A Classic Seasoned Sambar, Method Two

Onion Sambar II

I adore sambar. There are no two ways around it. It is a dish of choice, and when I visit my most favourite Indian restaurants, I will always order a dish of sambar and idli. As homely as it is, it is comforting, flavoursome, awesome.

This is a second method of cooking Sambar as described by Meenakshi Ammal, that classical Indian author of cookbooks. It introduces the use of Sambar Powder as a replacement for some of the individual spices.

Are you wondering what defines a sambar? You might like to read this post that answers that question. If you like to explore sambars, you could browse these helpful posts – Sambar, Method One, Method Three, and Method Four, and then all sambar recipes and kuzhambu recipes.

A lot of info for a simple dish 🙂

Onion Sambar II

This is an Onion Sambar, quite delicious.

Seasoned Sambar Method Two a la S. Meenakshi Ammal

This recipe is different to Method One in that it introduces Sambar Powder as a part substitute for individual spices.

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

changes to Method One
This recipe uses the same the ingredients from Method One, with the following changes:

The dal is reduced to 1/2 cup Red Gram Dal = Toor Dal
The dried red chilllies are reduced from 6 to 4
1/2 – 1 tspn Sambar Powder is added

Full Recipe


1/2 cup Red Gram Dal = Toor Dal
1 large Tblspn Tamarind
1 tspn salt or to taste
0.5 – 1 tspn Sambar Powder – see below for Ammal’s Sambar Powder,  make your own here or use freshly purchased powder from your Indian grocery
0.5 tspn rice flour or chickpea flour
4 dried red chillies, depending on heat and your preference. I use 2 or 3.
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.

sambar powder
Meenakshi Ammal suggests 350g red chillies ground with 350g of coriander seends, 3.5 Tblspn black pepper, 0.5 cup channa dal, 1 cup red gram dal and 1 Tblspn turmeric powder. You can adjust the proportions to suit your need.

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, 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. Add the sambar powder.

By now the vegetables are added, so add enough cooking water to make a soupy consistency. Stir, cover and cook on medium-low heat until the vegetables are cooked.

Now add the spices and vegetables 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.

Important Reads

Before you begin, please read these posts too.

6 thoughts on “A Classic Seasoned Sambar, Method Two”

  1. I have missed your updates on this space, so do not think of shutting it out..even if you end up updating once a year, it’s fine. Life is not always the same, things change that we have to accept!..:)..I love the feeling of hovering around you as you cook your way through your dish..:)..I can relate so much to the attachment we have for a Sambar. Though it’s a dish that’s made at least thrice a week, it still remains aloof!…:) I have all of Meenakshi Ammal’s books and love reading through them, it’s more like a fiction right!

    1. Thank you so much Srivalli for your encouragement. And Amma is wonderful, a novel indeed, but one that reveals itself only after several readings. 🙂 xx

  2. Wonderful to see you back with a post! The last post on my own blog is much along the same lines as your thoughts. My request is for you to keep this blog open! It is a great resource, and selfishly, I have bookmarks that I don’t want to lose. 🙂

  3. Good to see you post again Ganga.
    One main ingredients, I would avoid from the list you have given for the Sambhar powder, would be mustard seeds.
    i have seen few spice-mixes with this in Kerala. Main reason is that it would spoil easily.
    For us fresh ground coconut and coriander seeds predominate.
    Transplants like us, prefer the ease of Sambhar powder with the addition of extra spices.

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