Sambar (Spicy Lentil Soup)


This spicy soup can be made up to two days ahead and reheated.

  • Makes about 6 cups, 4 to 6 servings.Servings


Spice Mixture:

  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds

Spice Mixture:

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 small hot red chilies, dried
  • 1 teaspoon toor dahl (dried yellow lentils)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (optional)


  • 1 cup toor dahl (yellow lentils), rinsed
  • 4 cups water, or as needed
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds


  • 5 to 8 small hot chilies, dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 large shallots (6 ounces total), cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 1 large tomato (8 ounces), chopped
  • 1 large zucchini (6 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 small red bell pepper (6 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch pieces


  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar or molasses
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste


1. In a small frying pan over medium heat, combine coriander seeds, cumin seeds, chilies, toor dahl, and fenugreek, if using. Stir often until seeds are aromatic and lentils darken slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool. Pour into a blender or spice grinder and grind until powdery.

2. In a 3- to 4-quart pan over high heat, combine toor dahl and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer with lid slightly ajar. Stir occasionally until lentils are very soft, about 30 minutes. Whisk or stir briskly to make a coarse purée;. Meanwhile, stir the tamarind concentrate into the hot water.

3. Set a 3- to 4-quart pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and mustard seeds. Cover pan until seeds stop popping, about 1 minute. Stir in dried chilies (leave whole for mild heat or break up to increase hotness), turmeric, and shallots; stir for 1 minute. Add tomato, zucchini, and bell pepper; stir for 5 minutes. Add spice mixture, dahl mixture, tamarind mixture, 1/4 cup cilantro, sugar, cayenne, and salt. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender when pierced, about 20 minutes. Add more water to thin to desired consistency. Garnish with remaining cilantro.

Recipe by Linda Lau Anusasananan, former food writer and recipe editor at Sunset magazine and author of The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food From Around the World.