Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Udipi Sambar

After nearly 2 decades of writing this blog, the archives sometimes feel like an archeological site. There are long forgotten gems hidden in here. I remembered one such recipe recently. 

The Southern Indian staples of idli and dosa are recipes that I've standardized for myself after years or trial and error. I cautiously feel like I now have them nailed down.  However, their standard accompaniment sambar- the spicy lentil and vegetable stew- has not been a recipe I've felt like I've nailed down. 

There are so many regional variations of sambar. Growing up in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, the source of most of our idlis and dosas were local Udipi restaurants where the sambar is laced with coconut and slightly sweet with a tinge of jaggery. The other version I'm familiar with is the Tamil sambar which is decidedly NOT sweet. The latter is what I normally make. Only last month I remembered, wait, I think I've made a very good Udipi sambar at some point and then completely forgotten about it. Sure enough, I found this post from a decade ago. 

I made the sambar and ate it blissfully. THIS is now my go-to sambar recipe and I won't forget it in a hurry. Step 2 in the recipe below, when you start frying the ingredients for the masala paste, is when the unmistakable savory aroma will hit you and make you feel like you're sitting in your favorite Udipi restaurant. Grinding a fresh masala is a bit more work than using a sambar powder like I usually do, but it is well worth the trouble. 

I buy fresh frozen coconut- it comes as an icy sheet. When I bring it home from the store, I thaw it slightly, enough to break it into chunks and then portion the chunks into smaller containers or bags. That way I can pull out a portion and use it without defrosting and refreezing the entire package. Coconut is an important ingredient in my kitchen but I use it judiciously and in modest quantities. 

Udipi Sambar

 1. Pressure cook 1/2 cup toor dal. Mash it well and set aside.

2. Heat a little oil in small pan. Add the following ingredients in this order and fry them, then cool and grind to a thick paste. 
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 2 tsp. urad dal
  • 2 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • Few curry leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh/frozen coconut
3. You're ready to make sambar. In a large pan, heat 2 tsp. oil. Temper it with
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds 
  • 1 tsp. urad dal
  • Pinch of asafetida
  • Sprig of curry leaves
4. Add vegetables- I used chunks of red onion this time. Batons of drumsticks, carrot, baby onions, cubes of eggplant, pumpkin all work well. Stir fry for a few minutes. Add saltred chili powderturmeric, tamarind paste and jaggery to taste. Add a cup of water, cover and cook for a few minutes until veggies are just tender.

5. Now stir in the masala paste and toor dal from step 1 and 2. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavors and consistency before serving.

Idlis dunked in sambar


  1. The sambar has been elusive to me.. I love it and loved the udipi version. After moving to the US, I've had many brilliant tamil versions and wished I could recreate them. My tamil friend, currently topping my sambar leaderboard, uses this masala paste step to make her sambar. She also adds her MILs sambar powder but this paste step is what makes the difference. I have yet to try it, but now that you have this laid out as a recipe, I might try it soon.
    From another friend, I learned a trick I've been using recently. He mixes the sambar masala in a little water to form a paste and then fries it in the tempered oil before adding any veggies or daal. I've tried it and it works well... for me. Its sort of a step up from my previous recipe.
    Now with temps cooling, I will be making sambar more frequently.


    1. Archana- how funny that excellent sambar can be a bit elusive, no? I do think an excellent sambar powder PLUS fresh ground masala is a great way to go. I also love your friend's idea of sautéing sambar powder to coax the flavor out. Lots of fun things to try! And you're right, sambar weather is round the corner.

  2. Even though I am from Tamil Nadu, I much prefer the slightly sweet Udupi version. Your recipe has been my go to all these years, Nupur! And yes, there is no substitute for the fresh paste, even if making it does take a few extra minutes.

    1. That's funny that you remembered the recipe all these years. It is such a tasty sambar for sure. My Tamilian (but Bombay-bred) husband loves this as well.

  3. How long do you fry the coconut for? Is there a certain amount of doneness I should be looking for?

    1. It should be fragrant and lightly toasted, a slight pink or beige color.

  4. Nupur, sambar is one of my fav foods and while I use the no-grind version with podi on usual days, I love the character and depth that the freshly ground version has. Have you tried making it in the instant pot? https://www.upgrademyfood.com/instant-pot-sambar/ this recipe worked well for me. This is also one of those recipes you could use delayed timer in the morning / night and come back to hot sambar!

    1. I always do cook the toor dal in the instant pot. I have indeed tried making sambar in the instant pot, the no-grind version with podi. And while it is undeniably easy to do, it just is more of a dal and less of a sambar if you know what I mean. Thanks for that recipe link- I will try it for sure!! :)

  5. If possible try the eastern brand of sambhar powder. That makes a lot of difference in my Sambhar


Thanks for leaving a comment- I try to respond to every single one.