Indian Sambar Cooking Class with Sirisha Bhandaru

Learn how to make a quintessential South Indian comfort meal with longtime Co-op instructor, Sirisha Bhandaru. This virtual class will highlight seasonal vegetables. You won’t want to miss this one! The menu includes:

  • Vegetable Sambar: a comforting Indian stew with carrots, winter squash, onion, tomato, tamarind, coconut, sambar powder, and toor dal lentils
  • Sirisha's Potato Fry: a beloved family recipe for any child or adult alike
  • Pappadams: a sun-dried lentil crisp that can be fried or roasted before eating. A perfect accompaniment with sambar and rice
  • Steamed rice with a ghee (or vegan butter)

Tamarind pulp
1.5-2 tablespoons
Toor dal
1/2 cup
Any squash variety, large dice
2 cups
Yellow onion, thinly sliced
Yellow onion, thickly sliced
Tomatoes, diced
1/4 teaspoon
2 tablespoons
To taste
2 cups, plus more as needed
Sambar powder
1.5-2 tablespoons
Small black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon
Red chilies
Fenugreek seeds
Fresh curry leaves
1 sprig (about 10 leaves)
1 tablespoon
Cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (for garnish)
Steamed Rice
Basmati rice
1 cup
1.5-2 cups
Ghee or oil, optional
1 teaspoon
Salt, optional
1/2 teaspoon
Potato Fry
Golden or red potatoes
2 large or 4 medium
3 tablespoons
Cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon
Kashmiri chili powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon
To taste
1/2 cup


  • Sambar Powder: The sambar powder can make or break your sambar. Use the best sambar powder. It can be homemade or from your favorite brand. Sambar powder is easily available online.
  • Vegetables: The mix of various vegetables adds plenty of their unique flavor and taste to sambar. Thus depending on the type of vegetables used, your sambar recipe will taste different every time. I prefer to use seasonal vegetables in my sambar. Carrots, baby eggplant, okra, pumpkin, and sweet potato all taste great in sambar.
  • Lentils: For faster cooking, you can opt to soak the lentils in water for 30-60 minutes. The lentils can be cooked in an instant pot or on the stovetop. Add water as needed. The lentils should be softened and mushy.
  • Tamarind: I used readymade tamarind pulp here. You can always use dried tamarind, soak it in hot water for 10-20 minutes and extract the pulp. Lighter color tamarind is new and less sour than dark-colored tamarind. If the pulp is very dark, use less.
  • Cooking Vegetables: Always cook the vegetables until they are done but whole. They should not break or become mush in the sambar. So when cooking, add vegetables which cook slower first and cook them for some minutes. Then add vegetables which cook faster. Note that the vegetables can also be steamed in a steamer, pressure cooker, or instant pot.
  • Frying Spices: While doing the tempering or tadka, always fry on low heat and stir regularly. The spices and herbs cook fast, so you must be attentive. If they get burned, then discard them and make a new tempering. Never add burnt tempering in sambar as it will ruin the taste.
  • Consistency: Change the consistency of your sambar by adding less or more water. However, do not add too much water and make it thin as then the flavors get diluted. For serving with rice you can make a thick sambar and for serving with idli or dosa, you can make a medium consistency sambar.
  • Balancing Sourness: If you find the taste of sambar more sour, you can balance the taste by adding jaggery.
Toor Dal
  1. Wash and soak the dal, preferably for an hour if cooking using on the stovetop in a vessel, or 20 minutes if using a pressure cooker or instant pot.
  2. If using a pressure cooker or instant pot, please follow the instructions you would follow to cook any lentils. 1 cup of lentils requires 2 cups of water.
  3. If cooking in a vessel on a stovetop, bring 1.5 cups water to a boil, add the soaked toor dal, and give it a good mix. Bring to a boil, simmer, cover, and let it cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring a few times in between. The lentils should be cooked in about 30 minutes or sooner.


