You are going to absolutely love this recipe for sambar, a tamarind flavored lentil and vegetable soup!
This recipe for instant pot sambar is so flavorful and tasty! It’s 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 very popular south Indian soup that calls for Indian vegetables and toor dal (also known as split pigeon peas). It has a tasty tamarind flavor and is often served for breakfast or brunch alongside idli or dosa.
(If you’re interested in my recipes for idli/dosa then be sure to check out my cookbook, Indian Food Under Pressure!)
I love eating sambar on its own, but when you combine it with soft and fluffy idli? Oh my goodness. It’s the perfect meal.
While I love idli now, I have to say that as a kid, I definitely preferred dosa, a crispy rice and lentil flatbread. Truthfully, I still do (though now the choice is harder to make). Sambar just goes so well with dosa and it’s fun to eat too: you get to dip pieces of crispy dosa in a bowl of hot sambar – some of the dosa ends up soft and some still stays crisp. It’s just so good.
When it comes to serving sambar, you can’t go wrong with either idli or dosa. And you can of course always eat a bowl by itself too.
What Vegetables are in Sambar?
You can use any veggies you’d like! Sambar is typically made with mixed vegetables like eggplant, carrots, green beans, potatoes, okra and drumsticks.
You may not have heard of drumsticks before – they are also known as moringa and you can find them in the frozen aisle of any Indian grocery store. 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). This veggie is one of my favorites in sambar so do try it! It’s the thick green looking thing on the left side of the picture below. Go to any Indian grocery store and they will help you find it.
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 just 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… at least until I share my own blend on the blog).
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!
I hope you love this dish! And I hope you’ll check out my instant pot cookbook for the idli and dosa recipes!
This tamarind flavored lentil and vegetable stew is a very popular South Indian dish. It almost always accompanies idli or dosa.
- 1 cup split pigeon peas (toor dal), soaked for 1 hour
- 1 tablespoon oil of choice
- ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi)
- 15 curry leaves
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 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 tomato, 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 inside and then discard the fibrous exterior.
- 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.