Palak sambar, a delicious South Indian stew made with spinach and lentils, is a flavor explosion in your mouth. The tangy tamarind and the aromatic sambar powder come together to create a dish that is both satisfying and comforting.
This simple recipe is perfect for busy weeknights or when you are short on time. You can also make sambar in an Instant Pot. Serve it with hot rice or idli and enjoy the hearty and delicious taste of South India.
Being a South Indian, sambar has always been a staple in everyday meals, and palak sambar has always been a comfort food for me. My mom would make palak at least once a week, and every time I make it, it reminds me of home.
Why you will love this recipe?
- Aromatic and balanced flavors: The combination of spices used in sambar powder, along with the tempering, imparts a delightful aroma and flavor to Palak Sambar.
- Comfort food: Sambar, in general, is often considered a comfort food in South India. It's a warm and comforting dish perfect for any meal, whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Spinach/Palak: This sambar can be made with any green leafy vegetables, like menthe (methi/fenugreek), sabbasige (dill), or dantu/harive (amaranth) - or a mix of any green leafy vegetables. Here, I am using fresh spinach/palak. You can also replace it with frozen spinach leaves.
Toor dal: Sambar is made with toor dal/pigeon pea.
Sambar powder: I am using homemade sambar powder.
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Step 1: Take toor dal, chopped palak, brown chickpeas, onion, garlic, and tomato in a stovetop pressure cooker (images 1 and 2). Add three cups of water and pressure cook for three whistles. Transfer the cooked dal to a pot (image 3).
Step 2: Grind sambar powder and coconut into a smooth paste with some water (image 4).
Step 3: Add the ground paste, tamarind extract, jaggery, and salt to the cooked dal. Add some water to adjust the consistency and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes (images 5 and 6).
Step 4: In a small pan, heat ghee and add mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds splutter, add cumin seeds, dry red chili, hing, and curry leaves. Saute for a few seconds (image 7). Pour this tempering onto the sambar and mix well (image 8).
Traditionally, this South Indian stew is mostly made using tuvar dal (pigeon pea lentils). 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.
Don't skip the jaggery, as it helps balance the spicy and tangy flavor. You can replace it with sugar.
I make spinach sambar all year round, and when fresh spinach is not in season, I replace it with frozen spinach. You can use frozen spinach directly without defrosting, making it a quick and convenient option.
As a soup: Palak sambar can also be enjoyed as a soup on its own. It is a healthy and nutritious option for a light lunch or dinner.
To store spinach sambar, allow it to cool to room temperature, then transfer it to an airtight container. Refrigerate it for up to 4-5 days. If you plan to keep it longer, you can freeze it in portions for up to 2-3 months. Reheat gently on the stovetop or in the microwave, adding a little water if needed to adjust the consistency before serving.
The spices used in both masala powders are different. Rasam is thin and runny and is 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.
Yes, absolutely. Frozen spinach works in a pinch for this dish. Just add it with the dal and other ingredients and pressure cook as per this recipe.
More lentils recipes
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- Pressure cooker
For the sambar:
- 1 big bunch spinach
- 2 tablespoon sambar powder (use store-bought or homemade sambar powder)
- 1 cup toor dal (pigeon pea lentil)
- ½ cup kala chana brown chickpea
- 1 small onion (roughly chopped)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 small tomato (roughly chopped)
- 2 tablespoon coconut (fresh, grated)
- 2 tablespoon tamarind
- 1 tablespoon jaggery
- 1-1½ teaspoon salt (adjust as per taste)
- Soak brown chickpea in water for 1-2 hours.
- Soak tamarind in ½ cup water for 15-20 minutes. Extract tamarind water and discard the pulp. Set aside.
- Wash and clean the spinach. Roughly chop it. Pick and wash the toor dal well.
- Grind sambar powder and coconut into a smooth paste with some water. Set aside.
Make the sambar:
- Take toor dal, chopped palak, brown chickpeas, onion, garlic, and tomato in a stovetop pressure cooker. Add three cups of water and pressure cook for three whistles.If you use an Instant Pot, pressure cook it on high for 8 minutes, then do a natural pressure release for 10 minutes.
- Add the ground paste, tamarind extract, jaggery, and salt to the cooked dal. Add some water to adjust the consistency and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- In a small pan, heat ghee and add mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds splutter, add cumin seeds, dry red chili, hing, and curry leaves. Saute for a few seconds.
- Pour this tempering onto the sambar. Mix well and serve with rice.