Homemade Sambar Masala: A Culinary Delight Across South Asia

Sambar is a delectable lentil-based vegetable stew that tantalizes the taste buds with its unique flavors.

Prepared using pigeon pea and tamarind broth, this aromatic dish has earned its popularity in South Indian, Sri Lankan, and Maldivian cuisines.

Its rich and diverse taste has even found its way into Burmese cuisine, cherished as a beloved accompaniment to Burmese curries. Whether you savor it in South Asia or beyond, Sambar remains a culinary delight loved by food enthusiasts worldwide.

The Legend of Sambar’s Origin: A Tale of Maharaj Sambhaji Bhosale

In the realms of culinary history, a fascinating tale surrounds the origin of sambar, tracing its roots back to the illustrious Maratha ruler Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji Bhosale, the second Chhatrapati of the Maratha Empire, reigning from 1681 to 1689.

According to legends, on a fateful day, Sambhaji Maharaj’s head cook took a day off, leaving the prince to fend for himself. Undeterred, Sambhaji ventured into the kitchen and took charge.

Determined to prepare a dish, he made dal, a staple in Indian cuisine.

Experimenting with the available ingredients and his culinary instincts, Sambhaji crafted a unique concoction by combining pigeon pea, tamarind, and an array of aromatic spices.

This innovative creation became what we now know as sambar, a flavorful lentil-based vegetable stew that has since become an integral part of South Asian culinary heritage.

Sambhaji’s ingenuity in the kitchen that day resulted in a delicious dish. It gave birth to a legend that has stood the test of time, making sambar a beloved delicacy millions worldwide enjoy.

Understanding Masalas in Indian Cooking

Masalas play a fundamental role in South Indian food. They can be classified into hot and cold spices. These spices are utilized in various combinations, resulting in the local language’s distinct masala blends, such as the spicy ‘garam masala’ and the milder ‘Thanda masala’ or ‘khushbu ka masala.’

Spices are derived from different parts of plants, including leaves, bark, roots, buds, and flowers. For example, bay leaves, cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg come from the same tree but in different parts.

Blending Spices

India’s diverse geography brings forth various flavors in its cuisine. Blending spices requires a deep understanding of their characteristics and how they interact. Herbs are crucial in creating unique tastes, aromas, and flavors in regional dishes.

Each spice possesses distinct traits, and their combination demands careful consideration. Spices can be roasted, fried, boiled, or crushed before blending, and they can be ground into powders or pastes based on the desired texture.

Popular Masala Mixes

Indian cooking features a variety of spice blends, some of which include:

Garam Masala: A blend of warm spices, adding depth to dishes.

Chaat Masala Powder: A tangy and spicy mix in street foods.

Tandoori Masala: Ideal for marinating meats in the Tandoor oven.

Madaras Curry Powder: A flavorful spice blend from Madras (now Chennai).

Punjabi Garam Masala: A spicy mix common in Punjabi cuisine.

Sambar Powder 01: Used in South Indian sambar dishes.

Goda Masala: A sweet and spicy masala blend in Maharashtrian cuisine.

Panch Phoran: A five-spice blend used in Bengali cooking.

Basic Garam Masala (North India): A fundamental spice mix in North Indian recipes.

Chaat Masala (Delhi Style): A specific spice blend cuisine famous in Delhi street food.

Understanding the art of blending these spices is critical to mastering the rich and diverse flavors of Indian cooking.

Sambar Podi: A Symphony of Aromas and Flavors

Sambar Podi, the heart of South Indian cuisine, is a harmonious blend of fragrant, citrusy coriander, earthy cumin seeds, the warmth of fenugreek seeds, the spice of black pepper, the kick of spicy chilies, and the vibrant hue of turmeric.

This unique spice blend elevates the essence of your Sambar recipes, infusing them with a tantalizing medley of tastes and scents.

For those new to the world of Indian cuisine, Sambar Podi holds a special place. The secret ingredient transforms the popular South Indian lentil and vegetable stew, Sambar, into a culinary masterpiece.

As you embark on your culinary journey, let the aromatic notes of coriander, the grounding presence of cumin, and the exciting spices awaken your senses, making every dish a delightful adventure.

Sambar Powder Recipe

Sambar powder, or sambhar podi or curry powder, is a fundamental ingredient in every South Indian kitchen.

Traditionally crafted through the sun drying and pan roasting of whole spices, this magical blend is transformed into a fine powder using a spice grinder.

