Recipe: South Indian Okra Sambar Stew

Troy MacLarty makes an Indian-spiced okra stew

Sambar is a South Indian staple with a lentil and okra base that's hit with tamarind at the end for a tangy finish. It's worth the effort of toasting and grinding the blend of spices for the masala. Dry curry leaves can be substituted for fresh leaves.

Before roasting the okra, remove the stems but keep enough skin on so the seeds aren't exposed.

To learn more, read "Quick vs. Slow: Okra Edition."

Recipe adapted from Troy MacLarty, Bollywood Theater, Portland, OR

Okra Sambar
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Learn to make sambar, a South Indian lentil and okra stew with a sour finish.
Prep Time
Cook Time
to 6 servings
Total time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
  • For the Sambar Masala
  • 6 fresh curry leaves
  • 7 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1¼ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1¼ teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 1¼ teaspoons fenugreek seeds
  • ½ teaspoon poppy seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon chana dal
  • ½ teaspoon toor dal
  • ½ teaspoon canola oil
  • ½ cup dried red chiles, crushed
  • For the Okra Sambar
  • 1 cup toor dal
  • 8 cups water, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup finely diced carrots
  • 2 cups finely diced red onion
  • 3 cups whole okra, stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
  • 12 curry leaves
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons asafoetida
  • 1½ teaspoons fenugreek seeds
  • 2 to 4 serrano peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2½ tablespoons sambar masala
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons tamarind purée
  • ½ cup canned crushed tomatoes
  1. Make the sambar masala: In a large sauté pan over low heat, toast the curry leaves, coriander, cumin, black pepper, black mustard, fenugreek seeds, poppy seeds, ground turmeric and ground cinnamon until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool. Return the pan to low heat and toast the chana dal and toor dal until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add to the bowl of spices. Return the pan to low heat, add the oil and chiles, and cook until they brown and develop a nutty aroma, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Do not burn. Transfer to the bowl of spices and cool completely. Working in batches, finely ground the mixture in a coffee grinder or food processor. Makes ½ cup.
  2. Make the okra sambar: Preheat the oven to 375°. Rinse the dal under cool water until the water runs clear, then drain. In a medium saucepan, combine the dal with 4 cups of the water and ½ teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook with the lid slightly ajar at a slow, bubbling simmer until the lentils are tender and creamy, 30 to 45 minutes. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water if the pan looks dry.
  3. While the dal is cooking, roast the vegetables: Separately, toss the carrots, red onions and okra each with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon of the canola oil to lightly coat. Spread onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and roast until lightly browned and tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside.
  4. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the remaining 1½ teaspoons of the canola oil. Add the curry leaves, black mustard seeds, cumin, asafoetida and fenugreek, and sauté until the spices are toasted and the curry leaves are crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the serrano chiles, turmeric and sambar masala, and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the remaining 4 cups of water and the roasted onions, and bring to a simmer. Add the toor dal and simmer to allow the flavors to meld, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the roasted carrots, okra, tamarind purée and crushed tomatoes, and cook another 5 to 10 minutes. Adjust the texture of soup with water if needed and adjust seasoning with salt and tamarind purée before serving.
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