Sambar powder is a flavorful spice blend commonly used in South Indian cuisine, particularly in the preparation of sambar, a popular lentil-based vegetable stew. It is a key ingredient that gives sambar its distinctive taste and aroma. The spices are typically dry-roasted to enhance their flavors and then ground into a fine powder. This powder is added to the sambar during the cooking process, infusing the stew with its characteristic flavors and heat.
Why will you love this sambar powder recipe?
- A balanced blend of spices: This sambar powder recipe is carefully crafted with a combination of spices that imparts a rich and complex flavor to the dish. The blend of spices adds depth, warmth, and a balance of heat, tanginess, and earthiness.
- Convenience: While making sambar powder from scratch involves roasting and grinding the spices, once prepared, it can be stored for an extended period. This makes it a convenient pantry staple, readily available to enhance the flavor of your dishes.
- Aromatic profile: The combination of spices in sambar powder creates a delightful aroma that is a hallmark of South Indian cuisine. The roasted spices release their essential oils during the grinding process, enhancing the fragrance of the powder and infusing it into the dish.
- Freshly roasted and ground spices: The process of dry roasting the spices before grinding them is essential for developing the flavors. Freshly roasted and ground spices impart a more intense and aromatic taste to the rasam powder.
- Versatility: While sambar powder is traditionally used in sambar, it can also be employed in a wide range of other dishes. It adds depth and complexity to vegetable curries, lentil dishes, rice preparations, and even non-vegetarian dishes. Its versatility allows you to experiment and explore different culinary creations.
What is sambar?
Sambar is a South-Indian style dal made with toor dal (pigeon pea), tamarind, and an aromatic spice blend known as sambar powder. Sambar (also called 'huli' in Kannada) is a staple in most South Indian kitchens and is an integral part of delicious South Indian foods.
This popular South Indian lentil stew can be made either using a single vegetable or a mix of certain types of vegetables. Radish, drumstick, eggplant, green leafy vegetables, summer squash, and pumpkin are a few to name. Sambar is served both with rice as a part of lunch/dinner and with idli or dosa as a part of breakfast.
What is sambar powder?
What sets sambar apart from a regular dal is the unique spice blend of freshly ground masalas, known as sambar powder (or huli pudi in Kannada) that is added while making sambar. Making their own sambar powder is a common practice in most South Indian homes and we South Indians seldom buy it. The spices are roasted at home and these roasted spices are taken to a flour mill to be ground into a fine powder.
The way this aromatic sambar powder is made varies from state to state in South India. Not just within states, there are different versions of sambar powders in different regions of a state. Let us not forget that every household has its own favorite version. The recipes are passed down from generation to generation. This is my version of sambar powder, passed down to me. I can classify it as Karnatak-style (state) or Mysore-style (region) but is our family favorite.
Readymade sambar powder is easily available these days; however, making it at home is a simple task and a small jar of homemade powder will last for over a month. The taste of sambar made using fresh homemade masalas is so much better than store-bought masalas. Even though the main ingredients used to make sambar podi are the same, they are subtly different in quantities. Also, some versions call for adding an assortment of spices like cinnamon or cloves; some have coconut in them and some don't - here is my version of homemade sambar masala powder.
Also, check out this recipe to make Mysore rasam powder at home.
Chana dal: Although chana dal or split Bengal gram is a lentil, it is used in several spice mixes in south India. It is closely related to the chickpea family and is used in making tempering for various South Indian dishes
Urad dal: Urad dal or black lentils is also used in south Indian spice blends, despite being a lentil. It is used alongside chana dal for making temperings for various South Indian dishes.
Coriander seeds: Coriander seeds are the dried fruit of the coriander plant. While fresh coriander leaves are used as a garnish in most Indian dishes, the seeds are used as a spice.
Curry leaves: Curry leaves are an aromatic herb that is an essential part of South Indian dishes and is added in temperings. They are dry-roasted and used in spice blends. They are also infused with coconut oil and used as a hair product.
