Authentic South Indian Sambar Recipe – Authentic South Indian Style Sambar Recipe
Authentic South Indian sambar recipe (also the traditional Kerala sadya/feast sambar recipe) is the sambar prepared in the traditional South Indian way although you can see slight variations in ingredients and preparations within different regions of South India. This is actually a vegetarian lentil soup or stew made using yellow split pigeon peas and vegetables cooked with tamarind extract and exotic spices.
This is a very popular South Indian lentil vegetable soup which can be prepared in different ways using different kinds of vegetables. But the lentil used for this recipe is always the yellow split pigeon peas.
The lentil vegetable soup or stew made in this way is very healthy as it is full of vegetables and lentils along with exotic spices like turmeric. It is delicious and goes well with rice too.
Some of the authentic South Indian sambar recipes call for coconut in the ingredients list while there are other authentic South Indian sambar recipes where coconut is not used in the ingredients. Some recipes use a little jaggery to add sweetness and balance the sourness of the dish while this is more popular in Tamil cuisine.
As I mentioned, South Indian style sambar recipes can vary depending up on regions and they are all authentic South Indian sambar recipes popular in different regions in South India. This South Indian sambar recipe I am presenting here is made without coconut or jaggery. You may call this South Indian recipe Kerala style recipe even though there are many different recipes for sambar even with in Kerala ( you can see that many Kerala sambar recipes uses coconut), so this sambar recipe is made without coconut or jaggery.
This is a good idea especially if you use add more sourness to the sambar by using more turmeric or more tomatoes. In olden days, there was no pressure cooker available, so people used to cook the dal (toor dal or yellow pigeon split lentils) in a pot till they are soft and mushy and they cooked the vegetables separately, then combined the both along with exotic spices and tamarind extract and added the seasoning at last.
You can still follow this method where you cook the dal (lentils) and vegetables separately and combine them later to make the sambar. In that case you can cook the dal (lentils) in the pressure cooker meanwhile cook the vegetables in another pot or pan and once both are cooked combine them and cook with added spices and tamarind extract.
However you can also cook them together in the pressure cooker as a one pot recipe which is much easier and quick. I almost always cook them all together in the pressure cooker which is very easy and delicious as well!
As I mentioned in the title this is a South Indian style lentil vegetable soup which is very popularly used as a dip with idli or dosa for breakfast or dinner, or with rice for lunch or dinner.
Traditionally, the vegetables available locally were used for the preparation of sambar. For the same people many people believe authentic South Indian sambar recipe should use vegetables commonly available in South India. However it is your choice to decide whatever vegetables you need to add and the recipe is really very flexible.
If you prefer to make the authentic South Indian sambar recipe following the traditional way you can do that easily. The popular vegetables used for traditional sambar recipe include yams, drumsticks, tomatoes, ladyfingers or okra, onions and whatever ‘native vegetables’ that were locally grown in South India .
My mom uses almost all vegetables for preparing the sambar which includes potatoes and carrots as well which I love very much, but I remember someone telling me that vegetables potatoes and carrots were never used in traditional and authentic sambar recipes as only native vegetables were used (these vegetables are grown in South India now and you can use them in your sambar if you wish).
Elephant yams were very popularly grown in the kitchen gardens and so they make one of the most popular sambar vegetable especially for those who like the elephant yams and those who love the traditionally prepared sambar. If elephant yams are not available where you live, you can skip it and use the other traditional vegetables that were used.
So let us go on to the authentic South Indian sambar recipe made using traditional vegetables in the traditional way. Later I will post my easy sambar recipe where I use almost all vegetables and I make it as a one pot recipe which is more quick to make.
The dal or lentils used for preparing sambar is the yellow split pigeons. I use a pressure cooker to cook the lentils for the recipe, but you can use a pot or pan as well but that may take long to cook.
I highly recommend using a good quality pressure cooker to cook the lentils, which will make it really soft and do the job quickly and efficiently.
See the below picture where white rice is served with sambar, which is a popular vegetarian lunch in South India (mostly served along with other vegetable dishes and pickles as well).
