Tiffin Sambar

For the sambar masala,

Whole dried red chilis – 2-4 (as per heat level desired)
Chana dal – 1 tbsp, heaped
Coriander seeds – 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Fenugreek seeds – 1/4 tsp

For the sambar,

Toovar/Toor dal – 1/2 cup, heaped
Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
Oil – 2 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp
Curry leaves – 8-10
Asafoetida (hing) – 1/8 tsp
Small Indian shallots – 8-10, peeled and roots cut off (or 1/4 cup chopped red onion)
Tomato – 1 large, chopped
Green chilis – 1-2, chopped
Fresh tamarind – a small lime-sized ball (or use 2 tsp of concentrated tamarind paste)
Cilantro leaves – a few, roughly torn
Water – 3 cups (or more, as needed)
Salt – to taste
Sugar – 1 tsp
Ghee – 1 tsp

How to:

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and dry roast the sambar masala ingredients. Cool down and grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder or mortar-pestle. Keep aside.

Wash the dal in cold water a couple of times. Pressure cook it in a pressure cooker adding enough water and 1/4 tsp turmeric powder for 2-3 whistles or till soft. If you do not have a pressure cooker, cook dal in a large covered pot. Once done, mash the lentils and keep aside.

Soak the fresh tamarind in 1/2 cup warm water. Once they soften, squeeze all the pulp by kneading the tamarind ball well with your fingers. Strain this and keep aside. If you are using tamarind paste, simply dissolve in 1/2 cup of warm water.
Heat oil in a large, deep pan and add mustard seeds and curry leaves. When they begin to crackle, add the asafoetida and whole shallots (or chopped onions) and saute till translucent and aromatic. Next add tomatoes and green chilis and saute till tomatoes are soft.

Add the prepared tamarind pulp and bring to a gentle boil.
Add the sambar masala and mix thoroughly to combine. Cook for 1-2 minutes till nicely fragrant and it begins to thicken slightly. Then add 2-2 1/2 cups of water and cilantro leaves and boil for a few minutes.

Now add the mashed dal and season with salt. Add more water if it seems too thick. Bring the sambar to a rolling boil and finish by adding sugar and ghee.

Keep covered for at least half an hour before serving. Enjoy hot sambar with dosas, idlis or steamed rice.


In a pinch, you can replace the coriander seeds and cumin seeds needed for the masala with the respective powders. Take care not to burn them while roasting. But do not skimp or omit the chana dal and fenugreek seeds, they are what sets this masala apart from other Indian spice blends.

Indian shallots are smaller with a deep purple-red color and a unique taste. You can replace it with regular shallots or even chopped red onions.

Usually breakfast sambar may not be served with vegetables added, but you can use this basic recipe and add boiled vegetables to it. Add the cooked vegetables along with the dal and adjust water to required consistency. Traditionally, vegetables like potatoes, yam, green plantain, okra, brinjal/eggplant, etc are used.

Smear some ghee over the idlis for the little ones and feed them these fluffy pillows for a very filling and healthy meal. I added a generous amount of shredded carrots and the little bunny here gobbled them all up with no fuss. Win-win, right?!

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