Sambar rice

Sambar rice / Sambar sadam is a very popular one pot rice dish in Tamil Nadu. This vegetarian delicacy is cooked with rice, dal and vegetables all mixed together to make a unique combination with a special roasted sambar masala/powder. Sambar rice is a famous lunch dish around India. It is served during lunchtime and is prepared for lunch boxes to work or travel as no side dish required. Sambar rice, prepared mildly, is a popular packed lunch for kids as it is packed with nutrients.

The recipe is very similar to Bisi bele bath (Rice dish) from Karnataka. This recipe may not be authentic as I have prepared two freshly roasted dry masala powders to give more flavour and maximum taste. The vegetables that you can add are carrots, beans, orange pumpkin, drumsticks, raw banana, peas, potatoes, brinjals and capsicum (any colour). Try to avoid vegetables like okra because of its slimy texture.

I usually serve sambar rice with papad and onion raitha. You can serve with crisps or with a side of fried potato.

Preparation time: 15 mins (excluding soaking time)

Cooking time: 45 mins

Cuisine: South Indian

Spiciness: Medium

Serves: 4


    Tamarind paste

  • Dry tamarind – small lemon size
  • Water – 1 cup
  • Rice

  • Rice - 3/4 cup
  • Water - 2 1/2 to 3 cups
  • Lentils or dal

  • Toor dal (red gram) - 1/2 cup
  • Water - 2 1/2 cups
  • Vegetables

  • Bell pepper - 1
  • Carrot - 1
  • Brinjal - 1
  • Peas - 1/3 cup
  • Beans - 1/4 cup
  • Drumstick - 1
  • Potato - 1
  • Dry masala (1)

  • Oil - 2 tsp
  • Coriander seeds - 1 tbsp
  • Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
  • Fennel seeds - 1 tsp
  • Black pepper seeds - 1/2 tsp
  • Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
  • Chana dal (Bengal gram) - 1 tsp
  • Curry leaves (optional) - 10
  • Cloves - 5
  • Cinnamon stick (1/2 inch size) - 2
  • Green cardamom - 4
  • Grated coconut - 4 tbsp
  • Hing – 1/4 tsp
  • Kashmir chillies – 5
  • Dry masala (2)

  • Roasted chana (putanae) - 2 tbsp
  • Poppy seeds (khus–khus) - 1 tsp
  • Raw rice - 2 tsp
  • Grated fresh coconut - 2 tbsp
  • Tadka or tempering

  • Oil - 2 tbsp
  • Mustard - 3/4 tsp
  • Chana dal (optional) – 1/4 tsp
  • Urad dal (optional) – 1/4 tsp
  • Curry leaves - 15
  • Shallots - 1/2 cup
  • Hing - 1/4 tsp
  • Final tadka

  • Ghee - 3 tbsp
  • Mustard seeds (optional) – 1/4 tsp
  • Cashew nuts - 12 to 15
  • Curry leaves (optional) – 10
  • Additional ingredients

  • Water – 1/2 to 1 cup
  • Coriander leaves (chopped) – 1/4 cup


    There are 5 steps to make this special sambar rice.

    a. Cooking the rice and lentil separately (or together)

    b. Roasting and making two separate masala powders

    c. Preparing sambar

    d. Combining with rice and lentil

    e. Tempering with ghee

  • Cut drumsticks into 3 inch size. Chop all the vegetables except shallots and keep them aside.
  • Split the cashew nuts into halves. If you want you can use them whole as well.
  • Soak tamarind in hot water for about 30 mins. Squeeze the pulp (around 1 cup liquid), strain and keep aside.
  • Rinse the rice and dal with water. Soak both in separate bowls for 30 mins.
  • Cooking the rice and lentil

  • Boil lentil/dal with water in a pressure cooker or in a vessel until soft and mushy. After cooking, mash it well and keep it aside. Do not add salt while boiling dal.
  • Cook the rice also in the same pressure cooker with adequate water (or in a separate vessel). When it is cooked, keep aside. The rice should be over cooked and soft.
  • Alternatively you can boil the rice and the lentils together in a pressure cooker with adequate amount of water (6 cups).
  • Roasting and making masala powders

