Vegetable Sambar

South Indian food tends not to be as popular in the west as North Indian food: everybody’s heard of chicken tikka masala, or naan or saag paneer. Yet other than Masala Dosa, South Indian food is only now starting to become mainstream. Sambar is one of our favorites – a hearty vegetable and lentil stew, it is typically served with idlis (steamed rice cakes), the aforementioned ever popular dosa or at home we eat it simply with rice. It has a hint of tamarind and with a medley of veggies, is a healthy quick dinner!

We find most sambar you get at restaurants are watered down and have hardly any veggies. Our recipe uses an abundance of different squash, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes to create a mouth watering, filling stew that you won’t want to pass up! Recently, we’ve been growing a lot of zucchini and made a version with just zucchini, carrots and tomatoes and it was delicious! 

Tips & Tricks

  • The key to this recipe to allow the veggies to cook in water and the sambar powder for a long time to be able to have the flavors sink into the vegetables before adding the lentils
  • For best flavors let this rest in the refrigerator overnight, the veggies will absorb the flavors of the broth and will thicken up
  • Any combo of veggies work great, we usually use some combination of carrots, yellow squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes or bell peppers
  • This recipe also works great for an okra sambar – if so, fry the okra in a few tsp of oil first to get rid of the sticky texture before adding to the lentils

Recipe Information

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 entree servings


  • 1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño or Serrano pepper, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced 
  • 2 cups of veggies – here we use carrots, yellow squash, turnip, sweet potato, yellow bell pepper
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • Salt
  • Turmeric
  • 1 tsp Black Mustard Seeds
  • Pinch of Hing (Asafoetida)
  • 1/8 tsp Ground Fenugreek
  • Madras sambar powder (homemade or 777 brand from Indian store)


  1. Pressure cook 1 cup of dal with 3 cups of water, 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric for 15-20 min
  2. Heat a pot large enough for stew over medium high heat
  3. Add a tbsp of oil and add mustard seeds, ground fenugreek, pinch of hing
  4. As mustard seeds start to pop, add onion and chili pepper of choice and sauté
  5. Add diced tomato and tamarind paste and cook for ~5 min
  6. Add veggies of choice
  7. Add 1.5 to 2 tbsp sambar powder and salt to taste . 
  8. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil, then lower the heat.
  9. Simmer for ~15 minutes.
  10. Add the cooked dal and continue to simmer until the veggies are tender
  11. Serve hot with rice, idli or dosa