Lazy Sambar

Sambar is a dal eaten in south India and Sri Lanka. The first sambar I had was the one I made from Yamuna Devi’s Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. According to Sivanathan&Ellawalla, in their fine book Sri Lanka: The Cookbook, sambar should always be made with at least two kinds of veg. Aubergine is commonly used but I usually go for green beans and carrots. You can also use squash.

Sambar’s distinctive flavour comes from the sambar masala spice blend along with tamarind and coconut. I’m too lazy to bother with dried tamarind or fresh coconut, so I use tamarind paste and creamed coconut. You can make your own sambar masala but it’s readily available in most Asian grocers. This sweet, spicy dal is usually made with toor dal but I have seen recipes using red lentils. I’ve used yellow split mung as it cooks quickly. If you do use toor dal, follow the soaking and cooking instructions on the packet.

Sambar is traditionally served with dosa, papery thin rice crepes filled with spiced potatoes or with idli, steamed rice cakes and it always comes with coconut chutney. Dosa tricky to make at home so I usually stick to idli and coconut chutney.


Half a sieve of yellow split mung

1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 tablespoon sambar masala

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

A pinch of chili

1 teaspoon asafoetida or hing

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

12 curry leaves

1 tomato, finely chopped

A handful of fresh coriander

1 tablespoon tamarind paste

A quarter of a block of creamed coconut

1/2 tsp salt, more if needed

1 large carrot

Half a packet of green beans

  1. Wash the dal in cold water (the water should run clear) and prepare the vegetables. Chop the carrot into quadrant (quarter circle) slices and top and tail the beans, cutting each bean into three.
  2. Warm a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the black mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds.
  3. Once the black mustard seeds start to crackle, add the turmeric, hing, sambar masala and curry leaves. Fry over the heat and add the tomato.
  4. Cover the dal with twice as much boiling water as lentils and add the chili, cayenne, salt, coconut and tamarind paste. Stir until the coconut dissolves and add the carrots. Cook on a medium heat for five minutes before adding the beans and cooking for another 25 minutes, checking periodically. It should be relatively thin in consistency so add more water if needed. Garnish with fresh coriander.