I grew up eating sambar most days of my life. It’s an absolute staple in South Indian cooking, eaten with practically every meal. Even if the vegetable sides and other dishes change, sambar, along with curd rice, is included almost unfailingly. Keep reading to find my simple sambar recipe made in the Instant Pot.
There are as many versions of sambar recipes as there are cooks who make it. Some sambar recipes are complex, with freshly ground spices. Others are simpler, little more than well-cooked lentils. Some are thicker, appropriate to serve over rice. Other sambar recipes are quite thin, perfect to drink as a soup or used to dip dosa. Some sambar recipes are filled with vegetables, while others are mainly liquid. All have a few distinct flavors, and I’ve tried to capture those here, while keeping it as simple and accessible as possible.
While I’ve tried to limit it to ingredients easily found in the pantry or a supermarket, I personally like my sambar with a couple of ingredients usually limited to an Indian grocery store. Still, even these can be substituted if you don’t have access to them (substitution notes are included in the recipe below). I used toor dal, which is most common, but moong dal and masoor dal will also work fine (although they require less cooking time). I recommend purchasing your dal at a local Indian grocery store, but it can also be found here.
More than anything, I want this to be a simple, comforting, and delicious homestyle Indian meal. Serve over rice with cucumber salad or beet palya on the side, or cook up some dosa or idli to accompany it. I hope you love my simple sambar recipe!
Instant Pot Sambar with Toor Dal
- 2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp asafoetida (hing – can substitute 1/2 tsp onion powder + 1/2 tsp garlic powder)
- 1 whole dried chili pepper (can sub with 1/4-1/2 tsp chili powder)
- 2 cups toor dal
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 cups water
- 1 tsp red Kashmiri chili powder (or regular spicy chili powder)
- 15oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 tsp tamarind paste (can sub 1 Tbsp lemon or lime juice)
- 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 2 cups of vegetables, cooked & chopped (optional; carrots, okra, green beans are all good ones)
- 2 Tbsp butter (optional)
- Cilantro (optional)
- Plug in Instant Pot and turn on Saute function. Then heat 2 Tbsp oil or ghee. Once oil is hot, add mustard seeds and cumin seeds.
- You’ll hear the mustard seeds start to pop and sputter. Once they start slowing down, then add the hing & chili pepper.
- After that, turn off Instant Pot.
- Add 2 cups toor dal, then turmeric, salt, and water.
- Turn on Instant Pot. Turn the top knob to “sealing.” Then cook on manual high pressure for 10 minutes with a natural pressure release (no need to turn the knob to “venting”).
- Once dal is cooked, mash well. Add canned tomatoes, chili powder, tamarind, and lemon juice.
- Add more salt as needed (I usually need 1-2 tsp more). Next, add more water until desired consistency (I usually add 1-4 more cups, depending on how thin I want it).
- (Optional) Mix in any vegetables.
- (Optional) Stir in butter and chopped cilantro. Finally, serve over rice or with chapati.
- NOTE IF YOU DO NOT HAVE AN INSTANT POT: You may certainly make this recipe without an Instant Pot. Instead, you can use a regular pressure cooker, a slow cooker, or just cook in a pot on the stove. Just note that it will likely take several hours of slow simmering when cooked on the stovetop.
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