How to make authentic Indian Sambar

Sambar recipe

This sambar recipe was given to me by a dear Indian friend who showed me how to make it step by step. She, like most Indians, serves it with idli. Personally, I love to serve it with whole-wheat chapati or rice (or, if I’m being honest, both). This recipe is her way of doing it, and while it always tastes better when she makes it for me (doesn’t everything?), I took notes while she showed me how to make it so that hopefully you can recreate her delicious Sambar recipe at home.

What exactly is Indian Sambar?

South Indian Sambar is a simple lentil soup or stew that’s flavored with lots of Indian spices as well as tamarind. You can find Sambar powder or pre-made spice mix in many Indian stores, or you can make your own mix.

I like to do a bit of both, mixing my own spices like mustard seeds, turmeric powder, and curry leaves. Then I add a bit of sambar powder spice mix if I have some on hand, just to give my sambar a little extra oomph.

How do I use fresh curry leaves?

curry leaves

Fresh curry leaves are a great addition to this dish, as they impart a uniquely Indian flavor that will make this sambar recipe taste truly authentic.

If you can get your hand on fresh curry leaves, give them a rinse, take them off the stems, pat them dry with paper towels and then pop them in the freezer to have on hand. 

What kind of lentils can I use to make Sambar?

As for the type of lentils, you’ll need toor dhal. I haven’t made this with any other type of lentil, so make sure you source some toor dhal that you soak overnight before making the sambar.

Finally, you’ll need tamarind paste. You can find this pretty easily in most Indian, Asian, or Middle Eastern stores. Tamarind paste is a very sour, tangy, yet umami-rich flavor that has a beautiful, deep purple color. 

A personal note on Indian food

Sambar recipe

You might have noticed that my first name is Indian. That’s because my father is North Indian (from a tiny village in Punjab, next to the border with Himachal Pradesh). While I’ve always been fascinated with Indian culture and cuisine since I was little, I never really got to be properly introduced to it. I’ve been to India multiple times, and I’m in touch with my Indian family…I even had one of my two weddings in India. But there’s something very different about the ‘India’ that travels with people who migrate away from India to other countries. My father left India right after his University studies and didn’t go back for many, many years. So while I always knew that I was half Indian, I had no idea what it meant to be Indian, or to really feel Indian.

Now that I’ve traveled to India, married a white man who’s more Indian than me, and given my son an Indian middle name, I do feel more connected to my heritage. But I still lack that deeper connection, and luckily that’s where friends can help bridge that gap.

Moving to Fontainebleau from Paris, I knew that we’d be immersed in an expat community. But I never thought that I’d finally get that Indian connection that I was searching for.

Thanks to a lovely friend that I’ve made here, I’ve been able to reconnect to my roots, to Bollywood dancing, to that infamous head shake that means yes and no at the same time, and to Indian food. It’s because of her that I’ve gotten back into making Indian food from scratch, including homemade chapatis, parathas, paneer, curries, and much, much more. 

So thank you to my lovely friend for teaching me how to make this beloved dish, and many others! 

Indian Sambar recipe:

Sambar recipe
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5 from 1 vote

Indian Sambar

South Indian Sambar is a lentil stew made with Toor dhal (lentils), curry leaves, and tamarind. It's traditionally served with Idlis or whole-wheat chaptis.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Soaking time12 hours
Total Time13 hours 10 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: Indian, lentils, sambar, stew, vegetarian
Servings: 4
Calories: 250kcal
Author: Gitanjali


  • 400 g toor dhal (Indian lentils)
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 carrot cut into sticks
  • 1 zucchini peeled and cut into small sticks
  • 2 tbsp ghee or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 red onion chopped
  • 2 whole, dried chillies
  • 2 cm ginger grated
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 large, fresh tomatoes chopped
  • 4 curry leaves
  • 2 tbsp sambar masala Indian Sambar spice mix
  • 1 tsp chili powder add more or less depending on how spicy you like it
  • 1 tbsp salt to be adapted according to taste
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1/2 tsp asafoetida
  • 2 tbsp butter or ghee
  • fresh coriander finely chopped


