September 7, 2014

Sambar Using Store Bought Sambar Powder — Happy Onam!

Happy Onam.

Onam brings fond memories.  

Memories of draping in traditional gold-bordered settu mundu, wearing jimikki earrings with strings of fresh jasmine flower adorning the hair, creating pookkalam—the colorful and intricate arrangement of fresh flowers on the floor—with friends, clapping and moving around in a group to the tune of thiruvathira song, and, enjoying the elaborate and most exquisite vegetarian feast, sadya.

The harvest festival of Onam—the most important festival in Kerala—celebrates the mythical homecoming of King Mahabali, the legendary king who reigned the state in the golden era. Per legend, he visits his subjects every year, and Keralites celebrate it with pomp and great frevor. Onam also signals the end of monsoon seaon.

As non-resident Indians living 2000 miles away from homeland, our Onam celebration is confined to enjoying sadya, the lavish vegetarian spread, on Thiruvonam, the last day of the 10 day long Onam festivities.

Sambar, the tamarind soured South Indian lentil stew exuding aromas of funky asafetida, toasted mustard seeds and peppery curry leaves, and brimming with the goodness of mixed vegetables, is one of the main kootan, aka curry, in the sadya.

In the south Indian states of India, sambar is a daily meal. Idlis, dosas, or a bowl of rice drenched in piping hot sambar and eaten with the fingers of the right hand, following Indian tradition, is a common sight in the vegetarian households.

The key ingredient in sambar is the sambar powder, a custom blend of freshly toasted and finely ground fragrant spices like dried red chili, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, channa dal, curry leaves, and other aromatics. The layering and complexity of flavors achieved by making sambar powder entirely from the scratch yields a far superior flavor to the curry.  Have you checked out my sambar recipe from homemade masala?

That said, I have a confession to make. Often times I reach out for the pre-made powder from the stock in my pantry—yes, I stock my spice rack with store-bough sambar powder. I do! Especially for those days when I need a quick fix curry with no time for measuring, roasting and grinding. That is when the readymade powder comes to my rescue. 

My favorite store bought brand is Eastern Brahmin Sambar Powder. Mind you, not the regular Eastern sambar mix, but the Eastern brahmin one. It makes a very tasty sambar curry, and the delicious aroma permeating the house is enough to whet the appetite.

Use any combination of vegetables such as potato, carrot, drumstick, yam, plantain, Indian cucumber to okra.

Sambar Using Store Bought Sambar Powder

Prep+cooking: about 30 min

½ cup split yellow lentils (toor dal), rinsed
Water, as needed (follow recepie)
Salt, enough to taste
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon oil
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
3 ½ cups mixed vegetable chunks
15 fresh curry leaves, divided
3 green chilies, slit into half lengthwise
3 okra, trimmed and halved
1 medium tomato, chopped into chunks
3 tablespoons sambar masala powder, I used Eastern Brahmin Sambar Powder
3 teaspoons tamarind paste
½ teaspoon asafetida powder (hing)
½ teaspoon jaggery (optional)
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
5 dry red chilies, broken into halves
6 small shallots, peeled


Rinse dal thoroughly. Soak in 1 cup water for 15 minutes and drain. Pressure cook dal by adding 1 ¾ cup water, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon oil and ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder. Cook for 5 minute at full pressure (cooker whistles when it reaches full operating pressure), or until dal is tender. Remove from heat and allow cooker to cool. Once cool, open and mash the dal using a whisk.

To dal add chopped veggies (except okra) with 2 cups water, green chilies, salt and a few torn curry leaves, and cook until veggies are half done. Now add okra and tomatoes and cook until vegetables are just tender and have a nice bite—take care not to overcook or the vegetables will turn mushy. 

Dilute the tamarind paste and sambar powder in ½ a cup of water and stir into the stew. Stir in hing and jaggery, if using, and simmer everything together for a few minutes. Taste and season as needed. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they pop. Stir in the remaining curry leaves and dry red chili, followed by shallots. Reduce heat and fry until shallots are a bit soft. Spoon over sambar.

Serve with rice on the side, or dosas and idlis. 

Wishing all Keralites a happy and prosperous Onam!

Until next time, have a great end of summer ....x


  1. oh! a big fan of eastern sambar powder..

  2. Happy Onam Nashi. The Sambhar looks tempting. I resort to the store-bought powder too...

  3. You have a beautiful space and nice visual treats for the readers!! Nice to meet you.

  4. My favourite meal for a Sunday lunch with dosas....yum. Your blog has some great recipes that I have tried. Keep up the good work.

  5. ur pics make even the humble sambar look grand... how have you been, Nashi? Hope u had a wonderful Onam...

  6. Either it's your gorgeous picture or your cooking...the sambar looks goodness. I am drooling. Where do I find that sambar powder online? I live in the US unfortunately.

  7. You have a nice space here. Keep rocking :)


A million thank you's for stopping by, taking the time to connect, and coming back to visit again. I genuinely appreciate each of your kind thoughts, lovely words, love and support. Happy, happy to hear from you, and hope to see you again!

♥ Nashi