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Simple South Indian Sambar Recipe for Idli or Dosa

Shwetha Bhat is passionate about food and cooking. She loves to experiment in the kitchen and share her recipes.

Sambar paired with idli or dosa is a popular South Indian breakfast

Sambar paired with idli or dosa is a popular South Indian breakfast

What Is Sambar?

Sambar is a spiced lentil-based vegetable stew that is often served with idli or dosa to make a traditional South Indian breakfast. It can also be served with uttapam or vada, as well.

There are many different ways to prepare sambar. Some recipes call for coconut, but the version I am sharing here does not include that ingredient. My recipe relies primarily on tomatoes and lentils, and it's quick and easy to prepare. It's a fairly flexible recipe, as well, as it can be customized according to your taste and preference.

This sambar is prepared using a homemade ground spice powder, which is not only healthy but also gives a uniquely authentic flavor and aroma to this dish. I hope you try it and let me know how it turned out in the comments section below!

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

15 min

20 min

35 min

3 servings


  • 1 cup toor dal (lentils), you can use masoor dal, moong dal or a mix
  • 2 cups water, for cooking the dal
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 lemon-sized tamarind, soaked in water and juice extracted
  • 2-3 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chana dal or Bengal gram
  • 2-3 red chilies, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2-3 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1-2 dry red chilies, broken
  • Sprig fresh curry leaves
  • 1-2 green chilies, or to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, for garnish
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  1. Wash the dal. Place it in a pressure cooker with 1-2 cups of water and the turmeric. Close the lid and pressure cook for 3-4 whistles or until soft. Switch off the flame and let the pressure release by itself. (If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can cook the dal in a pot on the stove.)
  2. After the dal has cooled, mash it well until smooth and set aside.
  3. Soak the tamarind in water (you can use hot or cold water). Squeeze and extract the pulp. Set aside.
  4. Wash and chop the tomatoes and set aside. (If you are adding other vegetables to the sambar, chop them now, as well).
  5. Prepare the sambar powder: In a pan, dry-roast the chana dal or Bengal gram, red chilies, coriander seeds and cumin seeds (jeera) over a medium to low flame until the chana dal turns a golden color and you smell a nice aroma. Take care not to burn the spices. Set aside to cool. Transfer the cooled sambar powder to a mixer jar and make a fine powder.
  6. Add the oil to a pot and heat up. Add in the mustard seeds and allow them to splutter.
  7. Throw in the fenugreek seeds (methi seeds), broken dry red chilies and curry leaves. Fry till the curry leaves become crisp.
  8. Add the green chilies and continue to fry.
  9. Add the chopped tomatoes and saute until soft.
  10. Add the sambar powder. Mix and continue to saute.
  11. Add the mashed dal. Stir and bring to the boil.
  12. Add the tamarind paste and salt to taste. Cook well till the smell of tamarind paste vanishes.
  13. Add finely chopped fresh coriander leaves. When it begins to bubble, switch off the flame.
  14. Serve hot with idli or dosa. You could also serve it with uttapam or vada.


  • Type of dal: I like to use toor dal for this recipe, but you can also use masoor dal, moong dal or a mix.
  • Additional vegetables: You can add some simple vegetables like onions, potatoes, carrots, shallots or sambar onions. Note: If you are adding any vegetables, be sure to add the tamarind paste only after the vegetables are almost cooked. Otherwise, the vegetables may not cook properly.
  • Pressure cooker: If you are using a pressure cooker for the dal, you can pressure cook the vegetables with the dal to save time.
  • Coconut variation: If you'd like to try a variation with coconut, you can dry-roast some coconut along with the ingredients for the sambar powder.
  • Sweet variation: You can add a bit of jaggery if you'd like a sweeter sambar.
  • Tamarind paste: You can substitute store-bought tamarind paste.
  • Sambar powder: You can make the powder in advance. It can be stored for 2-3 weeks in an airtight container.
  • Cooking the sambar powder: Take care when roasting the spices. If they burn, the sambar won't turn out well. Be sure to roast over a medium to low flame.
Serve hot sambar with idli or dosa. It also goes well with other breakfasts like uttapam or vada.

Serve hot sambar with idli or dosa. It also goes well with other breakfasts like uttapam or vada.

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