Spinach Sambar

May 12, 2014
5 Ratings
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

Sambar, a spicy lentil and vegetable stew, is a staple in most South Indian homes. The recipe I make is one that I learned from my mother, who's from Bangalore. Each household in South India has their own recipe for the fragrant spice mixture that flavors the sambar so the stew will taste slightly different from home to home.

Note: Sambar powder is made from coriander seeds, chana dal, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, urad dal, peppercorns, asafoetida, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, and chili powder. —Chitra Agrawal

What You'll Need
  • 2 cups spinach, chopped
  • 1 cup masoor or red lentils
  • 2 tablespoons sambar powder (MTR brand is good)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste (Tamcon or Swad brand is good)
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable, canola, safflower oil
  • 1 pinch asafetida or hing
  • 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 4 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 dried red Indian chili pepper, broken in half
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • Chopped cilantro
  1. Wash masoor dal until water is clear, drain and set aside.
  2. Add drained lentils and 7 cups of water to pot. Bring to a boil under medium-high heat and then simmer.
  3. While dal is cooking, ladle out any foam that comes to the surface. Once foam stops, mix in turmeric powder.
  4. Continue to cook dal for 30 to 40 minutes, the lentils should be fallen apart.
  5. At this point, mix in your chopped spinach and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until wilted.
  6. Add sambar powder and mix well. Simmer for 5 minutes. You should get a golden-like residue forming on the surface.
  7. Add salt to your taste and tamarind concentrate. Make sure the tamarind is completely dissolved. You can also at this time, add more water depending on your preference of thickness. Cook for a few more minutes. Turn off heat.
  8. In a separate small pan under medium, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee or oil and put in asafetida (hing) and black mustard seeds. Wait for the seeds to pop a bit. To help this happen, you can put a lid over the pan.
  9. Once the black mustard seeds have popped for a few seconds, turn the heat down a little and put the curry leaves and broken up dried red chili. Coat the leaves and chili with the oil and fry for a few seconds.
  10. Add in the chopped onions and fry for 10 minutes on low heat. The onions should be translucent and give off a nice fragrance. Pour this mixture over the lentils and spinach and mix well.
  11. Garnish with chopped cilantro leaves. You can serve over rice, with yogurt and achaar (Indian pickle) on the side.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Giustina
  • Rissako
  • Hilary G.
    Hilary G.
  • Tashipluto
Specialize in Indian recipes using local ingredients. I'm the owner of Brooklyn Delhi and author of Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn (Penguin Random House).

4 Reviews

Hilary G. December 17, 2023
Enjoyed this dish a lot! 3...............Like the commenter below, I also reduced the water to 5 cups to yield a thicker stew. It was delightful. I made my own sambar powder from this recipe:
Giustina September 28, 2015
Nice dish! I followed the recipe instructions and felt the lentils looked watery to me, although it definitely thickens up once you add spinach and take it off the heat when finished. Next time I'd like to do 1 cup lentils to maybe 5 cups of water and add more water if it seems too thick. Otherwise my only tips would be to add more chili if you like heat. This was pretty mild unless if you actually get a piece of the chili in your spoonful. Also my curry leaves were a bit smallish so I would have added more. Still, very nice dish and I'm happy to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Thanks for this recipe!
Tashipluto February 9, 2015
I've made this several times and it's always great. I make my own sambar powder (madhur jaffrey's recipe) and prefer to use toor dal ( aka toovar, aka split pigeon peas) as I like its flavor better than masoor. Thanks for the recipe!
Rissako January 13, 2015
Delicious! (I just finished my first bowl.)

The two little changes I made were adding chopped cauliflower and an extra teaspoon of sambar powder.

I'm sure this is going to become a winter staple in my house!