Tomato Sambhar (Stew)

Tomato Sambhar (Stew)

Sambhar, a stew made with dal as well as vegetables, is key to South Indian food. Eaten with idli, dosa and rice it can be a breakfast, lunch or dinner dish. Sambhar is often made with whatever vegetables you have at home, so feel free to experiment! 

Serves 3 to 4 with idli, dosa or rice  


  • ½ cup (100g) toor dal (split pigeon pea
  • lentils)
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 5 tsp oil, divided
  • 5 small green chillies, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 large red onions, chopped
  • 5 tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp sambhar powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • Salt, to taste
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • A sprig of curry leaves
  • A scattering of coriander leaves, chopped

Tomato Sambhar should have a fairly loose consistency – it is best eaten with idlis, which soak up the sauce!


Wash the lentils and soak for a few minutes.

In a deep pot add 2 cups of cool water, the lentils and cumin and bring to a boil. Cover and let it simmer until the lentils are soft, which should take about 20-30 minutes. When they are ready, do not drain the water – just keep them aside as they are.  


Gently heat 4 tsp of oil in a medium sized pan. Add the chillies, garlic and onion, and sauté till the onions are translucent. Now add the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the turmeric, sambhar and red chilli powders, and cook till the tomatoes are mushy.

Add this tomato mixture to the pot of lentils, season with salt and continue cooking on low heat for another 15 minutes or so. You may need to add or boil off some water so that it’s neither too thick nor watery.

In a very small sauce pan heat a tsp of oil, and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Once the mustard seeds start sputtering, take off the heat and add this to the pot of sambhar.

Stir in chopped coriander right before serving and serve steaming hot with rice, idlis or dosas and chutney.