  • Heat a vessel and add oil. When it gets warm roast coriander seeds, dry chillies, chana dal and other spices one by one for Dry Masala (1). Roast them well. Add hing and grated fresh coconut in the end. You can even roast one by one separately. Roast them on low flame and keep stirring to avoid burning of the spices.
  • Allow to cool and grind to a fine powder. If some of its powder is a little coarse, it’s okay.
  • Take a pan and roast other ingredients for Dry Masala (2). Roast them until the colour changes lightly to golden colour.
  • Grind to a fine powder and keep it aside.
  • Making sambar

  • Heat a big and wide vessel, add oil. When it gets warm, add mustard seeds, dry chillies and other ingredients one by one. Cook for about 30 seconds.
  • Add sambar onions and saute for about 2 minutes.
  • Add all the vegetables except bell peppers and peas, one by one. Roast for about 3 to 4 mins.
  • Add 3 cups of water, 1 cup of tamarind juice (tamarind pulp) and turmeric powder. Mix well. Boil for about 10 mins with closed lid.
  • When the vegetables are almost cooked and the liquid is reduced, add Dry Masala (1) and remaining vegetables. Mix well. You can add another 1/2 cup of water based on the consistency required. Cook with the lid closed and on a medium flame until the spices are cooked well and you get a good aroma of sambar. The sambar should be ready in about 15 mins.
  • Combining the rice, lentil and vegetables

  • When the sambar is ready, add the cooked rice and dal. Mix well.
  • Simmer the flame and let it cook for about 12 to 15 mins until the masala and flavours are well absorbed by the rice.
  • Stir occasionally, so that it does not stick to the bottom and get burnt.
  • If you require more water, add another 1/2 cup. Only add if it is required as we do not want to make it too watery. If you see my Sambar rice, it is soft and watery. The reason sambar rice has to be liquid while cooking is that the rice absorbs all the liquid and it becomes thick and dry when it cools down.
  • At this stage, you can garnish with coriander leaves and drizzle ghee on top of the rice. Serve immediately.
  • For special sambar rice and more flavour, add dry Masala (2) and mix well. Simmer for 10 mins with the lid closed.
  • Now final ghee tempering/tadka

  • Heat a small kadai or vessel and add ghee. When it gets warm, add cashew nuts and curry leaves. Roast well until the cashew nuts are light golden in colour. Switch off.
  • Pour on the sambar rice and mix well. Switch the heat off.
  • Close the lid and let it rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
  • You can put some chopped coriander leaves as well for garnishing.
  • Drizzle some ghee (optional) again on it while serving on plates. I have served the sambar rice with onion raitha and papad.


  • Sometimes I add spinach to make the sambar rice more nutritional.
  • If you want the rice to be whole, then do not overcook the rice.
  • The ratio of rice to lentil can be 2:1. I have even used equal proportions and it works pretty well. So, you can use anywhere between 2:1 to equal proportions.
  • 1 tbsp of gur (jaggery) can be added while adding final ghee tempering/tadka.
  • Add required amount of water according to the consistency you want. The texture should be smooth like porridge.
  • Reduce chillies if you want this to be less hot or if you want to give this to children.
  • If the tamarind you use is dark, then add a little bit more of turmeric powder to get the right colour.
  • If using ready made concentrated tamarind paste, add 1 1/2 to 2 tsp (as per taste). 1 cup of water should be added with it.
  • If you want, you can avoid the additional Dry Masala (2).
  • Use ponni rice or sona masoori rice or parboiled rice. Do not use basmati rice.
  • If you think that the water quantity is more when you mix the rice and dal, do not worry. It will get absorbed in the end. When it gets cold, it becomes dry. Sambar rice has to be semi-liquid and rice has to be very soft - melt in mouth.

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