Recipes: Sambar without using Sambar Powder

I usually get my stash of Sambar Powder from my mum who makes it at home, either when we go down to India or she comes to Singapore. But because of travel restrictions in the past 18 months and no travel happening, as expected, my stock of Sambar powder finally finished. I then asked my mother for the recipe to make the powder, but because she told me it was a tedious process, I kept putting it off. And then last month, I needed to make Sambar and with no powder available, I decided to use the recipe that mother gave me and tweaked it slightly to make a paste which I used to make the Sambar. It was super tasty and I thought it’s a good alternative to those who don’t have access to a good quality powder.

For this recipe, I used raw bananas, but you can use any other vegetable you like including potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, bell peppers etc.

Sambar without using Sambar Powder


  • 1 lemon sized ball of tamarind, soaked in hot water for 20-30 minutes
  • 1 cup tuvar dal, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
  • 1 cup peeled and chopped raw bananas, cut in bite sized pieces which are then soaked in a bowl of water to prevent oxidation
  • ¾ tsp chana dal
  • 1 tsp tuvar dal
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 4-5 dried red chillies (reduce this amount if you want it less spicy)
  • 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • ½ tsp peppercorns
  • ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tbsp jaggery powder (You can use brown sugar instead, but the taste would not be the same)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/8 tsp asafoetida
  • 2 tsp oil
  • Salt to taste


  • Heat 1 tsp oil in a pan and in the following order fry the spices for the sambar paste, making sure you fry each ingredient for about 30 seconds before adding the next ingredient. Fry the tuvar dal, chana dal, coriander seeds, dried red chillies, coconut, peppercorns and fenugreek seeds and let the dal become brown and the coconut become brown and crisp and loses all water. Do not let them burn. Take off from the flame and let it cool.
  • Once cool, blend with some water to a fine paste. You can also powder this and use it as a powder.
  • Cook the tuvar dal in a pressure cooker or on the stovetop and whisk it to a fine paste and keep aside.
  • Mash the tamarind and strain it to get just the water and thin it to get the preferred sourness.
  • In the same pan, heat the balance 1 tsp oil and when the oil warms up, add the mustard seeds and let them pop. Then add the asafoetida and the turmeric powder and stir for a couple of seconds.
  • Now add the peeled, chopped and soaked raw banana pieces and stir for a few minutes.
  • Add half a cup of water, just enough to cover the bananas (or any of the vegetables used) and let it cook covered for about 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are about half cooked.
  • Now add the sambar powder or paste, depending on how you have blended it and the tamarind water as well as the jaggery powder and salt and cook until the vegetables are almost cooked, like about 90%.
  • At this point, add the cooked dal and check for seasoning and add what seems to be missing.
  • Let it boil together in a medium boil for another 5 minutes, garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with rice and as an accompaniment to a South Indian meal.

Recipes: Arachavitta Vellai Pooshnikkai Sambar or Ground White Pumpkin Sambar

This recipe initially started its life as an experiment, but it was quite successful and the resulting sambar was so tasty, I was pleasantly surprised. While any arachavitta or ground sambar is yummy, the addition of the white pumpkin or Winter Melon or Ash Gourd as its called in English and Vellai Pooshnikkai in Tamil elevated this recipe. This recipe is perfect for the days you can’t use onions in your recipe. I have blogged about both Arachivitta Sambar and White Pumpkin Rasavangi and this is a lovely marriage between the two. So let’s go to the recipe.

Arachavitta Vellai Pooshnikkai Sambar or Ground White Pumpkin/Ash Groud/Winter Melon Sambar


  • 2 cups white pumpkin, peeled, the seeds removed and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 lemon sized piece of tamarind, soaked in hot water for 30-40 minutes
  • 1 cup toor dal
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp chana dal
  • 2 tbsps coriander seeds
  • 6-8 dried red chillies
  • ¼ cup fresh grated coconut
  • 1 tbsp sambar powder (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp jaggery (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves to garnish


  • In a small pressure cooker, pressure cook the toor dal with ¼ tsp turmeric powder till it is soft and the dal has broken down complety. This usually will take around 3 whistles in the cooker. When the pressure reduces, open the cover of the cooker and then whisk the dal well. Keep aside.
  • Mash the tamarind when it becomes cool to touch and then squeeze tamarind and drain the water so the fibres get separated and you have the water. Alternatively use 3-4 tbsp tamarind paste which you can get at any Indian store.
  • Heat 1 tbsp oil in a small pan and put the chana dal, coriander seeds and dried red chillies and stir a while till the chana dal starts to brown. At this point add the fresh grated coconut and constantly stir until all the water from the coconut dries up and you have a crisp brown coconut with no water whatsoever. Note that if there is any water left in this, your sambar may spoil later in the day.
  • Once this coconut mixture is cool, grind it to a fine paste using some water in a blender. Make sure the paste is as fine as you can make it.
  • In a large pan, heat the balance 1 tbsp oil and when the oil is warm, add the mustard seeds and when the seeds pop, add the chopped white pumpkin and cook the cubes for about 5 minutes.
  • Then add the tamarind water which has been thinned to suit your taste and add salt to taste. You can also add sambar powder at this point if you want. Also add the jaggery if you are using here.
  • Let the white pumpkin cook until it is cooked, but still has a bite to it.
  • At this point, add the ground paste and the cooked dal and cook for another 5-10 minutes.
  • Check for seasoning at this point before switching off the gas.
  • Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with plain rice, white or brown and a curry of your choice.
  • This is also very tasty with any South Indian food like Upma, Idli or Dosai.