Eating sambar with rice, soft idli, crunchy dosa, uttapam, and medu vada is one of the most satisfying meals on earth. Today, I am going to share my hotel sambar recipe with you, which is the essence of authentic south Indian cuisine.
This Hotel Sambar recipe, sometimes spelled ‘Sambhar’, is one of the most cherished vegan or vegetarian dishes from South Indian cuisine. It is a lentil and vegetable stew, along with a nice blend of spices. It’s a perfectly healthy and nutritious dish, packed with proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins.
But first, to make things a little bit more interesting, let’s dig into the history to find out where this Sambar came into existence.
History of Sambar
Sambar is a dish that can be eaten with breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is a staple of Tamil Nadu and is often eaten with dosa, Rava idli, medu vada, and other side dishes. How come this delicious combination of spicy, tangy, and sweet flavors became an integral part of kitchens across India?
Sambar was first invented in the royal kitchen of Shahuji Maharaj who was a famous Maratha king. One day Sambhaji who was the eldest son of Shivaji came to visit Shahuji. The royal chef wanted to serve him Amti, which was a royal curry made with moong daal(Yellow lentils) and kokum, but luckily or unluckily on that day, the royal kitchen ran out of these ingredients. So, the chef decided to replace Moong dal with Toor dal(pigeon pea) and kokum(Garcinia Indica) with tamarind. He also put ground coconut and diced vegetables in it and cooked them well. In the end, the result of this new combination of ingredients was nothing but pure deliciousness.
When Sambhaji tasted the dish he instantly fell in love with this new recipe. While eating he was constantly praising the royal cook for his heavenly-tasted invention. After seeing how much he was adoring the dish, the royal cook decided to name it “Sambar” in honor of Sambhaji.
Variations of Sambar
There are many changes that sambar has gone through over time, and now there are many versions of this dish.
In Tamil Nadu, dry powders are used to spice up the dish whereas in Karnataka they add a wet smooth paste made with spices. In Karnataka, they also add some Indian brown sugar (Jaggery) to compliment the sourness.
The recipe version which is more commonly followed is “Thanjavur Brahmin” Sambar. It uses no garlic or ginger and is low on spices as compared to Amti.
Now let’s discuss our version of hotel sambar recipe so you can make it and use it with different tiffin varieties such as soft idli, dosa, and medu vada.
Homemade Sambar Powder
The signature flavors of a true Sambar come from the main ingredient, “Sambar Powder”.
Using ready-made Sambar Masala is a great way to start out, but once you become proficient with this recipe, I recommend you start making your own Sambar powder.
There is a long list of spices( coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds also called methi seeds) that go into Sambar powder along with dals(roasted chana dal, moong dal, urad dal, toor dal, tuvar dal, masoor dal), dry red chilis, and curry leaves, which first are roasted and then blended together in a grider or blender. It’s very easy and you will make it in less than ten minutes.
Today, I am not going to make Sambar Powder because I already have it in my masala boxes which will be enough for today’s recipe, but if you must need it now, you can check my Homemade Sambar Powder recipe.
The main ingredients which go into our easy idli sambar are discussed below
Toor dal (pigeon pea).
Onion, bottle gourd, drum sticks, carrot, okra, aubergine, small onion(shallots), green chili, coriander leaves, and any vegetables which can make the best combination of your choice.
Turmeric powder, red chili powder, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, asafoetida, fenugreek seeds (methi seeds), dry red chilis, curry leaves, coriander seeds, and sambar powder.
A little Jaggery, tamarind extract, salt, and oil.
If you can’t find fresh curry leaves, frozen leaves can be used. Dry leaves have lost the essential oils that make curry leaves so fragrant and delicious. You can make Sambar without curry leaves, but the flavor will not be the same as authentic versions.
For the precise amount of ingredients do not forget to check our recipe card at the end.
Preparations for Hotel Sambar Recipe
Before cooking your sambar, you will have to do some preparations as mentioned below
- Soak one cup of Toor dal in two cups of water for one or two hours before you start to cook.
- To make our tamarind extract, we must soak our tamarind in one cup of water, preferably hot water, for at least two hours so we can easily extract tamarind pulp. Tamarind paste can also be used as a ready made version.
- Always remember, sambar powder is the star of the show and should be ready to go into our dish.
- We are going to cut vegetables into small pieces. Equal-sized chunks will give your dish a nice visual effect.
- Chop your green chili and coriander leaves
Instructions for the Hotel Sambar Recipe
Many people think that Sambar is a one-pot dish, but this is not the case. To make a perfect sambar we will cook it in different steps, and I am adding step-wise pictures of the recipe so that you may know whether you are going in the right direction.
