Sambar is a popular South Indian lentil soup that is often served with rice, dosa, idli, uttapam, or vada. It is a vegetarian lentil-based stew that is flavored with tamarind, vegetables, and a super aromatic spice blend. A healthy and satisfying lentil soup that is easy to make!
Every time I share South Indian recipes like Idli, Uttapam, Quinoa Dosa, or Quinoa Idli, on my social media, I get a lot of requests on how to make homemade Sambar. So here is the recipe I grew up eating. Although mom made it on the stovetop, I love my simplified one-pot recipe using the Instant Pot pressure cooker. And since I know some of you may request this, I am also sharing the traditional stove top method to make this South Indian delicacy.
When I was working on The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook, I got the opportunity to learn how to make Homemade Sambar Powder from my friend Indu's mother-in-law. If you have followed me for long enough you have probably already tasted some of her other South Indian recipes that I have shared, like Ven Pongal, Vegetable Kurma, Bisi Bele Bhath, and Curd Rice.
The recipe in my cookbook is a simplified version where I add all the ingredients to the Instant Pot after the initial tempering of mustard seeds and then pressure cook. This recipe uses some of the traditional cooking steps like sauteeing the aromatics and adding bottle gourd (lauki) which I absolutely love. Easy to make with the one-pot cooking method and check out all of the tips too.
- Spices - mustard seeds, turmeric, and sambar powder are the main spices used in this recipe. Although store-bought sambar powder can be used in this recipe, I highly recommend making a fresh batch at home. If you are using store-bought sambar powder, you may want to start with just half a tablespoon and add more to taste as they tend to be much hotter.
- Aromatics - onion, garlic, and curry leaves
- Vegetables - I love adding tomato, carrot, bottlegourd (lauki), and drumstick beans. I recommend buying frozen drumstick beans from Indian grocery stores and adding them without thawing. You can also add vegetables like eggplant, squash, or okra.
- Lentils - toor dal is traditionally used but you can also use other split lentils such as masoor dal, mung dal, or a combination of different yellow lentils.
How to Make Instant Pot Sambar
- Set the Instant Pot to Saute(more) mode and heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop. Add asafoetida, curry leaves, onion, and garlic, and saute for 2 minutes. Add tomato, carrot, bottle gourd, and drumstick beans, turmeric, salt and, sambar powder(photos 1 - 4)
- Add toor dal, and water and give a quick stir. Pressure Cook (High) for 8 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally and open the pot. Mix the daal well, mashing with the back of the spoon. Stir in tamarind. Add more water if needed to bring the sambar to the desired consistency. Note: sambar will continue to thicken as it cools down. Add more salt and sambar powder to taste. Select the Saute (More) setting and bring it to a full boil. Press Cancel. Garnish with cilantro(photos 5 - 8)
Sambar is a versatile dish that can be served in many different ways:
- Over steamed rice. You can place a serving of rice on a plate or bowl and pour the lentil soup on top. Mix it well and enjoy.
- Serve along with crispy dosa, coconut chutney, and potato masala. Check out my Crispy Quinoa Dosa recipe.
- Serve with steamed Idli or Medu Vada. If you love the traditional South Indian idli, check out this Quinoa Idli recipe.
- Enjoy as a soup with some chopped cilantro on top.
How to Store Sambar
Let the sambar cool down to room temperature before storing it in an airtight container. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or freeze for up to 2-3 months. To thaw, transfer it to the refrigerator overnight and then reheat it on the stove or in the microwave before serving. Add some water if needed to adjust the consistency.
- Use any vegetables that you may have in the Sambar. Some popular choices are eggplant, okra, pumpkin, and capsicum.
- Adjust the spiciness by adding more or less sambar powder
- Adding a spoonful of ghee to the Sambar while serving enhances the flavor.
- You can also add some jaggery to balance out the sourness of the tamarind.
- 2 tablespoons oil
- ¼ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- ⅛ teaspoon asafetida (hing)
- 15 curry leaves
- 1 small yellow onion thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 plum tomato diced
- 1 carrot peeled and sliced
- 2 cups bottle gourd peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 12 frozen drumstick beans
- ½ cup toor dal rinsed
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 to 3 tablespoons sambar powder
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt plus more to taste
- 4 cups water
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- Set the Instant Pot to Saute(more)mode and heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop. Add hing, curry leaves, onion, and garlic and saute for 2 minutes.
- Add tomato, carrot, bottle gourd, and drumstick beans, turmeric, salt and, sambar powder and mix well. Add toor dal, and water and give a quick stir.
- Close the Instant Pot with the steam release handle to sealing. Pressure Cook (High) for 8 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally and open the pot. Mix the daal well, mashing with the back of the spoon.
- Stir in tamarind. Add more water if needed to bring the sambar to the desired consistency. Note: sambar will continue to thicken as it cools down. Add more salt and sambar powder to taste. Select the Saute (More) setting and bring the sambar to a full boil. Press Cancel. Garnish with cilantro. Serve hot.
- Add rinsed and washed lentils along with 2 cups of water to a pressure cooker and cook until the lentils are soft and mushy. You can also cook them on a stovetop pot for about 30 minutes or so.
- In another medium-sized pot heat oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop. Add hing, curry leaves, onion, and garlic and saute until the onions turn translucent and lightly golden, about 5 minutes.
- Add tomato, carrot, bottle gourd, and drumstick beans, turmeric, salt and, sambar powder and mix well. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a rolling boil. Cook covered on low to medium heat until the vegetables are cooked through. About 10 minutes.
- Add cooked dal and give a quick stir. Stir in tamarind. Add more water if needed to bring the sambar to the desired consistency. Adjust salt to taste and add more sambar powder if needed.
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