Seasoned Sambar, Method One

A classic, traditional Sambar, from Meenakshi Ammal.


A treat that you can give yourself is a wonderful South Indian Sambar, a South Indian soupy spicy dish, generally served over rice or with dosa.

This recipe is interpreted from the doyenne of South Indian cooking, S. Meenakshi Ammal. Her books, Cook and See (in four parts) are a goldmine of traditional South Indian cooking. Sometimes hard to interpret for the novice non-Indian cook, her recipes take a bit of detective work, planning, thinking, rewriting, and discussing. But if you are serious about real and traditional Indian food, these books are a treasure.

You can read more about Sambars and their characteristics here.

Are you looking for other Sambar recipes? Try Sundakkai Sambar, and Moru Sambar.

For Meenakshi Ammal’s other Sambars, try her different ways of making this dish – Method Two, Method Three and Method Four. Each is delicious!

Browse all of our Sambar and Kuzhambu dishes, and all of our Indian recipes. Or eat seasonally and explore our collection of Early Spring dishes.

Chilli and Sambar

Making a traditional Sambar the first time or two can be daunting – there is quite a bit of information behind this seemingly simple dish. You might like to refer to these articles as well.

Each of Meenakshi Ammal’s different methods for making sambar are based on this recipe. They differ in how the spices are added to the dish, using powders, purees or individual spices.


Seasoned Sambar a la S. Meenakshi Ammal

Source : adapted from Method One, Seasoned Sambar in Cook and See Part 1
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Serves: 4 people

2/3 cup Red Gram Dal = Toor Dal
1 large Tblspn Tamarind pulp
1 tspn salt or to taste
0.5 tspn rice flour or chickpea flour
1 – 10 medium sized dried red chillies, depending on heat and your preference. (I use about 6)
0.5 tspn fenugreek seeds
0.5 tspn black mustard seeds
3 tspn Gingelly Oil = Indian Sesame Oil (a very light sesame oil without a sesame taste. Use ghee or vegetable oil if you can’t get Indian Sesame Oil)
2 Green chillies
1 pinch asafoetida
6 or so curry leaves
coriander leaves
0.33 tspn Turmeric powder
1 cup chopped vegetable (see below)

for vegetables
Vegetables like carrot, pumpkin, french beans, runner beans, cluster beans, eggplant, okra, chow chow and drumstick can be used.  It is best to use only one vegetable. Prepare the vegetable by washing and cutting into chunks or lengths. ADD THESE VEGETABLES WHEN THE TAMARIND IS ADDED.

If you prefer, you can briefly par-boil any harder vegetables, like eggplant, okra, pumpkin or any of the beans before using in the recipe. ADD THESE VEGETABLES BEFORE ADDING THE TAMARIND.

You can also use Amaranth stems, radish, white radish or onions, which can be par-boiled in a little water along with the tamarind water before adding to the recipe AT THE POINT THE TAMARIND IS USUALLY ADDED. (Add the cooking water as well). Don’t add extra tamarind to the recipe.

Or Amaranth stems, radish, runner beans, cluster beans or pumpkin can be cooked separately with a little salt, drained an ADDED AFTER ADDING THE TAMARIND.

If you are in India you can use a cooking vessel with a narrow lid, even a stoneware vessel. Otherwise use a saucepan.

Soak the tamarind in enough boiling water to cover it well.

Wash the dal. Boil about 6 cups water, add the dal and 1 tspn gingelly oil or ghee. Cover with a lid and cook until very soft. Add more water as it cooks if needed. It will take at least 30 mins and up to 90 mins to cook until very soft, depending on the age of the dal.

Towards the end of cooking, as the dal becomes soft, add the turmeric powder.

When the dal is cooked, mash it a little with the back of a spoon or a potato masher. Put the dal aside while you prepare the vegetables and spices.

Take a small pan and heat with the remainder of the gingelly oil or ghee. Break the dried chillies in half and add to the oil with the mustard seeds first, then the fenugreek seeds and asafoetida. Allow the mustard seeds to pop and fry the seeds till they are a dark brown but not burnt.

Slit the green chillies into 2 and add to the spices with the curry leaves. The curry leaves will splatter so stand back!

Check when your vegetables should be added to the sambar – either now, with the next step or after the next step.

Strain the tamarind water, removing the seeds and strings and keeping the pulp, and add to the spices with the salt. When the prepared vegetables are added, add enough cooking water to make a soupy consistency. Stir, cover and cook on medium-low heat until the vegetables are cooked.

Now add this vegetable mixture to the dal and mix very well. Allow the sambar to boil well for 3 or 4 minutes.

Mix the rice flour or chickpea flour in some water, mixing well to remove lumps. Stir into the dal, mixing it well. Boil again for a few minutes. Remove from the stove.

Wash the coriander leaves and chop, sprinkling over the dal. Garnish with fresh chillies and curry leaves.

Serve ladled over rice or as an accompaniment to dosa, idli, vada or other Indian dishes. Enjoy!

recipe notes:
I like to add 2 tomatoes, chopped well, with the vegetables.

Amma recommends cooking sambar in an earthen pot, but advises that spices should not be fried or sauted in the earthenware, but in a separate pot before adding to your cooking pot.

Green chillies are optional and may be replaced by red chillies.

If you use more toor dal than specified, the sambar will be thick enough without the need for rice flour or chickpea flour.

If masalas are liked, saute in ghee or gingelly oil: 1 tspn poppy seeds, 0.5 tspn anise, 2 cm cinnamon stick, 4 cloves and 4 cardamon pods, and add for extra flavour to the sambar.

Browse our sambar and kuzhambu recipes here. Or browse our Indian Recipes here. Be inspired by our Spring recipes here.

more about sambar

6 thoughts on “Seasoned Sambar, Method One”

  1. Lovely post, as I said I can never get enough of sambar..:)…Traditionally the toor dal is cooked little more to mush and soft. Only handful of them will retain it’s shape when used in sambar. that makes sure it gives volume. Nothing wrong in allowing them to retain it’s shape nice that you are enjoying the book..

  2. Lovely post dear! I read it twice and breathe. Very simple but hard to digest but not impossible to try. 🙂 I never have seen sambar as thick as yours here. Looks really beautiful with tadka on top. 🙂

  3. Beautiful post. I did a presentation on Steven Covey’s book- Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, way back in college.Since then I find his observations and examples quite life changing. I found your post opening a lot of such windows today. Thank you for sharing.

    The sambar looks a little different from what I make at home or how it is traditionally made at my mum’s. But it is a long and tedious process to make sambar from the scratch. So kudos to you for doing it because these days I reach out to the ready made sambar powder.

    1. Thank you so much, Anita. Covey is a “must-read” book, I reckon. Yes it looks like I must cook again and take my time. In too much of a hurry I think, and did not cook the dal as long as it needed. I am cooking bisibelebhath at the moment! Note to self: cook the dal and rice long enough. 🙂

Welcome! I hope you are enjoying what you see here. Thank you so much for your comment and your thoughts.

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