How to Cook Onion Sambar: A Step-by-Step Guide with Tips and Tricks

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Onion Sambar Recipe

Onion sambar is not just any ordinary lentil-based stew. It is a soulful dish that brings together the flavors of freshly chopped onions, roasted spices, and homemade sambar powder to create a truly unique taste experience. This South Indian specialty is known for its delicate balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy flavors that perfectly complement the nuttiness of the toor dal. But what makes onion sambar truly special is the addition of fresh vegetables like drumsticks or carrots, which add a burst of color and nutrition to the dish. So, if you’re looking for a comforting and wholesome meal, this onion sambar recipe is just what you need. With easy-to-follow instructions and helpful tips, you can recreate the authentic taste of South India in your own kitchen.

Onion Sambar
Onion Sambar


  • 1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas)
  • 2 medium-sized onions, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 2-3 green chilies, slit lengthwise
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • A pinch of asafoetida (hing)
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp sambar powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Few curry leaves
  • Coriander leaves for garnishing

Method to Cook:

  1. Rinse 1 cup of toor dal (pigeon peas) under running water until the water runs clear. Soak the dal in enough water for 30 minutes.
  2. Drain the water and transfer the dal to a pressure cooker. Add 2.5 cups of water, 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder, and a few drops of oil. Pressure cook on high heat for 5-6 whistles or until the dal is soft and well cooked. Set aside.
  3. In a pan, heat 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add 1 tsp of mustard seeds and let them crackle.
  4. Add 1 tsp of cumin seeds and a pinch of asafoetida (hing). Stir for a few seconds until fragrant.
  5. Add 1 large chopped onion, 10-12 curry leaves, and 2 chopped green chilies. Sauté until the onions turn translucent and slightly golden brown.
  6. Add 2 chopped tomatoes and cook until they turn soft and mushy.
  7. Add 2 tbsp of sambar powder and mix well. Cook for a minute or until the raw smell disappears.
  8. Add the cooked toor dal to the pan and mix well. Add salt to taste and adjust the consistency of the sambar by adding water if needed. Let it boil for 5-6 minutes over medium heat.
  9. Turn off the heat and garnish with freshly chopped coriander leaves.
  10. Serve hot with steamed rice or idli/dosa.


  • Soaking the dal before cooking can help reduce the cooking time and make it easier to digest.
  • Adding a few drops of oil while cooking dal can help prevent it from foaming and overflowing from the pressure cooker.
  • Use homemade or store-bought sambar powder to save time and effort.
  • Adjust the amount of water according to the desired consistency of the sambar.
  • Adding a pinch of sugar can help balance the tanginess of the tomatoes and tamarind.
  • For a more flavorful sambar, you can also add vegetables like drumsticks, carrots, brinjal, or pumpkin.

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