Dried red chili: Dried red chili is ripe chilies that are sun-dried and stored. Usually, in my spice blends, I use two varieties of dried red chili – one mild and adds a bright red color (either Byadagi chili or Kashmiri chillies) and the other hot chili (Guntur chili). Both these dry red chilies are named after the places they are grown in.
Coconut: Coconut is an integral part of any South Indian kitchen and both fresh and dried forms are used extensively. Dried coconut is added along with spice blends which adds a nice nutty flavor to the dish it is being used in.
Cumin seeds: Cumin seeds are dried seeds of the herb Cuminum cyminum, which belongs to the parsley family.
Fenugreek seeds: Fenugreek is used as both herb and spice. Fresh fenugreek leaves are used as a herb and the fenugreek seeds are used as a dried spice. Here, I use fenugreek seeds. They have a slightly bitter and pungent taste.
Asafoetida: Asafoetida or hing is one of the lesser-known spices in Indian cooking. It is the dried gum extracted from giant fennel plants. Hing is an age-old medicine used for healing stomach problems including bloating, indigestion, and gas.
Turmeric: Turmeric is one of the most commonly used spices in Indian cooking. Turmeric root is used both in fresh and dried forms. These days, turmeric is easily available in powdered form. Traditionally, dried turmeric sticks are used but since they are not easily available here, I use turmeric powder.
Step 1: Heat a pan and dry roast channa dal and urad dal until it is golden, taking care not to burn them. Transfer the roasted lentils to a plate or wide pan (images 1 and 2).
Step 2: Add coriander seeds to the same pan and dry roast them until they are aromatic. Next, take the curry leaves in the same pan and fry them until they are crispy and dry (images 3 and 4).
Step 3: Take both varieties of dry red chili peppers (mild and spicy) and roast them until they puff up and are crispy. Transfer them along with the rest of the ingredients (image 5). Fry the methi seeds for about a minute and set them aside (image 6).
Step 4: Dry roast cumin seeds until they are aromatic. Add hing and turmeric to it and fry for a few seconds (not more than 10 seconds). Set everything aside (image 7).
Step 5: Turn off the heat. Add the coconut and fry for a few seconds. Coconut can burn very easily so take care to dry-roast with the gas turned off. Transfer it along with the rest of the ingredients (image 8).
Step 6: Let all the roasted ingredients cool down completely (image 9).
Step 7: Grind the roasted spices into a fine powder using a spice grinder or mixie (image 10).
Do all the dry roasting on low flame. Heat the frying pan initially and then turn the flame to low before you start dry-roasting.
It is important to dry-roast the chana dal and urad dal well, taking care it does not burn. Both the dal have to be roasted until they are lightly golden. This is the most time-consuming part of roasting. The rest of the ingredients will be done very quickly.
After adding hing and turmeric powder, mix only for a few seconds (not more than 10 seconds). If not, it will burn.
Make sure the roasted whole spices are cooled completely and are at room temperature before grinding.
Dry coconut tends to burn very quickly so dry roast it with the flame turned off. It only needs to be heated up for a few seconds before grinding
Sambhar podi stays fresh when stored in an airtight container in a refrigerator. In fact, I prefer to store all my spice blends in either the refrigerator or the freezer as they stay fresh for a long time. They can be used straight from both the fridge and the freezer.
Always use a clean and dry spoon when handling the spice powders. Any moisture content will reduce the shelf life of the spice powder.
Some recipes call for using peppercorns and black mustard seeds. However, I don't use them in my version.
This sambar masala recipe here gives me 400 grams of sambhar powder. You may choose to half or double the recipe as per your need.
You can also use this sambar powder to make horse gram sambar.
How to store sambar powder?
To maintain the freshness and flavor of sambar powder, proper storage is crucial. Here are some tips on how to store sambhar powder:
- Use an airtight container: Transfer the sambar podi to an airtight container or jar. This helps to prevent moisture, air, and external odors from entering the container and affecting its quality.
