Sambhar and Cilantro Coconut Chutney

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free, Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.....Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake" Rabindranath Tagore 

 I am grateful to be free today and not shackled by terror and fear, pain, disease, anxiety, guilt, and hunger. While celebrating freedom, and everything Indian that I love and hold dear today, being India's 64th Independence day I decided to post a very simple recipe for Sambar and Coconut Cilantro Cutney as an accompaniment for morning idlis. Sambar a typical Tamilian dish, is a simple lentil stew with vegetables and spices is one of the most well known and common everyday dishes, not just in the south but thanks to the popularity of masala dosa and idlis, everywhere in the country.  Truly, sambar, idli and dosa makes the nation come together!

When I was studying I lived in our college hostel in Tamil Nadu and  what started off as dhal or parripu in the afternoon, would sometimes turn into rasam at night or sambhar in the morning! Perhaps not the best place to develop a love affair with Sambhar, but I blame that daily morning dose or (rather dosa! ) for my lifelong obsession with Sambhar and with lentils. One time during the rainy season while we were all gathered in the mess hall for breakfast, the usual morning chatter of over a hundred hostelites was broken by a loud shriek. What happened was this: one of the girls was eating her dosa and sambar and took a dab at a curry leaf and to her shock, it moved! turned out the "curry leaf" was actually a small slug that had fallen into the sambhar!  Not the nicest story to associate with sambhar, but everytime I eat sambar, I remember that rainy morning, and the many meals made better because it was shared with large groups of chattering girls. How I miss them all! 

Here is a more delightful little story entitled I love him and he does not like sambhar  over at mylittlemagazine that I chanced upon today which I really identified with, being a Madrasi ( actually Malayali from Kerala) in Mumbai for two months, I was asked hilarious questions like " Is Bangalore in Madras?" No, they are two cities in two different states, I would patiently reply to much nodding for anything south of Mumbai is termed South India and loosely Madras! I sought to explain how each state has its own distinct identity, language, culture and food. And seriously, it never ceases to amaze me. 

The integral part of sambhar is the mix of spices collectively termed "sambhar powder" I used to make sambhar with the store bought sambhar powders and was not at all happy with the results. I remember telling a Tamilian friend I had used a brand from bangalore and she scoffed saying "what do Kannadigas know about sambhar?" I don't intend to spark off a national controversy, especially on such a patriotic day, but I do prefer the made in Tamil Nadu brands of sambhar powder like the one my mother brought me called Brahmins. Such a difference! Now I know why her's taste so much better than mine! To make sambhar powder at home, this looks pretty authentic. Tamilian friends please do let me know what you think. 
Recipe source: My Malayali mom who has lived many years in TN! we don't claim this to be the authentic recipe and there are many versions, but this is how mom makes it and it is delicious! 

  • 3/4 cup Toovar/ Toor Dal / Split Pigeon Peas
  • 1 Onion sliced thin 
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp methi / fenugreek seeds ( optional)
  • 1 onion ( medium)
  • 2 dry red chillies
  • 6 curry leaves
  • 3 Tbsp sambhar powder ( homemade or store bought: I use only the brand Brahmin's) 
  • 1/8 tsp asafoetida / hing 

Vegetables: (You can use vegetables of your choice cut into mid sized cubes, here are the ones I usually use) 
  • 2 small potatoes
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 drumstick 
  • 1 tomato 
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste or 1 lemon sized ball of dried tamarind soaked in 1/2 cup water ( if you don't have tamarind, you can add extra tomatoes for the tangy taste)  
  • Coriander leaves chopped to garnish ( optional) 
  • Soak the tamarind in 1/ cup of water and keep aside. You can skip this if using tamarind paste. 
  • In a pressure cooker cook the dal and onions in 2 cups water in pressure cooker 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp turmeric for one whistle switch off flame and wait for steam to release before opening the pressure cooker. The lentils need not be fully cooked at this point. 
  • You can also just cook the lentils until soft in a deep pot with a lid if you don't have a pressure cooker, it will just take a little longer. 
  • In a skillet or pan, heat a tablespoon or more of oil and splutter the cumin, methi and mustard seeds.
  • Add the red chillies, curry leaves, asafoetida, and sambhar powder and stir until the oil starts to separate from the masalas. 
  • Add the vegetables and sautee for a few minutes 
  • Add the sauteed vegetables and spices to the dal in the pressure cooker along with the tamarind water or tamarind paste and cook till the vegetables are soft ( 1 whistle and simmer for 5 mins) 
  • The lentils and potatoes break down and make the sambhar thick. If you like your sambhar to be even thicker, then bring it to a boil and add a teaspoon of rice or wheat flour mixed with water and mix well. If you like it more watery, simply add more water and simmer for a few minutes. 
  • Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. 

Cilantro Coconut Chutney
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut ( I used frozen coconut thawed by microwaving for about 5-10 seconds) 
  • 1/2 a bunch of cilantro /coriander leaves discarding the stem ( about half the quantity of coconut) 
  • 1/4 tsp tamarind paste or a marble sized ball of tamarind
  • 4 green chillies or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp salt or to taste 
  • Grind all the above into a smooth paste with a little water. 
  • Serve Sambhar with rice and Sambhar and Chutney with piping hot idlis, dosas or vadais!
For other lentil recipes click here 
For other vegetarian recipes click here 

Am sending my sambhar off to My Legume Love Affair  started by the truly wonderful Susan, and  hosted over at Relishing Recipes this month
Am also sending this to Lets Cook Series 7  over at Tickling Palates
and No croutons required over at Food and Spice


  1. Sambar looks yummy...I like this chutney with biryani...flavorful and delicious...

  2. Yummy! Anytime I am in for idly and sambhar.

  3. Very very comforting food always.. totally drooling MAgs :)

  4. Delicious and flavorful the chutney too..that platter looks so YUM!!

  5. Happy Independence day! love the cilantro coconut chutney.. interesting addition of potatoes to the sambar..

  6. Lovely and yummy sambar. Loved the first snap with black background.

  7. Reshmi I like this chutney with meat and sandwiches too, but have never tried it with biriyani!
    Vijitha this is a mallu-tam version, hope you approve since you are the expert!
    Thanks Pavi! Agree Sambhar is very comforting :)
    Thanks Divya and Suman!
    Sarah potatoes are quite typical, tho I also add whatever veggies I happen to have on hand! What veggies do you use?

  8. Flavourful sambar and fingerlicking chutney,yumm!

  9. mallu-tam version is so good indeed but truly delectable. Thanks for sending them my way.

  10. Wow such an flavorful aromatic chutney n the plate makes me drool for the podi n sambhar..

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  19. Yummy! Anytime I am there for idly and sambhar.
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