Authentic piping hot Mixed Vegetable Sambar made in Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker). Sambar is primarily a South Indian delicacy, but because of it’s benefits and taste popular all over India. This recipe is to make the popular South Indian Lentils “Sambar” in an instant pot. It is very easy to make sambar and even easier in an instant pot.
I am a North Indian, but eating sambar with idli (steamed rice cakes) and dosa (rice crepes) has always been my favorite breakfast growing up. I can eat it anytime, for lunch or dinner. Sambar can also be enjoyed as a soup.
Sambar is typically enjoyed with idli, dosa, rice, or menu vada. My family loves idli, dosa, sambar & chutney for breakfast or dinner.
Idli, sambar, and chutney are considered one of India’s healthiest breakfasts. It is rich in carbohydrates and proteins. It is a complete meal that includes lentils, vegetables, and spices.
Ingredients of Sambar
Sambar is mainly a South Indian Lentil Stew. It is made with lentils, vegetables, tamarind and spices.
Dal: I have heard the question frequently about which dal (lentil) to use when making sambar. I make sambar mostly with split pigeon pea (toor or arhar dal), but it can be made with split red lentils (masoor dal) as well. We use the non-oily version of lentils in this recipe.
Sambar Powder: One of the main ingredients of Sambar is sambar powder, which gives it a distinctive taste. I use the MTR brand sambar powder. You can find it easily on Amazon or in your nearby Indian grocery store.
If you don’t have sambar powder, grind these spices to a fine powder –
- 2 whole red chilies
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp whole black peppers
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder.
Tamarind: Another important ingredient of sambar is tamarind paste. You can use a store-bought paste, or you can make it at home. To make tamarind paste, soak about 2 tbsp of seedless tamarind in 1/4 cup water and microwave for 30 seconds. It will become soft enough to use. Some people also like to add jaggery or sugar to their sambar.
Vegetables: Finally, you can add a variety of vegetables when making sambar. I usually add carrots, eggplants, drumsticks, and pumpkins. Other options are pearl onions and okra. You can vary the vegetables you add to Sambar to get a different flavor each time.
Drumsticks: This might be new to many. Drumsticks are the fruits of the moringa tree. I found this article that gives more details. I usually cannot find it fresh at the Indian grocery store, so I buy it frozen. Feel free to skip if you are unable to find them.
Every state in South India, and probably every house, has a different version of Sambar that they enjoy and has been passed down for generations. I will share my family’s favorite sambar recipe here.
How to make Sambar in Instant Pot?
I am preparing Sambar in Instant Pot. However, the same recipe can be followed in a stovetop pressure cooker too.
Start the instant pot in Sauté mode and heat the oil in it. Add mustard, asafoetida, and curry leaves to it.
In about 30 seconds, add the onion and sauté for a couple of minutes. Then add tomatoes, sambar powder, and salt.
Now add the veggies, toor dal, and water. That is it!
Close the instant pot and cook the sambar for 8 minutes under high pressure.
When the instant pot beeps, let the pressure release naturally.
You will notice that all the veggies are cooked well and almost mixed with the lentils.
Add in the tamarind paste to get the tangy flavor. You will definitely taste the difference. Note: We add tamarind at the end, as the tartness of tamarind will hinder the lentils from being cooked properly.
Garnish with cilantro and sambar is ready to be served.
Cooking vegetables pot-in-pot
With the method above of cooking vegetables along with the dal, the vegetables get well cooked and can be mixed together with the lentils. However, if you like your veggies cooked but not completely mushed with the lentils, use this pot-in-pot method to cook the vegetables.
Add the ingredients for sambar, except the veggies in the instant pot steel insert. Then in a steamer basket, add veggies. Close lid and pressure cook the sambar.
After the pressure is released, take the steamer basket out carefully. Now you can whisk the lentils if needed to make the sambar completely smooth. Then add the steamed veggies.
Instant Pot Vegetable Sambar (South Indian Lentils)
- 1 cup Pumpkin, about 120 gms, cut in medium sized pieces
- 1 Carrot, cut into small pieces
- 3 Baby Eggplant, cut into 4 pieces each
- 6 pieces Drumsticks, 2-inch pieces*
- Start the instant pot in sauté mode and heat oil in it. Add all the tempering ingredients.
- When the mustard seeds start to splutter, add the chopped onions and sauté for 2 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, sambar powder and salt. Sauté for another 2 minutes.
- Add all the vegetables, toor dal and water to the instant pot. Change the instant pot setting to manual or pressure cook mode for 8 minutes at high pressure with vent in sealing position. (Note: you can also follow the pot-in-pot method mentioned in notes)
- When the instant pot beeps, let the pressure release naturally. Stir in the tamarind paste. Stir the sambar so it is mixed well.
- Garnish with cilantro and sambar is ready to be served.
Stovetop Pressure Cooker Method
- Follow the same steps as above in a stovetop pressure cooker. Cook on medium-high heat for 3 whistles, then turn off the flame and let the pressure release naturally.
- Stir in the tamarind paste with the sambar so it is mixed well. Garnish with cilantro and serve.