Sambar (South Indian Onion Stew)

  • Serves

    serves 4-6


In South India, rice and sambar is a daily meal. A stew made from chana dal (yellow split peas), sambar is a spicy medium for vegetables from miniature eggplants to okra to pearl onions. South Indian sambar is bolstered by sambar powder—coriander seeds, red chile, fenugreek seeds, and curry leaves, among other spices, that are coarsely ground together—as well as spices typically found in garam masala. To Indians, sambar is what makes rice taste good.


  • 1 cup chana dal
  • 12 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 2 tbsp. Asian tamarind concentrate
  • 2 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 12 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 4 chiles de arbol, stemmed
  • 2 tbsp. peanut oil
  • 14 tsp. black mustard seeds
  • 4 cups pearl onions, peeled
  • 18 tsp. asafoetida
  • 20 fresh curry leaves
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Cooked rice, for serving


Step 1

Boil dal, turmeric, and 5 cups water in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until soft, about 1 hour. Set aside. Place tamarind and 2 cups boiling water in a bowl; let sit, stirring occasionally, until paste dissolves, about 30 minutes. Pour through a fine strainer into a bowl; discard solids; set tamarind aside.

Step 2

Heat coriander, cumin, and half the chiles in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat; cook, swirling pan, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder; cool. Process until finely ground; set aside.

Step 3

Return saucepan to heat with oil; add remaining chiles, chopped, and mustard seeds; cook until seeds pop, about 1 minute. Add onions; cook until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add ground spices, asafoetida, and curry leaves; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add cooked dal and tamarind; boil. Season with salt; serve with rice.

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