- Store in a cool, dry place: Find a cool and dry spot in your kitchen or pantry to store the sambar powder. Avoid areas near the stove, oven, or any source of heat, as exposure to heat can lead to flavor loss and degradation of the spices.
- Protect from sunlight: Sunlight can cause the spices to lose their potency and flavor over time. Keep the container away from direct sunlight by placing it inside a cupboard.
- Avoid moisture: Moisture can cause this spice powder to clump and spoil. Make sure the container and the spices are completely dry before storing. Also, avoid using wet spoons or hands when handling the powder to prevent moisture from entering the container.
Storing sambar powder in the fridge or freezer can help extend its shelf life and maintain its freshness for an even longer period. Here's how you can store it in the fridge or freezer:
Refrigerator storage: Place the sambar powder in an airtight container or zip-lock bag. Ensure that the container is tightly sealed to prevent moisture and odors from entering. Then, store it in the refrigerator. It can be stored for 8-12 months in the refrigerator.
Freezer storage: Similar to fridge storage, transfer the sambhar powder into an airtight container or zip-lock bag, ensuring proper sealing. Place the container in the freezer. The freezing temperature will help maintain the freshness and potency of the spices for an extended period. Sambar podi stored in the freezer can last for up to 1-2 years.
Usage: Sambar podi can be used straight from the refrigerator or freezer without the need for thawing. A well-stored spice powder will not get clumpy or stick together so it can be used as usual in your recipes.
It is a unique blend of spices that are roasted and ground into a fine powder. This powder is used to make South Indian-style lentil and vegetable stew called sambar. There are many regional variations to this recipe and
This spice mix stays fresh when stored in an air-tight container in a refrigerator. You can make a big batch of this sambar powder and store it in the fridge or freezer. They can be used straight from both the fridge and the freezer.
No. Both these spice blends use different types of spices. While sambar masala is used to make lentil stew, curry powder is seldom used in traditional Indian cooking.
While some spices are common between rasam powder and sambar powder, there are some differences in key ingredients. The most important difference is the texture. Rasam powder has to be ground into a very fine and smooth powder whereas sambar powder can be fine to slightly coarse. In terms of ingredients, chana dal (Bengal gram) and urad dal (black gram) are used in making sambar powder whereas rasam powder does not have any dal in it. Black peppercorns is a key ingredient in rasam powder whereas pepper corns are not used in sambar powder.
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Homemade Sambar Powder
- ½ cup chana dal (Bengal gram)
- ½ cup urad dal (black gram)
- 1 cup coriander seeds dhaniya
- 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds methi/menthya
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds jeera
- 1 cup Byadagi red chili mildly spiced dried red chili
- ½ cup Guntur chili hot dried red chili
- ½ cup curry leaves
- 1 cup coconut dried
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon asafoetida hing
- Heat a pan and dry roast chana dal until it is golden, taking care not to burn it. Set it aside.
- Next, add urad dal and dry roast it until it is golden. Set it aside along with chana dal.
- Add coriander seeds to the same pan and dry roast them until they are aromatic. Set it aside.
- Now, dry roast curry leaves until they are dried and crispy. Set them aside.
- Add both varieties of dried chili (Byadagi and Guntur) and roast them until they are crispy and puff up. Set them aside.
- Dry roast fenugreek seeds until they are golden brown. Add it to the rest of the ingredients.
- Dry roast cumin seeds until they are aromatic. Add hing and turmeric to it and fry for a few seconds (not more than 10 seconds). Set everything aside.
- Turn off the heat. Add the coconut and fry for a few seconds. Coconut can burn very easily so take care to dry-roast with the gas turned off. Transfer it along with the rest of the ingredients.
- Let all the ingredients cool down completely.
- Grind into a fine powder using a spice grinder or mixie.
- Store in a dry and clean air-tight container.
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