Instant Pot sambar step-by-step recipe with video and photos.
What is sambar
Sambar is a South-Indian style lentil stew made with toor dal (split pigeon pea), tamarind, and an aromatic spice blend known as sambar powder. A traditional sambar has a good proportion of dal, is made mostly with a single variety of vegetables, and is definitely made with homemade sambar powder.
Also referred to as sambhar, this vegetable stew pairs well not just with steamed plain rice, but also with idli (savory rice cakes) and dosa. This makes sambhar an integral part of south Indian meals, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
This lentil-based stew is a staple in most South Indian households and there are many varieties of sambar in South Indian cuisine. It is called ‘huli’ in Kannada and can be made with different vegetables - either a single vegetable or a mix of certain types of vegetables. Radish, drumstick, eggplant, green leafy vegetables, summer squash, bottle gourd, and pumpkin are a few most common vegetables to name.
What is sambar powder?
What sets the sambhar apart from a regular dal is the unique blend of freshly ground spices, known as sambar powder (or huli pudi in Kannada) that is added while making this dish. Even though the main spices used to make sambar masala podi are the same, they are subtly different in quantities, adding a unique flavor to every family recipe in South Indian homes.
The sambar taste hugely depends on the masala powder. I have earlier shared the authentic recipe to make this spice blend at home. It is also easily available in any local Indian grocery store or online stores like Amazon.
The ingredients I use are chana dal, urad dal, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, dried red chilies (spicy and mild versions), curry leaves, sliced coconut, turmeric powder, and asafoetida. These spices are dry roasted and ground into a fine powder.
Check out this recipe to make Mysore rasam powder.
One pot sambar
Traditionally, it is made in two (or sometimes three) steps - first, boil the tur dal in a pressure cooker, and next, prepare a masala base with the spice mix, tamarind, and vegetable to which the boiled dal is added. Sometimes, it is finished with an additional tempering made in a small pan using ghee.
This Instant Pot sambar recipe gets done in one step - I make the tempering first, to which I add the dal, masala powder, and vegetables. Once they are cooked, I add tamarind and simmer it and finish off with some ghee. This one-pot vegetable sambar is very easy to make and needs minimal monitoring. The texture and consistency are perfect when you follow this tried and tested video recipe.
Lentils: Toor dal (also called arhar dal, tuvar dal, or tur dal) is the main ingredient. You can also use moong dal.
Sambar powder: Use store-bought or homemade sambhar masala powder. If you are using a store-bought one, my preferred brand is MTR.
Ghee: I like to use ghee; however, it can be replaced with coconut oil or any other cooking oil for a vegan version.
Vegetables: I have used eggplant, carrots, and green beans (French beans). I am also using tomatoes in this recipe. You can use your choice of vegetables like pumpkin, butternut squash, chayote squash, bell pepper, etc.
Aromatics: I am using red onion and garlic. Small onions can also be used to make it.
Tempering: We need mustard seeds, cumin seeds, methi seeds, dried red chili, curry leaves, and hing.
Tamarind and jaggery: Soak tamarind in water and extract the pulp. It can also be replaced with store-bought tamarind paste. Jaggery adds a mild sweetness to balance the spicy and tangy taste.
Take the tamarind in a small bowl and add ½ cup hot water. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Extract the tamarind pulp and discard the fiber and seeds (step 1).
Set the Instant Pot in saute mode and add two tablespoons of ghee in the inner pot. Once it heats, add mustard seeds and let them splutter. Next, add cumin seeds, methi seeds, dried red chili, hing, curry leaves, and garlic. Saute for a few seconds (step 2).
Add the onion and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sambhar powder, and salt (steps 3 and 4).
Mix well and saute for 2-3 minutes. Next, add the toor dal (split pigeon peas) and vegetables (steps 5 and 6).
Add 6 cups of water and give it a good mix. Secure the lid and set the Instant Pot to pressure cook mode on high pressure for 8 minutes (steps 7 and 8).
