Sambar (South Indian Vegetable Stew)

  • Serves

    serves 6-8


Cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey describes sambar as "a split-pea stew which is varied daily with the addition of, say, caramelized shallots or tomatoes or okra or aubergine (eggplant) poached in tamarind juice." What we discovered in our test kitchen is that any combination of vegetables, such as yams, zucchini, or eggplant, can be added to this aromatic south Indian dish, which is often served with dosas. This recipe first appeared in the tablet edition of our August/September 2014 special India issue.


  • ½ cups toor dal (yellow pigeon peas), rinsed, soaked 30 minutes, and drained
  • ½ cups coconut or canola oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1 small red onion, cut into 1" pieces
  • 1 (2") piece ginger, peeled and mashed into a paste
  • 4 small green Thai chiles or 2 serranos, chopped
  • 2 drumsticks, trimmed and cut into 2" pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2" pieces
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
  • 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cups sambar masala
  • 3 tbsp. fresh or frozen grated coconut
  • 3 tbsp. tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 10 small okra, trimmed and halved crosswise
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 2 tsp. black mustard seeds
  • 10 fresh or frozen curry leaves
  • 5 chiles de árbol
  • ¼ cups cilantro leaves
  • Cooked white rice, for serving (optional)


Step 1

Bring ⅓ cup toor dal and 4 cups water to a boil in a 6-qt. saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and cook until dal is very tender, about 1 hour. Transfer to a bowl; set aside.

Step 2

Wipe pan clean; heat half the oil over medium-high. Cook garlic, onion, and ginger until slightly caramelized, 8–10 minutes. Add green chiles, drumsticks, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and 3½ cups water; boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until vegetables are tender, 15–20 minutes. Stir in reserved toor dal, the sambar masala, coconut, tamarind paste, cumin, turmeric, okra, and salt; simmer until okra is tender, 10–15 minutes.

Step 3

Heat remaining oil in an 8" skillet over medium-high; cook mustard seeds, curry leaves, and chiles de árbol until seeds pop, 1–2 minutes; pour over sambar and garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice on the side if you like.

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