  • Start by washing the lentils and then putting them in a big pot full of water to soak overnight.
  • The next morning, rinse the lentils, add them to the pot along with enough water to cover them by about 10 cm. Boil the lentils for approximately 30 minutes, or until they are soft, along with 1 teaspoon of turmeric. Add the vegetable sticks towards the end, making sure they cook for about 5-10 minutes. Reserve. (Do not strain the lentils or throw out the water!).
    Note: don't worry about overcooking the lentils. It's better to cook them more rather than less.
  • In a large pot or Dutch oven on medium heat, add the olive oil or ghee. Add the mustard seeds and the chopped onion. Cook until the onion is transparent.
  • Add the whole chillies, and cook for 1 more minute.
  • Add the grated ginger and garlic, plus the fresh tomatoes and the curry leaves. Cook for 5 minutes while stirring regularly, until the tomatoes become jammy.
  • Add the Sambar masala and the chili powder. Stir. Cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the lentils and the water.
  • Bring to a boil, then add the salt, tamarind, and the asafoetida. Cover, turn down to medium heat and cook for 15 minutes. If it's looking too runny, then remove the lid and cook until it thickens.
  • Before serving, top with butter and fresh coriander.

[FRENCH-Recette de Sambar]

Le Sambar est une soupe de lentilles qui vient du sud de l’Inde. Traditionnellement c’est fait avec un type de lentilles qui s’appel ‘Toor’, que vous pouvez trouver dans des épiceries Indiennes ou Arabes. Il vous faudra aussi de la pâte de tamarin, une pâte bordeaux/violet qui donne un goût assez acidulé mais complexe.

C’est vraiment très intéressant comme saveur et en plus ca colore legerement le plat !

Sambar recipe

Cette recette c’est la recette familiale d’une bonne copine Indienne et c’est sa façon de le préparer. Vous pouvez soit le manger telle qu’il est, soit avec des chapatis, des naan, ou des idlis.

La recette du Sambar


  • 400 g toor dhal (lentilles Indiennes)
  • 1 cac curcuma
  • Une grande carotte (coupée en bâtonnets) 
  • 1 grande ou 2 petites courgettes (épluchée et coupée comme la carotte) 
  • 2 cas ghee ou huile d’olive
  • 1 cas graines de moutarde (noir)
  • 1 oignon (coupee en des)
  • 2 piments entiers, séchées (ou 1 si vous preferez moins epicee)
  • Deux cm gingembre râpé
  • 2 gousses d’ail râpées 
  • 3 petites ou 2 grandes tomates, coupées en dés
  • 4 feuilles de curry
  • 2 cas sambar masala (epices a ‘Sambar’)
  • 1 cac piment en poudre
  • 1 cas pate de tamarin 
  • 1/2 cac asafoetida
  • 2 cas beurre ou ghee
  • coriandre fraîche, ciselee

Procedure pour faire le Sambar:

  • Commencez par laver les lentilles, puis mettez-les dans une grande casserole recouvert d’eau pour tremper toute la nuit.
  • Le lendemain matin, rincez les lentilles à l’eau claire, et remettez-les dans une grande casserole avec environ 10 cm d’eau haut-dessus des lentilles. Faites-les bouillir pour environ 30 minutes avec le curcuma, ou jusqu’à ce que les lentilles soient bien cuites (il faut pas être croquants du tout !) Vers la fin de la cuisson, rajoutez la carotte et la courgette, et faites cuire encore 5-10 minutes. Mettez tout de côté.
  • Dans une grand cocotte, sur feu moyen, réchauffez le ghee ou l’huile d’olive. Rajoutez les graines de moutarde et l’oignon. Faites-cuire jusqu’à ce que l’oignon commence a devenir transparent.
  • Ajoutez les piments entiers, et faites cuire encore 1 minute.
  • Ensuite, ajoutez le gingembre et l’ail râpée, puis les tomates et les feuilles de curry. Faites cuire 5 minutes encore, jusqu’à ce que les tomates soient bien confites.
  • Saupoudrez le mélange d’épices Sambar (Sambar masala) et le piment en poudre. Faites cuire encore 1 minute.
  • Ajoutez les lentilles avec leur eau.
  • Portez a ebullition, rajoutez le sel, le tamarin, et le asafoetida. Couvrez, baissez a feu moyen, et faites cuire 15 minutes. Si ca vous parait trop liquide, retirez le couvercle et laissez cuire encore jusqu’à ce que ça épaississe un peu plus.
  • Avant de servir, rajoutez le beurre et la coriandre fraîche.

If you’re looking for another delicious Indian recipe, why not try my coconut chicken curry?

And if you’re wondering about the beautiful fabrics I’ve used in the backgrounds of my pictures, they’re from Jamini Design.

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