Do a natural pressure release for 10 minutes, then do a quick release and open the Instant Pot lid. Set the Instant Pot to saute mode and add the tamarind extract (tamarind water) and jaggery (steps 9 and 10).
Adjust salt and spices as needed. Also, adjust the consistency as needed. Simmer for 4-5 minutes. Cancel saute mode and add one tablespoon of ghee and coriander leaves (steps 11 and 12).
Piping hot Instant Pot sambar is ready to be served.
Traditionally, this South Indian stew is mostly made using tuvar dal. However, you can use masoor dal (red lentils), moong dal (yellow lentils), or a mix of dals to make it. Adjust the cooking time accordingly.
It is important to add the tamarind after pressure cooking the dal as the tamarind may prevent the dal from fully cooking.
Adjust the amount of spice powder as per your preference. In this recipe, I have used 2 tablespoons of masala for a medium spicy level.
Don't skip the jaggery as it helps balance the spicy and tangy flavor. You can replace it with sugar.
This dish can be stored in the refrigerator for 4-5 days in an airtight container. It also freezes well and can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
You may also like these Instant Pot recipes:
Serve it for lunch or dinner along with these dishes for a complete meal:
- Sona Masoori Rice (Instant Pot + Stovetop)10 Minutes
- EASY and Perfect Basmati Rice in Instant Pot20 Minutes
- Perfectly Cooked Red Rice in Instant Pot30 Minutes
- Beans Palya / Beans Poriyal (South Indian Green Beans)30 Minutes
- Chayote Squash Curry in Instant Pot (Seemebadnekai Palya)30 Minutes
- Instant Pot Beetroot Palya (Dry Curry)20 Minutes
Serve it as a side dish with these South Indian recipes for breakfast:
Firstly, the spices used in both masala powders are different. Rasam is thin and runny, and usually made using tomatoes as the only vegetable; whereas sambar has a good proportion of dal and is made using a variety of vegetables. Rasam is also more tangy and spicy.
It is usually served with plain steamed rice along with any vegetable side dish.
Yes. It freezes well and can be stored for up to three months. Cool it to room temperature and place it in a freezer-safe container immediately to freeze.
This Instant Pot sambar is:
- healthy, wholesome, and delicious,
- easily made vegan by replacing ghee with coconut oil,
- one-pot dish ready in under 30 minutes.
If you like my recipe, please don't forget to leave a 5-star rating and comment below!
Instant Pot Vegetable Sambar / South Indian Lentil Stew
- 1½ cups toor dal
- 3 cups mixed vegetables (I used carrot, beans, and eggplant)
- 1 medium onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 2 tablespoon sambar powder
- 1½-2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon tamarind see notes
- 2 teaspoon jaggery
- 6½ cups water divided
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- 2 tablespoon cilantro
- Take the tamarind in a small bowl and add ½ cup hot water. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Extract the tamarind pulp and discard the fiber and seeds.
- Chop the veggies into big pieces and set them aside. Roughly chop the onion, garlic, and tomatoes.
- Set the Instant Pot in saute mode and add two tablespoons of ghee. Once it heats, add mustard seeds and let them splutter.
- Next, add cumin seeds, methi seeds, dried red chili, hing, and curry leaves. Saute for a few seconds.
- Add the onion and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, sambar powder, and salt. Mix well and saute for 2-3 minutes.
- Next, add the toor dal, vegetables, and 6 cups of water. Give it a good mix.
- Secure the lid and set the Instant Pot to pressure cook mode for 8 minutes.
- Do a natural pressure release for 10 minutes, then do a quick release and open the Instant Pot lid.
- Set the Instant Pot to saute mode and add the tamarind extract and jaggery. Adjust salt and spices as needed. Also, adjust the consistency as needed. Simmer for 4-5 minutes.
- Cancel saute mode and add one tablespoon of ghee and cilantro.
- Serve hot with rice, idli, or dosa.