- Boiling Our Dal: We will strain our Arhal dal (another name for toor dal) and put it into the pressure cooker. Using the pressure cooker will speed up our process. Add enough water, almost two cups of water to the dal, along with half a teaspoon of turmeric powder and salt, and cook lentils until three whistles. Open the lid when the pressure releases from the pressure cooker.
- Cooking Veggies Separately: I pour two cups of water into my pot and add all the vegetables into it. Cooking our vegetables separately will allow us to control their texture and keep them from being mushy. Boil on the medium flame until they are half-cooked. This will create a rich vegetable broth that will increase the delicious flavor of the sambar.
- Combining Dal and Veggies: It’s time to incorporate our veggies with cooked dal. Now vegetables should have a nice texture to them, but dal should be mushy, you can also grind it into a smooth paste, so it can give this nice gravy-like consistency to your sambar and make it easy to scoop with your small idli, dosa, medu vada, etc. Bring the heat to a medium flame and let it boil.
- Adding tamarind taste or separated and sulked pulp: We are going to add two tablespoons of tamarind pulp or 1 tsp of tamaring paste and a small piece of Jaggery (Indian brown sugar) to our dish. You can also leave out the sugar, which I often do.
- Add salt and about 1 teaspoon of sambar powder. At this point, we will have to adjust the salt once again according to our need. 1tsp of homemade sambar powder will usually be enough based on the brand you use, but you may need more if you prefer a spicier dish.
- Get Right Consistency: Lower the heat and let your dish simmer for 5 to 6 minutes, so the vegetables are completely cooked and the raw flavor of tamarind paste will also go away. Add a little water if needed. Set consistency as desired. During this time veggies and lentils will soak all the flavor of sambar masala which will bring everything together.
No Indian dal curry is complete until we give it some finishing touch with “Tadka” (tempering).
- Heat two tbsp oil in a small pan. Add the asafoetida, fenugreek seeds(methi seeds), mustard seeds, coriander seeds, dry red chilis, chopped green chili, and curry leaves.
- Saute them on medium flame until mustard seeds and cumin seeds crackle and curry leaves are crisped.
- Taste your dish if it lacks the amount of chili you like then add a teaspoon of red chili powder to the oil.
- Now immediately pour this on your prepared hot Sambar and keep yourself from splattering oil.
- Cook it on a low flame for two more minutes with the lid on. In this way, the oil will not fuse in but you will manage to have that nice thin film of grease on the top. When it’s done, your delicious Sambar will be ready to serve.
Tips and Tricks
- Adding homemade Sambar masala powder will make a lot of difference to the taste and will keep your food from artificial flavoring.
- Add sugar carefully only to adjust the sour taste not to make it sweet.
- Use hot water to soak tamarind
- Do not cook your vegetables with dal. They will be overcooked and get mushy. They will also lose their beautiful colors and your dish will look no more appetizing.
- While tampering, save yourself from splattering oil.
- While roasting spices do not burn them. Make them sizzle only for one minute and then spill them into the sambar.
- If you are gluten-allergic then skip adding asafoetida.
Serving Our Sambar
Sambar is served as a side dish with south Indian breakfast snacks such asidli, dosa, uttapam, Medu vada, curd rice, and also with plain rice. You can also serve it with other side dishes like a traditional dal fry or poriyal.
Sprinkle some chopped coriander leaves on the top and serve your sambar when it is hot and fresh.
From now on, no one in your family will go to the famous “Hotel Saravana Bhavan” because you have served them a better hotel style idli sambar recipe than that.
Can Moong dal also be used in Sambar?
In the original recipe, moong dal is not added, but in the hotel style sambar, they add moong daal along with Toor dal to cut the cost. It may change the flavor a little bit but will not make it bad tasting. So if you want, then go ahead and add an equal amount of both dals.
Can we replace sambar powder with garam masala powder?
I would not recommend you use garam masala instead of sambar powder, because it includes a lot of spices which will alter the original taste of sambar a lot. Like cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. If for some reason you don’t want to use sambar powder then replace it with rasam powder since they are almost similar in composition.
In south Indian breakfast meals can Sambar be used as a main dish?
Yes of course it’s a complete nutritional package, and can be used as a main course meal.
Hi! I’m Ravi Kumar.
I am a husband, father of 4, board certified neurosurgeon, and a lover of South Indian Food!
I created PaattisKitchen.com to memorialize the most delicious foods on earth. South Indian food is easy to make and hard to mess up. So pull up your sleeves, and come with me as we explore the vibrant spices, colors, aromas, and flavors of South Indian culinary tradition.