Saturday, March 10, 2012

Onion Sambar - Madras Style - with ghee-fried mini-onions ground with coconut

Onion Sambar and Potato Curry is the classic combination that any South-Indian (vegetarian) would love to eat on any given day! This is a very traditional recipe and I've tried my best to preserve its authenticity. Both my mom as well as mom-in-law make this wonderfully super-delicious! (Pardon my excessive use of adjectives, but I really wanted to emphasize that). Do try it once and you're sure to make it again and again! 

Vengaya Sambar - Onion Sambar

Yield - for 4 people (or 2 people * 2 meals)
Time - 45 minutes to an hour

Ingredients :

Toor dal - 2 handfuls (about 3/4 th of a cup)
Red Onion - 1 big (or 2 medium)
Mini onions/ Sambar onions - about 25

Set A - 

Bengal gram dal/Channa dal (கடலை பருப்பு ) - 1 1/2 tbsp
Dhania / Coriander seeds - 1 1/2 tbsp
Dry Red Chillies - 4 (remove stalks and break into 2)
Mini onions - about 6-8 ~ preferred (or) Half of a big onion
Grated Coconut (Fresh or frozen) - 1 handful 
Asafoetida / Hing (பெரும்காயம்) - 1/4 tsp
Oil - 1 tsp

Set B -

Tamarind - about the size of a lemon
Ghee / Clarified butter - 1 tsp
Black Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Curry leaves - a few
Asafoetida - 1/4 tsp (Use the solid block for better taste, as shown here)
Turmeric / हल्दी/ மஞ்சள் பொடி - 1/2 tsp
Sambar powder - 3 tsp (Any brand will do, as long as you like it. I use Ambika's )
Salt - to taste
Coriander leaves/ Cilantro - to garnish
Jaggery - 1 tsp (optional)

Procedure :

Preparatory steps - 

  1. Pressure-cook toor dal (துவரம் பருப்பு) with 3 times water, for 3 to 4 whistles.
  2. Peel the big onion as well as the minions. 
            Tip ~ Soak the small onions in water for about 15 minutes and then start peeling them. They would  soften a bit and would yield easily.

You could do these the previous night, if you want to save time in the morning rush hour :) Please remember to refrigerate the cooked dal and the peeled onions. 

Making of the Sambar -


  • Soak tamarind in 200 ml of warm water (to save time) for about 10 minutes and extract tamarind juice. Discard the seeds and strands. 

  • In the mean time, take a tsp of oil in a kadai, keep it on medium-high heat and roast Set A ingredients. Once they turn slightly reddish, switch off the flame, transfer to a heat-tolerant bowl and allow to cool. Grind into a fine paste after about 20 minutes.
Paste for onion-sambar, roasted in a little oil

Paste after grinding

  • Take the same kadai, melt ghee (Clarified butter) and fry the mini onions as well as the medium-sized ones (cubed). You may sprinkle a little salt now. Enjoy the awesome aroma  :)

Onions fried in ghee

  • Take your sambar vessel (usually flat bottomed and made of stainless-steel), pour the tamarind juice and add the fried onions.

  • Add turmeric, asafoetida, salt and sambar powder. Let cook until the smell of tamarind disappears slowly. That's about 5-7 minutes.

  • Now, add the ground paste from Set A ingredients. Let boil for 5 minutes.

  • Add the water from the cooked toor dal first. Then, mash the dal and add to the sambar vessel. Mix well and allow it to boil for about 7-10 minutes.

  • Check for salt. At this stage, I would like to add a little jaggery. That really enhances the taste of the sambar.

  • Temper with mustard seeds and curry leaves. You could actually start with mustard and curry leaves in ghee before frying the onions :)

Onion Sambar -Madras Style

  • Garnish with coriander leaves.

Enjoy Sambar rice with Potato Curry or Chepankizhangu roast This is indeed, a combo made in heaven

Reposting this for "Only South Indian" event at Foodelicious


  1. Wow, does that look tasty! There are a couple ingredients in that list that I've never heard of before. I'll have to head up to my local Indian grocery and see if they can give me the heads up on what I need to recreate your scrumptious dish. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Julie! Do let me know which of the ingredients are new to you and I'll my best to help u with pictures, etc.

  2. Hi dear, your emphasis worked on me, have bookmarked it a nd will surely try. Thanks for linking it to my event.

    MARCH EVENT, ‘Only’-South Indian & Cook Book Giveaway


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