*Don't add salt while the dal is cooking. The dal will not soften and cook fast.

**For samber, the dal must be cooked until it is mushy and does not retain its shape.


Cooking Vegetables
  1. When the dal is cooking, rinse, peel, and chop the vegetables.
  2. In a large pot, add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add sliced onions and saute until slightly golden, then add tomatoes and saute until they become soft. Add salt and turmeric.
  3. Add the other half of the sliced onions and squash pieces, mix well, and add water to slightly submerge the veggies.
  4. Let this pot simmer on medium-low to medium flame.
  5. Cook until the vegetables are almost done. Ensure that you don't overcook the vegetables.


Making Sambar
  1. Once the vegetables are almost cooked, add the tamarind pulp and add 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of sambar powder. Mix well.
  2. Add the mashed dal. Mix again very well.
  3. Simmer on medium-low heat until the sambar comes to a boil.
  4. You will see a frothy layer on top when the sambar begins boiling. At this step switch off the heat. Cover and set aside.


  1. In a small pan or tadka pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds.
  2. Let the mustard seeds crackle.
  3. Then add 1 to 2 dry red chilies (halved and seeds removed).
  4. Immediately add 10-12 curry leaves and 5-6 fenugreek seeds. Be careful as the oil splutters while adding curry leaves.
  5. Fry them until the red chilies change color and the curry leaves become crisp.
  6. Immediately add this tempering mixture to the hot sambar.
  7. Cover the pan with its lid for 4-5 minutes, so that the aroma and flavors from the tempering mixture get infused with the sambar.
  8. Serve sambar hot. You can garnish it with a few coriander leaves if you prefer. It can be served with steamed rice, idli, dosa, medu vada, or uttapam.


Steamed Rice

  1. Wash rice thoroughly in water for a few rinses until it runs clear. Soak the rice for 20-30 minutes (optional, but ensures that rice is soft and fluffy).
  2. Drain the water. In a pan, add 1.5 cups water and the rice. Add salt and ghee if you like.
  3. Let it come to a rolling boil, then simmer and cover and cook for around 10-15 minutes until the water is completely absorbed and the rice is cooked.
  4. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  5. Enjoy!


Potato Fry

  1. Wash the potatoes thoroughly. Peel (optional) and dice them small. Soak in water for about 20 minutes if time permits, otherwise, just rinse thoroughly to get rid of some starch. This process helps them not stick together or to the pan.
  2. Take a cast iron skillet/nonstick pan, heat it, and add oil. Once the oil is warm, add cumin seeds and the drained potatoes, and stir quickly.
  3. Let them sear in a single layer in the pan on medium-high heat.
  4. Cover and cook for a few minutes, keep an eye, so that the water condensing in the lid does not get into the potatoes.
  5. Do not stir immediately because they will stick to the pan initially. Once they fry slightly, it will be easier to stir them.
  6. Stir and let them fry on all sides until slightly golden. Add salt. Lower the heat and continue frying them until they are completely cooked and crisp on the outside.
  7. Add red chili powder just before turning off the stove. If you add it earlier, the powder can burn and creates a bitter flavor.
  8. Transfer to a serving bowl. Enjoy with steamed rice.


*A cast iron pan works best for this dish. A nonstick pan is the next best option.

**My mom has always peeled the potatoes and I have done that for years too, but I recently stopped peeling them because there are a lot of nutrients in the skin. It does affect the taste slightly.



  1. Heat oil in a wok or saucepan. Take a wide one because these Appalams expand on frying.
  2. Heat the oil until it is hot but not smoking hot. Add one Appalam at a time. Flip it quickly with tongs and remove on a paper towel as soon as they fry up. Don't wait for them to change color.
  3. If the color changes immediately, lower the temperature of the oil.


*Papads are sundried flatbreads made with lentils, typically Urad or Mung lentils.

**Some varieties can be fire roasted or toasted on a pan. They all taste best when deep-fried.