Indian Streetfood/Indo Chines · Lentils · Salads/Soup

Sambar (Indian Lentil & Vegetables Stew)

Sambar is an utterly popular slow cooked south indian lentil and vegetable stew which is served with idlis, dosa, vada or steamed rice. It is fragrant, nourishing and very comforting. Lentils form a huge part of indian cuisine and every region has its own speciality. Sambar is an everyday dish of the south indian region and over years because of its delicious taste and nutrient dense value, it has become one of the most popular dishes in India.

However, in our north indian family, south indian food was made once or twice a month. It was a special meal and the preparations started a couple days ahead with mom fermenting idli batter and making chutneys. Her sambar recipe is the best if you ask me. I dont claim it to be the authentic for it differs in the selection of vegetables and the way she tempered it. So unlike the drumsticks and squash loaded ones, I grew up on sambar in which went chunks of capsicum(green bell pepper) and green beans and sometimes okra or eggplant. It was a warming, soul satisfying and a beautiful medley of flavors of sambar powder and taste of vegetables.

I make sambar like mom, with the same selection of vegetables. Be it the contrasting sweetness of jaggery and sour of fresh squeezed tamarind pulp or the chewy pungency of black mustard seeds and a subtle citrus nuttiness of curry leaves, every single slurp rings comfort into my soul..

Mom used store bought sambar powder and I do the same. We have a few favorite brands and I stock up on those whenever I go to India or someone is visiting. I sometimes find it in our indian store as well, its a pretty easy thing to find. However, if you do not have ready to use sambar powder, leave a comment and I will write you a recipe.

Many people like to use a blend of lentils but I make mine with just arhar daal (toor/pigeon pea lentils). Sambar is a easy thing to make and tastes better next day or after resting if you are serving the same day. You can prep the vegetables and make tamarind pup while the lentils are cooking(I pressure cook them) and just temper everything and simmer it for about 10-12 minutes.

Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Sambar

A flavorful,south indian pigeon pea lentil & vegetable stew. Best served with idlis, vada, dosa or steamed rice. Can be easily made vegan.
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Course: Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: Indian

Equipment

  • Pressure Cooker, Cooking Pot

Ingredients

For Boiing The Daal

  • 1 cup arhar daal (toor daal/pigeon pea lentils)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2.5 cups water

Vegetables (substitute with your choice of vegetables)

  • 1 small capsicum/green bell pepper cut into bite size pieces
  • 12-15 green beans cut into 1 inch long pieces
  • 1 medium firm tomato quatered
  • 6-8 sambar onions/pearl onions peeled

Tempering The Sambar

  • 3 tbsp oil/ ghee I use avocado oil
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 3/4 tsp chana daal (bengal gram lentils)
  • 3/4 tsp split urad lentils
  • 1/4 tsp hing
  • 2-3 dried red chilies
  • Pinch methi seeds
  • 12-15 fresh curry leaves
  • 2-3 tbsp thick tamarind pulp adjust to desired sourness
  • 2.5 tbsp sambar powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp jaggery powder adjust to desired sweetness

Instructions

Boil The Daal

  • Wash the lentils throughly 2-3 times under a running stream of water.
  • Place in the pressure cooker. Add 2.5 cups water and turmeric. Soak for 20 minutes.
  • Once soaked, pressure cook the lentils in the same water for 3-5 whistles on medium heat. Switch off and let pressure release naturally. While the lentils are still hot, add salt and using a wooden masher or back of spoon mash the lentils well so that no grain is visible. Set aside.
  • While the lentils are cooking you can prepare the vegetables and tamarind pulp. Keep everthing ready.

Make the Sambar

  • In a heavy bottom pot,warm up the oil. Temper the oil with mustad seeds. Once they crackle, add the hing, chana & urad dal. Cook till the lentils are browned in color.
  • Add the dried chillies and methi seeds next. Saute fo r5-6 seconds till they swell a bit.
  • Add curry leaves to the oil, they will immediatley splutter so be careful. Saute for 2-3 seconds and add all the vegetables that you are using at once. Sprinkle a pinch of salt. Saute the vegeatble for a minute or so with the spices.
  • Next sprinkle the sambar powder and red chilli powder (if using) and saute for 20 seconds.
  • Add the cooked mashed lentils next and mix well. If you feel that they are thickish, add water to thin out as per desired consistency.
  • Mix well and let come to a slow boil on medium heat. Reduce the heat and add the tamarind and jaggery. Taste and adjust the salt. Mix well.
  • Let simmer for 10-12 minutes on low medium heat stirring a bit in between. Initially you will see that there is a layer of foam on the sambar but as it cooks out, the color will deepen so will the flavors. Rest for 30 mins and serve warm!

