You are going to absolutely love this recipe for sambar, a tamarind flavored lentil and vegetable soup!
Instant pot sambar is the perfect soup to make any time of the year because it’s fresh and light and filling all at the same time. This south Indian soup also happens to be naturally gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan.
What is sambar?
Sambar is a popular south Indian soup that calls for Indian vegetables and toor dal (also known as split pigeon peas). It has a slightly tangy tamarind flavor and is often served for breakfast or brunch alongside idli or dosa.
I love eating sambar on its own, but when you combine it with soft and fluffy idli? Oh my goodness. It’s the absolute perfect meal.
Okay well actually…
Maybe sambar and dosa is the absolute perfect meal…
I mean, both are amazing, but if I had to choose between idli and dosa… I’d choose dosa. Thoughts?
Here’s the thing. While I really love soft and fluffy idli, you can’t beat the crunch you get from dosa. I’m not sure there is anything better than dipping pieces of crispy dosa in a bowl of hot sambar. Some of the dosa gets soft, and then some parts stay crisp. It’s just so, so good.
When it comes to serving sambar, you really can’t go wrong with either idli or dosa. And if you can’t choose between the two, then I guess you can eat sambar like soup. Or you make both, lol.
What vegetables are in sambar?
Sambar is typically made with mixed vegetables like eggplant, carrots, green beans, potatoes, okra, and drumsticks. You can use any vegetables you’d like, though.
Have you heard of drumsticks? Not like actual drumsticks, silly. I’m talking about the Indian vegetable – it’s apparently also known as moringa (though I’ve never actually heard anyone refer to this vegetable as moringa… like ever). Anyway, drumsticks are one of my favorite Indian vegetables in sambar – it’s the thick green looking thing on the left side of the picture below.
When eating drumsticks, eat the pulpy inside and then discard the fibrous exterior (it’s similar to eating artichoke leaves – use your teeth to eat the pulpy portion, then toss out the rest). I have to use my fingers to eat this vegetable, but my (south Indian) husband somehow removes the pulpy part in his mouth, which for some reason absolutely fascinates me. I weirdly enjoy watching him eat drumsticks. I’m also (very) easily amused… Anyway, try it out – go to any Indian grocery store, and you’ll see it in the frozen aisle.
Can I use pre-made or store-bought sambar masala instead of individual spices?
Yes! If you’d like to use your own sambar blend or store-bought sambar masala, then leave out my spices and add the masala to taste.
I’ve listed individual spices for this recipe for those who don’t want to buy masala or for those who are like me and prefer to control the amount of spices used.
You’ll notice that in most of my recipes, I prefer to use individual spices rather than store-bought pre-made masalas (store-bought garam masala being the exception).
There are two main reasons that I prefer to use individual spices: I can flavor the dish to my taste, and also, this way, I can offer my blog readers consistent results. Not all spice mixes are created the same, and so if you use a masala mix, there’s a chance you may not like the outcome, whereas I have tested my recipe using the exact amount of spices listed.
That said, you can absolutely use sambar masala if you prefer to do it that way. Just make sure you like the masala mix, so you’re happy with the end result. If you do try it as written, though, let me know!
- 2 teaspoons coriander powder
- 2 teaspoons salt adjust to taste
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- ¼ teaspoon roasted cumin powder*
- 4 cups water
- 3 cups chopped mixed vegetables* see notes below
- 1 to mato chopped
- ½ onion chopped into chunks
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
- Soak the split pigeon peas (toor dal) in cold water for 1 hour. Drain, rinse and set aside.
- Press the sauté button, add the oil and allow it to heat up for a minute. Add the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. Once the mustard seeds begin to splutter, add the curry leaves, garlic, ginger and spices. Stir, then add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
- Secure the lid, close the pressure valve and cook for 10 minutes at high pressure.
- Naturally release pressure for 15 minutes. Open the valve to release any remaining pressure.
- Serve over rice or with idli or dosa.
- *This dish is typically made with mixed vegetables like okra, eggplant, carrots, green beans, potatoes and drumsticks. You can find drumsticks, also known as moringa, in the frozen aisle of any Indian grocery store. When eating drumsticks, eat the pulpy inside and then discard the fibrous exterior (it’s kind of like eating artichoke leaves).
- To make roasted cumin powder: heat a skillet over low heat and dry roast cumin seeds (I usually do 1 cup) for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the color of the cumin changes to a dark brown. Turn off the heat and allow the cumin seeds to cool down. Place the cumin into a spice grinder and blend until smooth. Store in an airtight jar and use within 6-8 months for the most flavor.