Mamta's Kitchen

Sambhar, South Indian Spicy Lentils

Sambhar, A South Indian Dal

Mamta Gupta


Sambhar is a rather hot and fiery dal, dahl as it is pronounced in South India. Originally eaten only in South India, it is now popular all over India and has become a popular fast food, mostly served with Idlies and Dosa rice and dal pancakes.

Sambhar usually has a mix of vegetables, chopped up and added to dal. However, in our house, we make it smooth, by blending the vegetables. It tastes delicious.

Drumstick, Senjan-ki-phali, are almost always added to this dish. They are the fruit of the tree called drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera). In UK, you can find fresh or frozen and some Indian grocers.

u Recipe and pictures changed May 2020


  • To cook the Dal

  • 1/2 cup pigeon peas (arhar/toor/tuvar dal) or use red lentils (dhuli masoor dal)

  • 2-3 cups water

  • To cook the Sambhar/b>

  • 2 tbsp. oil

  • 1/2 tsp. black Mustard seeds

  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

  • 1/2 tsp. Fenugreek

  • A good pinch of asafoetida

  • Curry leaves

  • 1-2 whole red chillies, to taste

  • 1 cup mixed vegetables. Select from any of these; Drumsticks, onions, bhindi (ladies fingers or okra), aubergines, radish, green peppers, carrots, beans, potatoes, a few spinach leaves.

  • 1 heaped tbsp. tamarind pulp or puree *see notes.

  • 3 tsp. Sambhar Masala. You can buy ready made one from Indian grocers

  • Salt to taste

  • A handful of coriander leaves (optional)

  • For the final tempering or tarka (Optional, but it gives the dish a better finish Picture is missing until I make it next!):

  • 1 tbsp. oil

  • 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds

  • A large pinch of asafoetida powder

  • 10-12 curry leaves

  • 1 dry red chilli, broken up


  1. Wash and soak dal for a few minutes.

  2. Measure all ingredients and keep aside.

  3. Wash, and chop vegetables into bite size pieces. Keep aside.

  4. Soak tamarind in 1/2 cup of hot water for 1/2 hour. Mash up and strain any stones or fibres out. You can use ready-made pulp, diluted/dissolved in 1/2 cup of water.

  5. Cook dal in 2 cups of water in a pan until soft or cook in a pressure cooker under pressure for 2 minutes. It should be soft. You will need 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water if boiling in a pan, less in pressure cooker. Keep the cooked dal aside.

  6. Cooking vegetables

  7. Heat oil in a small pan and add all tempering ingredients, except chillies and curry leaves. Once the seeds have spluttered/crackled/turned brown, add chillies and curry leaves, stirring with a teaspoon for a few seconds. The mustard seeds splutter and jump a lot, so keep your face away from the pan/close the lid.

  8. Add all vegetables and fry for a few minutes.

  9. Add 1 1/2-2 cups of water, tamarind juice, salt, Sambhar powder and coriander leaves.

  10. Cook covered until vegetables are tender/done.

  11. Add the dal and cook for a few more minutes.

  12. Lift the drumsticks out with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

  13. Blend the rest of the vegetables and dal with a stick blender. This Sambhar should be thinnish, like a soup, so add more water if necessary. Most people don't bother to blend the vegetables, but we like ours smooth. If you prefer, you can leave the vegetables as they are.

  14. Add the drumsticks back again and heat the Sambhar through. Drumsticks are eaten like you would eat bone marrow from a small bone; chewing on it and sucking the inside flesh out.

  15. Adjust seasoning.

  16. Final Tarka

  17. Heat the oil in a ladle.

  18. Add mustard seeds and asafoetida.

  19. Once the seeds crackle, add red chillies and curry leaves. Wait a few seconds and pour over the finished sambhar, closing the lid immediately. This will allow the flavours to unfuse.

  20. Serve hot with Idli 1 and Idli 2 or Dosa or Boiled Rice.


  • * Tamarind tartness varies, so it is difficult to give exact amount. The end result should be a slightly 'sour' tasting dal. Tamarind puree can be bought in jars from Oriental, Asian grocers. It is much better than the dark coloured tamarind concentrate. Alternatively, you can soak about 2-3 inch block of tamarind in enough warm water to cover it, mash it once soft and strain to get thick extract.

  • "Drumstick" is a ridged, 1-2 feet long, stick like pod of the tree, Moringa oleifera. The outer skin may be tough, but the flesh is pearly white and tender. To eat, chew gently, to release the flesh from the tough skin and suck it like a bone marrow. In India, it tender, green pods are cooked like a Vegetable. It is also suitable for making a lovely pickle, my mum used to make it when we lived in Bihar and had the tree in our garden. Leaves and flowers of this tree are also edible and cooked. In various parts of India, it has different names like sejna/sajna ki phalli, muranka, murungai, seeng, sigru. It is said that they get their English name from the fact that they resemble the musical drumsticks.

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