Extra Tempering (optional but recommmended)

  • Heat 1 tbsp oil or ghee in a pan and add 1/2 tsp mustrd seeds,pinch of hing, 1-2 dried chillies and 8-10 curry leaves. Add on top of the cooked sambar and mix well.
Rice Dishes

Yakhni Pulao


For a long time, I was tricked into thinking that Yakhni pulao is biryani. Most of my family, still, for some reason refers to it as biryani but its not. This is not a layered rice dish, it is a pulao. Yakhni is ” broth” and this dish is basically basmati rice cooked in a delicious made-from-scratch meat broth.

South asian broths have much more depth of flavor due to use of spices. I dont pressure cook the meat, I let it simmer for couple of hours or more depending on the quantity. Slowly the meat releases its flavor into the water along with those of the spices and herbs. The delicious yakhni is full of body and I remember mom would ladle it into teacups and give us to drink as it is as a soup.So comforting on a cold night. You can do the same if you are not in mood for a pulao.

A delicious yakhni needs bone in meat or chicken and time! There are no powdered spices and all the flavor comes from whole spices, dried chilies, ginger and garlic. Caramelizing the onions well before cooking the rice is another important step, do not rush it, brown the onions nicely, they add not only to the taste but also to the color of the pulao.

This recipe is one of my most family’s most oldest. It was cooked winter long and it is a great way to feed big families or when entertaining. You can serve it with a light chicken curry or any side but I really just like it with plain raita.

Recipe

Ingredients (Serves 4)

For the Yakhni

  • 1 lb bone in mutton or chicken, cleaned
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1.5 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2-3 bay leaf
  • 2 whole black cardamom, slightly cracked
  • 2 cinnamon stick
  • half nutmeg
  • 7-8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 inch fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped 8-10 dried chillies
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups water

For the Pulao

  • 1 + 1/4 cup basmati rice
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1.5 cup sliced onions
  • Red chili powder to taste
  • 1 tsp shah jeera
  • 2.5 cups liquid (yakhni topped with water)
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro, raita, ginger jullienes etc to serve.

Method

Step 1 Make the Yakhni (Spiced Broth)

Add everything listed under yakhni to a dutch oven. Cover the pot and set on a medium high stove and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer for 1.5 hours till the meat is fork tender but not falling apart. You can do the same thing in an instant pot or pressure cooker but slow cooked yakhni is something else 🙂 Meat releases its own juices and water as it will cook so don’t add much water in the beginning. Also please keep in mind that the cooking time of meat will depend on how small or big the cuts are. So adjust accordingly.

Once the meat is cooked, switch off the stove.Pick out the meat pieces using a spoon into a medium bowl and cover the bowl with a cling film to make sure that the meat does not dry out. Set a large colander over another large bowl and drain the yakhni in there. Dont be tempted to mash the ginger or garlic or onions, else the yakhni will lose its soupy texture. Discard the things in the colander.

Yakhni is ready. You can enjoy it as it like a soup when while it is warm with few squirts of lemon and scatter of fresh cilantro. Add a few pieces of cooked meat to make it more filling.

If you make a pulao, follow step 2 below. Keep in mind that do not make the yakhni a day ahead, the taste changes so its best to make it a couple hours before when you want to serve as soup or make a pulao.

Step 2 Make the Pulao

Wash the rice 2-3 times under a running stream of water. Soak the rice for 20 mins in enough water.

Measure the yakhni. The variety of rice I use needs double amount of liquid to cook. So I needed 2.5 cups of liquid to cook the rice. I got 2 cups of yakhni from the recipe above and I added 1/2 cup water to it.

In a wide shallow pot, (I use my braiser) or you can use a kadhai or a 12 inch pan, add the oil. Once the oil is warm, add the sliced onions. On medium heat, brown the onion. It takes about 8-10 minutes but do not rush this process.

Once the onions are dark brown, add the red chilli powder to oil along with cumin seeds and saute for 30 seconds. Add the meat to the pan and stir around with the onions for 3-5 minutes on medium heat. The meat will brown a little, once so, add the soaked rice(discard the water in which you soaked) along with yakhni (+water). Mix gently and taste the salt in the liquid, it should be sharp salty at this stage else adjust it, this makes sure that your rice comes out properly seasoned once cooked.

Cover with a lid and set the rice to cook on medium high heat, once you see that the liquid is bubbling, reduce the heat to the lowest and let cook for 20-25 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is soft. Switch off the stove and let the pot sit undisturbed for atlest 10-12 minutes.

Uncover and using a rice spoon or a small plate, fluff up the rice from once side. Yahni pulao is ready.Serve as you wish. Taste amazing next day.

This recipe can be easily doubled. Just adjust the cooking times for both rice and meat in that case.

Enjoy!