Lentil and Vegetable Soup (Sambhar)

Photo by bkujala/flickr

Pigeon peas (arhar dhal, toor dhal) is the preferred legume for this sour and spicy soup, but split peas or red lentils may be substituted.

Serves 6.


200 g/7 oz/1 cup toor dhal
1.5 litres/3 pints/6 cups water
walnut-sized piece dried tamarind
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
375 g/12 oz mixed diced vegetables in season
(pumpkin, eggplants, aubergines, beans, potatoes)
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
2 fresh chillies
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 small onion, finely sliced
1/4 teaspoon ground asafoetida


Pick over the dhal thoroughly for any foreign seeds or impurities. Wash in several changes of water, then soak in cold water to cover overnight or for 3 hours. Drain, put into a saucepan with the measured water and simmer, covered, until soft. Meanwhile, put tamarind pulp in a bowl and pour over it 1 cup of hot water. Leave until cool enough to handle, then knead and squeeze the pulp to dissolve. Strain through a nylon or stainless steel sieve. If there is still pulp left on the seeds, add an extra 1/2 cup of water and repeat the procedure. Discard all seeds and fibres.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in another saucepan and fry ground spices for a minute, stirring. Add lentils and tamarind and bring to the boil. Add vegetables, tomatoes, chillies and salt and simmer until vegetables are very tender.

In a small pan heat remaining tablespoon of oil and fry the mustard seeds and sliced onion until seeds pop and onion is deep brown. Add asafoetida and immediately pour a ladle of the soup into the pan. Pour back into the soup, simmer a few minutes longer and serve with rice or lentil pancakes.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)