambar Powder | Indian | Vegetarian | A Life Time of Cooking

Sambar is one of those beautiful unctuous creamy soupy dishes that are quintessentially South Indian. A sambar consists of mashed toor dal lentils cooked with fresh vegetables (optional), tamarind and spices. Eaten daily, the spice mixes used vary in content and flavour from house to house. Everyone claims to have the best recipe, and of course they are right. It is a very important dish to all South Indians, and vada sambar and idli sambar are popular breakfast foods.

Sambar powder can also be used in place of Rasam Powder when making Rasam.

Similar recipes include Sundakkai PodiRasam Powder, Malaysian Curry Powder and Sri Lankan Thuna Paha.

You might also be interested in the following articles:

You can find all of our Sambar Recipes and information here. Browse our other Spice Mix recipes. Our Indian recipes are here and our Indian Essentials here. Or take some time to browse our Late Spring recipes.

Sambar Powder | Indian | Masalas | Vegetarian | Heat in The Kitchen

Sambar Powder and Paste

Sambar Powder is indispensable in South India. In some parts of India, for example Kerala, Sambar Paste is made, rather than a powder.

Sambar Powder is usually, but not always, a fairly warming masala or mix of spices blended to particularly suit a soupy lentil dish called sambar. A sambar is a soupy dish of pureed toor dal lentils cooked with fresh vegetables, tamarind and spices. It is a very important dish to South Indians, and vada sambar and idli sambar are popular breakfast foods.

You can make sambar from scratch without using a pre-prepared sambar powder, as detailed here. Alternatively, you can use a home made sambar masala (sambar spice mix). Or for greater variation in the spices that you use, it is possible to use a simple sambar powder as a base and add a selection of other spices.

It is always best to make your own sambar powder or paste, if you can. Use a blender or grinder, for a finer powder, or grind with a mortar with a pestle. The aroma of it alone will have you wanting to make a fresh batch each 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 often. The recipes below make about 1.25 cups, but you can scale it down to make smaller amounts.

The amounts mentioned in many recipes for masalas 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. Experiment with the recipes below until you find one that you suits your tastes and cooking styles.

Sambar Powder | Indian | Masalas | Vegetarian | Heat in The Kitchen

Raw Powders and Roasted Powders

The spices used in sambar powder can be roasted or fried before grinding, or can be ground raw. In the latter case, the powder is either briefly roasted just before use or is cooked longer to cook out the raw spices.

It is important to know whether you are using a pre-roasted powder or not. If you are using roasted powder, it is better to avoid roasing the powder when cooking a sambar. And a general rule for making spice mixes – if the components of the spice mix include some that burn quickly (eg sesame seed, coconut etc), it is best to roast them off individually as you make the powder.

Cook and See, and Meenakshi Ammal

S. Meenakshi Ammal, has several variations on sambar in her books Cook and See. Her recipes for sambar powder will make any Western cook weak at the knees when they see the quantities. But it can be scaled down to more reasonable quantities (and with a little less heat).

Sambar Spices

Sambar Powder Recipes

Raw Sambar Powder

Amma’s initial recipe makes about a kilo of sambar powder. It involves:

350g of dried red chillies, preferably ones dried in the sun
350g coriander seed
3.5 Tblspn black pepper
7 sticks of fresh turmeric
1/2 cup bengal gram (channa dal)
1 cup toor dal

Grind the ingredients and mix the powders together well.

She suggests grinding 700g of chillies, taking half to use in other ways, and half to mix with the spices above, ground.

In this recipe she does not suggest roasting the spices, so you can, if you choose, roast the powder a little before using.

If you want to make a smaller quantity of sambar powder, something suitable for the modern kitchen, take about 10 dried red chillies, 1 Tblspn of coriander powder, 1/3 tspn black pepper, 1/3 tspn turmeric, 1 Tblspn chickpeas (bengal gram) 1 Tblspn toor dal (red gram dal). If you want to fry off the spices as you make the powder, you can do that. I like to throw everything into the spice grinder and, like Amma, fry off the powder when making the dish.

Roasted Sambar Powder

Amma also includes the following roasted sambar recipe. The amounts are large, so you can scale down should you wish to make a smaller batch.

10 – 12 cups dried red chillies
0.75 cups toor dal
0.25 cup bengal gram dal (channa dal)
1 cup urad dal
0.25 cup black pepper
3 cups coriander seed
20 g turmeric (a small stick of fresh, or use 15 g powder)
curry leaves
7 – 8 tspns ghee

Fry the red chillies off in the oil without allowing them to turn black. Roast the rest of the ingredients in a dry pan, separately.

Grind the coriander, turmeric and curry leaves and then sieve them. Add any coarser pieces to the chillies to be ground again.

Grind the chillies and sieve.

Grind the lentils.

Mix all of the powders together well.

recipe notes
This powder is not fried or roasted before use.

1/8 cup fenugreek seeds can be added if using the powder for Vatral Kuzhambu and should not be used for Poritha Kuzhambu, Kootu, etc. If you prepare the powder without fenugreek, so that it can be used for all kinds of Kuzhambu. Add fenugreek separately to season Vatral Kuzhambu.

To add this powder to Vathal Kuzhambu, simply add the powder to the fried seasonings in the recipe, stir once, and mix with the kuzhambu.

Sambar Powder | Indian | Masalas | Vegetarian | Heat in The Kitchen

A More Complex Roasted Sambar Powder

1 tspn Ghee
5 Tblspn coriander seeds
1 tspn mustard seeds
1 tspn moong dal
0.5 tspn chana dal
0.5 tspn urad dal
1 tspn fenugreek seeds
1 tspn black peppercorns
0.25 tspn asafoetida
1 tspn cumin seeds
20 curry leaves
12 dried chillies
1 stick cinnamon
1 tspn turmeric powder

Heat the ghee in a kadhai, heavy frying pan or wok over a medium heat.

Put in the dals, coriander, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, peppercorns, asafoetida, cinnamon 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 turmeric 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.

Other Sambar Powder Recipes

To demonstrate the diversity of Sambar Powders, I have included the following. Ratios are to personal preference – you can use the previous recipe quantities as a guide.

Madras Sambar Powder

just under 0.5 cup urad dal
0.25 cup channa dal
0.25 cup toor dal
0.5 cup coriander seeds
half a handful red chillies
0.75 tspn cumin seeds
0.75 tspn black mustard seeds
1 tspn fenugreek seeds
1 tspn black pepper corns
1 handful curry leaves
2 tsp Grated coconut

Roast all of the ingredients separately and grind into a powder.

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

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
2 Tblspn salt
1 Tblspn 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

Find my favourite sambar recipes here.

There are millions of sambar recipes, just search the internet, and here is a very simple one, if you’d like to try.

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 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
a few other cooked or semi cooked vegetables, diced (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.

Important Reading

12 thoughts on “Indian Essentials: How to Make Sambar Powder and Paste”

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

  3. 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. 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 ….. ?

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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

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