Southern Indian sambar

by Jenny Chandler

An Indian dal with seasonal vegetables

This southern Indian sambar is a perfect example of a beautifully balanced vegetarian dish, as described in my article about Old World beans. It’s essentially a dal cooked with whatever vegetables are in season, so use this recipe as a guide only and play around with whatever takes your fancy in the Market. Traditional sambar has a very loose and almost soup-like consistency and is served alongside rice, dosa or flatbreads. I like to make mine a little thicker.


For the curry:
100g mung dal, toor dal (split pigeon peas) or any other split legume (dal) well rinsed and drained
1 tsp turmeric
2 onions, sliced
8 small new potatoes, halved
2 tomatoes, quartered
1 aubergine, diced
100g pumpkin or squash
1 handful of trimmed french beans
3-4 tbsp tamarind paste

For the spice paste:
1 tbsp oil
½ onion, diced
100g freshly grated or desiccated coconut
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 dried chillis
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves

For the tarka:
1 tbsp ghee or oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
10-15 fresh or frozen curry leaves


Put the split pulses in a large pan with the turmeric and cover with about a pint of water.

Simmer, covered for anything between 30 mins and an hour or until they are soft. Add the onions, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergine and pumpkin and cook until tender.

Meanwhile take a small frying pan and heat up the oil. Fry the onions until soft and then add the coconut, coriander, cumin and chilli. As soon as the mixture is aromatic and golden remove it from the heat. Whizz it up to a paste in a small food processor along with the fresh coriander and a few tablespoons of water.

Add the green beans, tamarind paste and coconut spice paste to the dal, stir and cook until the beans are just cooked through. Do add more water if you like the traditional, soupier consistency

Re-use the frying pan and make the tarka. Heat the oil and cook the mustard seeds until they begin to splutter, add the curry leaves, stir once, then tip over the sambar. 

Recipe: Jenny Chandler