Root Vegetable Sambhar


Soup season is here!  In these winter months nothing is so satisfying as a warm, nourishing soup to heat you from the inside out.   Winter is also a great timealllll to incorporate root vegetables into your diet as they are hearty and full of nutrients to keep you in tip top shape.  I chose to add beets to the Sambhar because of their rich, earthy flavor and powerful detoxifying properties which help offset the booze guzzling that tends to go along with keeping warm during wintertime.  This Sambhar soup may seem complicated but it actually comes together pretty easily and can also be made in the crock pot* so you can have it ready and waiting for you when you get home from the cold, gray snow grind.

Sambhar is a South Indian stew traditionally served with dosas, idlis, and utthapams as a condiment-like stew alongside a coconut chutney.  The key is in the spice mix which you can buy from Asian markets, online, or make yourself (recipe below).  Unfortunately, Duluth, MN is completely void of an Asian market and some of the ingredients are difficult to come by.  But we do what we can and I have included substitutions for the rarer ingredients.  If you would like to have a more authentic flavor I recommend ordering exotic spices online or stocking up at Asian markets whenever you venture out into the modern world.   As far as this recipe goes, you should be able to make due with the substitutions provided.


(6-8 servings)

  • 1 cup split and skinned toor dal OR red lentils**, rinsed

  • 1 medium potato – peeled and diced

  • 10 cups of boiling water

  • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste

  • 1 medium yellow onion – diced

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic – minced

  • 5 cups of your choice of vegetables.  Beets, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, parsnips, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, tomatoes – whatever you like – diced or sliced into bite size pieces.

  • 2 heaping teaspoons Sambhar Masala spice powder.  Purchased or home-made (see recipe below)

  • 1 tablespoon oil – canola, sunflower, or peanut work well here.

  • 1 teaspoon asafetida (aka hing) powder – optional but worth locating because of its funky flavor

  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds – yellow is also fine

  • 5-8 whole dried chiles – roughly chopped or broken

  • 8-10 fresh or 12-15 dried curry leaves (Duluth: available at Whole Foods Co-op in bulk spice section)

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne

  • 3 teaspoons coarse sea salt


This recipe has been adapted from Anupy Singla’s book Vegan Indian Cooking and I have altered to accommodate for the unfortunate lack of Asian food markets in Duluth, MN.  If you live anywhere else in the world or have access to these lentils, substitute 1/4 cup chana dal, 1 tablespoon urad dal, and 1 tablespoon moong dal for the yellow split peas.  Also if you can locate 1 tablespoon of white poppy seeds to add to the mix you will be so authentic.

  • 1/3 cup chana dal OR yellow split peas

  • 1/2 cup coriander seeds

  • 1/2 cup dried red chiles broken into pieces

  • 1/2 cup firmly packed fresh/frozen curry leaves OR 3/4 cup dried.

  • 1 heaping tablespoon cumin seeds

  • 1 heaping tablespoon black mustard seeds

  • 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds

  • 2 3″ cinnamon sticks – broken into pieces

  • 20 whole black peppercorns

  • 3 tablespoons turmeric powder

  • 2 teaspoons asafetida (hing) powder (if available)


  1. Heat a shallow, heavy pan (like a cast iron skillet) over medium heat.

  2. Add all ingredients in order except turmeric and asafetida.

  3. Dry roast the spices while shaking/stirring the pan frequently to prevent burning.  Cook until the lentils brown and the spices smell aromatic (about 5-7 minutes).

  4. Transfer the mixture to plate or bowl and allow to cool completely.

  5. Add the cooled mixture along with the turmeric and asafetida to a spice grinder or powerful blender like a Vitamix.  A coffee grinder also works well here but you will have to grind it in batches.

 Now…… for the soup!



  1. Place the lentils and potato in a large stockpot and cover with 9 cups of boiling water and place on high heat.

  2. Bring the pot to a boil and reduce heat to medium low and simmer until the potatoes are just tender – 15-20 min.

  3. Meanwhile, mix the tamarind paste with 1 cup boiled water in a measuring cup or small bowl and set aside.

  4. After the lentils and potatoes are cooked, turn heat to medium high and add the onion, garlic and 5 cups of vegetables and cook for 20 minutes.

  5. Add the tamarind and water mixture and cook for another 10 minutes.

  6. For the Tarka,*** In a separate, small pan heat the oil over medium high heat.  Add the asafetida and mustard seeds and cook stirring frequently until the mustard seeds begin to pop.


  7. Place a lid on the pan as soon as they start popping to protect yourself and add the red chiles and curry leaves.

  8. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring frequently DO NOT BURN

  9. Drizzle the Tarka over the soup.

  10. Mix in the red chile powder and salt.  Taste and adjust for seasonings and serve warm by itself, over basmati rice, or with your favorite Indian flatbread.



*For Crock Pot: Place lentils, potatoes, vegetables, and dried chiles into the crock pot and cook on high overnight – about 8 hours.  Once vegetables and lentils are thoroughly cooked, add the tamarind, sambhar spice, and salt and cook for another hour.  Next prepare the Tarka as per instructions above and drizzle over the soup and Voila!
**You can use any kind of cooked bean or lentil and add them after cooking the potato.
***Tarka (aka chownnk or baghar) is an Indian cooking method that involves flash frying spices in oil to extract and intensify their flavors in the dish.  It is done either at the beginning or end of the cooking process.  Pouring the hot, seasoned oil over the dish essentially sears the flavor into the finished product and adds that extra va-va-voom notorious in Indian cuisine.