Each home has its unique variation in ingredients and preparation methods, and this recipe stems from my mother’s culinary expertise.

Mastering the Art of Roasting for Perfect Sambar Masala

Creating the perfect Sambar Masala recipe involves a crucial step: roasting the spices to perfection.

If your sambar powders taste bitter, it’s likely due to the natural bitterness of methi (fenugreek). When consumed plain, it might appear sharp or taste bitter.

However, once incorporated into a sambar recipe, it should balance out.

If the dish remains bitter, it’s possible that the whole spices were roasted for too long, altering the taste profile.

Here’s your step-by-step guide to achieving that aromatic and flavorful blend:

Roasting the Spices

Roasted spices are the key to making sambar powder. Start with whole spices and use your spice grinder to create delicious aromatic sambar powder ingredients.

Cumin Seeds and Coriander Seeds

– Heat a pan and add ½ cup coriander seeds and two tablespoons cumin seeds.

– Roast both cumin and coriander seeds on low heat until fragrant and they change color, about 1 to 2 minutes. Be cautious not to over-brown.

Dry Red Chillies

– Wipe the pan and add 16 to 18 dry red chillies after removing the crown and seeds.

– For an authentic restaurant-style taste, opt for byadagi red chillies or a spice mix of half Kashmiri red chillies and half byadagi red chillies in your spice blend.

– Roast till they change color and release a smoky aroma.

Fenugreek Seeds

– Add 1.5 teaspoons of fenugreek seeds to the pan. Roast until they turn brown, ensuring they don’t burn. Add to the plate.

Black Peppercorns

– Add one tablespoon of whole black peppercorns. Roast until aromatic, then transfer to the plate.

Roasting Lentils

– Add two tablespoons of chana dal to the pan. Roast until golden and transfer to the plate.

– Add one tablespoon of urad dal and roast till golden and aromatic. Transfer to the plate.

Curry Leaves and Mustard Seeds

– Add ⅓ cup curry leaves to the pan. Roast until crisp and set aside.

– Add ½ tablespoon black mustard seeds. Remove when they finish popping and keep aside.

Asafoetida (Hing)

– Switch off the heat and add ½ tablespoon asafoetida to the pan.

– Stir until it changes color when lightly roasted and becomes fragrant. Remove from heat.

Cool all the ingredients thoroughly before grinding them into a fine powder. This step is essential to maintain the quality and freshness of the spice blend.

By following these precise steps, you’ll ensure that each spice is perfectly roasted, enhancing the depth and aroma of your Sambar Masala.

The Best Sambar Masala Homemade Recipe Card

Make sambar masala at home because it is perfect for the season, boasting its hot, light, spicy, and sour qualities that align seamlessly with the vibrant spirit of spring.

Combining these flavors creates a refreshing and invigorating culinary experience, making it an ideal choice as the weather warms up.

However, if your stomach is sensitive to the intensity of spicy or sour foods, fear not. You can easily customize this recipe to suit your taste and comfort level.

To mellow the spiciness, consider reducing the sambar powder in the recipe, ensuring it aligns perfectly with your spice tolerance.

Additionally, if you prefer a less tangy flavor, decrease the quantity of tomatoes, allowing you to enjoy the dish without overwhelming your taste buds.

By adjusting these key ingredients, you can tailor this spring sambar to your preferences, ensuring a satisfying and soothing meal that complements the delightful essence of the season.


4 cups of water

½ cup of yellow split mung beans (rinse twice before beginning)

Two chopped tomatoes

½ cup chopped carrot

½ cup chopped green beans

½ cup chopped daikon radish

1 tbsp coconut oil

One small diced onion

Useful Tip

There are two onion varieties to remember: the regular onion and the smaller Sambar onion.

Here’s a handy conversion tip: if your recipe calls for regular onions, you’ll need 2.5 times as many Sambar onions to achieve the same effect.

For example, if your recipe uses four regular onions, substitute with 10 Sambar onions. Due to their smaller size, you can use 5-6 extra Sambar onions if needed.

But be cautious – using too many Sambar onions can make your Sambar on the sweeter side, so balance accordingly.


1–2 tsp homemade sambar powder (as per the above recipe)

Handy Tip

When making sambar for a family of four, a single tablespoon of sambar powder is ample to infuse your dish with rich flavors.

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp mustard seeds


Boil the Water: Put a big pot on the stove. Pour water into the pot and let it heat until it starts boiling.

