Seasoned Lentil Stew with Vegetables (Sambar)

Makes6 servings (as part of a large meal)
  • Active time: 20 min
    Total time: 1 hr
This aromatic mixture of split peas and vegetables is a staple in the South Indian diet. It always accompanies favorite snacks such as dosas (lentil crêpes) and idlis (lentil dumplings). A traditional Sadhya feast wouldn’t be complete without this flavorful source of protein. Asafetida (a garlicky resin from the sap of a fennel-like plant; it’s often used in lentil dishes) and fenugreek provide its pleasantly pungent aroma. This recipe is part of our menu for Sadhya, a South Indian feast.
Published in Gourmet Live 01.18.12


  • 1/2 cup 1/2 cup thoor dal (yellow pigeon peas) or dried yellow split peas, rinsed and drained
  • 3 1/2 cups water, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon tamarind concentrate (preferably Tamicon brand)
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground asafetida
  • 1 medium boiling potato, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 small tomato, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 pound okra or green beans, trimmed and cut into thirds
  • 1 small fresh green chile, such as serrano, Thai, or jalapeño, slit lengthwise with stem end intact
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 4 teaspoons sambar powder (see Cooks’ Notes)
  • Salt
  • Fresh lemon juice to taste


  • Bring dal, 1 1/2 cups water, and turmeric to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat to very low and cook, covered (check occasionally, and if mixture appears dried out, add up to about 1/4 cup water), until peas are soft and break when pressed with a spoon, about 30 minutes (45 minutes if using split peas).
  • Meanwhile, dissolve tamarind concentrate in 2 tablespoons hot water, breaking it up with your fingers.
  • Heat oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then cook fenugreek seeds and asafetida, stirring, until fenugreek seeds begin to brown, about 30 seconds. Stir in remaining 2 cups water, potato, vegetables, chile, cilantro, sambar powder, tamarind mixture, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, until all vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
  • Mash dal in saucepan with a potato masher or back of a spoon to form a coarse paste, then stir into vegetable mixture. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring in water as necessary to thin (consistency should be thinner than pea soup). Season with salt and lemon juice.


  • Indian ingredients can be mail-ordered from
  • To make your own sambar powder: Mix 3 teaspoons ground coriander, 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1/8 teaspoon each of ground turmeric, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and asafetida.
  • Chile can be removed during cooking when stew is spicy enough for your taste.
  • Sambar can be made 2 days ahead and chilled.
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