Authentic South Indian Sambar Recipe
Ingredients for authentic South Indian sambar recipe
- toor dal (yellow split pigeon lentils) 1 cup
- Peeled and cut elephant yams 1 cup (cut into small cubes)
- Fresh tomatoes 3 to 4 chopped into cubes
- lady finger or okra 2 to 3
- drumsticks 1 to 2 chopped
- small onions or shallots peeled and chopped 8 to 10
- 1/2 of a cucumber seeds removed and diced lengthwise
- pumpkin peeled and diced 1/4 cup
- more locally grown vegetables peeled and chopped 1/2 cup optional
- fresh coriander leaves (cilantro leaves) chopped 1 to 2 tablespoons
- turmeric powder 1/2 teaspoon
- red chili powder 1/2 teaspoon
- coriander powder 4 tablespoons
- fenugreek seeds powder 1/4 teaspoon
- asafoetida a pinch
- tamarind paste 1 tablespoon or about the size of half or a small lemon
(you can make the extract at home by dissolving a small sized tamarind (half of a small lemon) in 1/2 cup of water for about 5 to 10 minutes)
- water 4 to 5 cups (or more as required)
- salt as required
- oil 2 to 3 tablespoons (preferably coconut oil)
- mustard seeds 1 teaspoon
- red chilies 3 to 4 (optional)
- shallots or small onions 2 to 3 peeled and chopped
- curry leaves a few
Notes: You can use instant sambar powder instead of the spices, but I just wanted to show you how to prepare sambar the traditional way using the spices. I mostly use all the spices as well as a little sambar powder to add more flavor, but that depends on what you prefer.
Instructions to make sambar following authentic South Indian sambar recipe
- Wash and clean all vegetables. Sometimes you get veggies chopped and ready for recipes like sambar in many local markets. If you are buying whole vegetables it is important to cut the vegetables evenly as much as possible.
- The traditional authentic South Indian sambar recipe calls for dicing vegetables in lengthwise, like little long pieces. Mostly all vegetables are peeled but an exception is vegetables like cucumbers which are not peeled but only seeds are removed. Then these vegetables are diced lengthwise and made into small but relatively long pieces. With drumsticks, you can scrape off the skin using a knife and then cut lengthwise and maybe slit each piece (no need to remove seeds).
- All vegetables you can cut lengthwise, try to cut them evenly as much as possible. Now the vegetables are ready to be used for authentic South Indian sambar recipe.
- In a pressure cooker, add the lentils and 3 cups of water, close the lid and cook for about 3 to 4 whistles or about 10 to 12 minutes in medium heat. Always follow the directions in the manual while using a pressure cooker (including the use of the valve), as this is important for the safety.
- In a pot or pan, cook the chopped vegetables other than tomatoes along with salt and 2 cups of water. Keep the vegetables covered and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes or until all vegetables are cooked and soft. Once the vegetables are almost cooked, you can also add the tomatoes and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes (during the last 4 to 5 minutes of cooking) so the tomatoes won’t be overcooked.
- (You may also use a pressure cooker to cook the vegetables if you wish. If you are using a pressure cooker, you can cook the vegetables for about 2 whistles or about 8 minutes.)
- Meanwhile dissolve the tamarind in 1/2 cup of water for about 10 minutes and then filter the contents and keep it aside.
- Once the lentils and vegetables are cooked wait for the pressure cooker to cool down before opening.
- Once the pressure cooker is cool enough, open the lid and see if the lentils are cooked and soft. Gently mash the cooked lentils using a spoon or ladle.
- Add the cooked vegetables to the cooked lentils and add the filtered tamarind extract to the cooker.
- Add all the spices also to the cooker containing the lentils and vegetables.
- Mix everything well, keep the lid of the cooker open and cook in low heat for about 2 to 3 minutes or until the spices are well blended with the gravy. We do not want to overcook the vegetables though.
- Add the fresh coriander leaves to the sambar, this will add more flavor to the dish.
- You can check if the salt is enough, add more if needed.
- You can also check if the gravy is enough, if you need more gravy, you can add little more water and boil for another 1 minute.
- Now the authentic South Indian sambar is ready to be served, we can prepare the seasoning to be poured over the sambar for garnishing and flavor.
- In a small pan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds.
- When the mustard seeds starts to splutter add the red chilies and curry leaves and fry for few seconds. Now add the chopped shallots and fry for about 1 minute.
- Seasoning is ready which you can pour over the sambar!
- Delicious and authentic South Indian sambar is ready to be served with idli, dosa or rice.
I hope you find my post on authentic South Indian sambar recipe helpful!