Add Mung Beans and Turmeric: Add mung beans and turmeric powder once the water is boiling. Turmeric powder adds flavor and a lovely yellow color to the dish. Let it come to a boil again.

Add Chopped Vegetables: Put in the vegetables you want, except for the onions if you use them.

Reduce Heat and Simmer: Turn the heat down to low. Cover the pot partially with a lid and let everything simmer (cook gently) for about 30 minutes. Simmering melds the flavors, making your dish tasty and comforting.

Cooking the Dal: While the lentils (dal) are cooking, heat coconut oil in a pan over medium heat. Add diced onions and cook until they turn see-through, about 5 minutes.

Adding Spices: Put mustard seeds into the pan; they’ll pop, so cover the pan and let them fry for 1 minute. Add curry leaves and asafoetida (hing). Stir until all the spices are coated with oil. Once you can smell the spices, turn off the heat. Mix grated coconut into the hot spices and let it sit for 1–2 minutes.

Combining with Dal: Add this spiced oil mixture and ground sambar powder to the roast lentils in the pot. Let them all simmer together for 5 minutes. If the mixture gets too thick, add some hot water—it should have a slightly watery consistency. Add salt according to your taste.

Serving: Pour the sambar into four bowls and serve it with Everyday Dosa or over basmati rice. If you like, garnish it with fresh cilantro.

Extra Tip

If you want a tangier flavor, add 2–3 teaspoons of tamarind juice when adding the tomato.

Enhancing the Sambar Masala with Coconut: A Flavorful Twist

To elevate your Sambar Masala with a delightful tropical note, include about ⅓ cup of shredded desiccated coconut (unsweetened). However, roasting the coconut until golden is crucial to intensifying ground masala and its flavor. Here’s how to do it and what to consider afterward:

Roasting the Coconut

  1. In the same pan, add the shredded desiccated coconut.
  2. Roast it over low heat until it turns golden brown. This step enhances the coconut’s natural sweetness and aroma.
  3. Transfer the roasted coconut to the plate with the other roasted ingredients.

Combine Roasted Ingredients

Once all the ingredients, including all the roasted spices and coconut, are at room temperature, combine them in a grinder or a mixie.

Grind the mixture into a fine powder. Ensure all the components are well incorporated, creating a homogeneous blend.

Storage Tips

Store the remaining powder in an empty, airtight container to preserve its freshness and aroma for future culinary adventures.

It’s important to note that adding coconut reduces the shelf-life of the Sambar Powder. The natural oils in coconut can turn rancid over time, affecting the flavor.

Store the Sambar Powder with coconut in the refrigerator to preserve the freshness and prevent spoilage. The cold temperature helps the masala powder maintain its quality for longer.

Sambar Powder Benefits

Sambar powder, made from ingredients like coriander seeds, pepper, turmeric, and more, offers significant health benefits despite being used in small amounts. Here’s how:

  1. Rich in Antioxidants: Packed with antioxidants, sambar powder helps slow down aging, boost immunity, improve heart health, and even prevent cancer. These antioxidants come from spices like turmeric, pepper, and red chillies.
  2. Cancer Prevention: Compounds like curcumin in turmeric and piperine in pepper have cancer-fighting properties, reducing the risk and spread of cancer cells. Studies suggest it might even inhibit colon cancer growth.
  3. Heart Health: Sambar powder’s ingredients contain antioxidants that benefit heart health. They help lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides, contributing to cardiovascular well-being.

Incorporating sambar powder into your diet enhances flavor and brings a wealth of health advantages, making it a valuable addition to your meals.

More Delicious Indian Recipes

We can help you find the best Indian recipes here. We might be separated by distance, but we continue to be united by food.

Indian cuisine is a rich tapestry of regional and traditional cooking styles from the Indian subcontinent. The diversity in soil, climate, culture, ethnic groups, and occupations has given rise to various cuisines, each with unique flavors and techniques. These cuisines heavily rely on locally available spices, herbs, vegetables, and fruits, leading to a vibrant and varied culinary landscape.

Moreover, Indian food is deeply influenced by religious beliefs, especially Hinduism and Islam, as well as cultural choices and traditions. This influence is evident in selecting ingredients, cooking methods, and dietary practices. The significance of food in religious rituals and celebrations further shapes the Indian culinary experience.

Beyond its borders, Indian cuisine has made a global impact, influencing culinary traditions in various parts of the world. Its aromatic spices, rich flavors, and diverse cooking methods captivate food enthusiasts worldwide, making Indian cuisine a celebrated and cherished culinary heritage.

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