Butternut Squash, Red Lentil, and Eggplant Sambhar

October 26, 2016

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes:

Sambhar is a South Indian red lentil-based vegetable stew from Tamil Nadu that is eaten daily, all the way from Mumbai to Bangalore. Sambhar puts vegetables front and center and surrounds them with a sharp, clean dal flavored with curry leaves, tamarind, tomatoes, and chiles. You’ll only need a little rice or bread and a dollop of yogurt with this and you’re on your way.

This recipe is from Fresh India, my new book published by Flatiron and out in Spring 2017.

Meera Sodha

Serves: 4


  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 12 fresh curry leaves
  • 4 shallots, finely sliced
  • 8 ounces butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 small eggplant (10 1/2 ounces), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 medium, ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons nice red chili powder
  • 7 ounces green beans, trimmed
In This Recipe


  1. Wash the lentils with cold water until the water runs clear, then put into a deep saucepan, cover with three times the amount of water, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until soft, scooping off any foam.
  2. Meanwhile, put 1 tablespoon of oil into a wide, lidded frying pan and add the fenugreek, coriander, and cumin seeds. Stir-fry for a minute, then take off the heat and grind to a coarse paste with a pestle and mortar.
  3. Put the remaining oil into the frying pan over a medium-high heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves, followed closely by the shallots, and cook for around 10 minutes, until the shallots are golden. Then add the diced squash and a couple of tablespoons of water, cover with the lid, and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the eggplant and another couple of tablespoons of water, cover and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes, along with the spices you ground earlier, the salt, sugar, tamarind paste, and chilli powder. Cover again and leave to cook for a further 5 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down and the squash is tender. Add the lentils to the vegetables (or the other way around, depending on which pan is bigger), then add the green beans and enough water to make a thick, soupy texture, and cook for a final 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt, sugar, and tamarind as you wish.

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Reviews (4) Questions (0)

4 Reviews

Sherry E. January 28, 2018
tamarind paste, would pomegranate molasses be a swap if not of other to be found? or ? no curry leaves, curry powder? some of the esoteric spices not necessarily so easy to come by, fenugreek? sorry don't have any and bulk doesn't carry- suggestions? thoughts?
Sneha G. June 16, 2017
this was so good! Loved it!
MSL-2302 November 8, 2016
This was last night's "cooking just for me" dinner by my spouse was out. It was delicious and fun to cook. Made a huge pot, so I have plenty in the freezer for winter lunches and dinners. I didn't have tamarind paste or curry leaves, but next time I'll plan ahead and get those to try. I used a lot more squash and eggplant (only big ones at the market) so it was a hearty, slightly sweet veggie stew with less emphasis on the lentils, but it all came together fantastically.
Rajani November 2, 2016
This was SO yummy! I used small yellow potatoes instead of squash because that's what I had.