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Varutharacha Sambar – Made With Fresh Roasted Coconut Spice Mix

If you know  your  South Indian food, they you  are definitely familiar with sambar. Loosely speaking, it is  a  spicy and tangy  curry made  with vegetables and  lentils .  This is one description  that is  not  gong  to   sit  well  with Sambar  aficionados, and  I wont  argue  with them.  So I am  not  going  to  talk  about  the  different  variations  but a  specific  one – Varutharacha Sambar  from Kerala.    This is a special occasion  Sambar,  that  tastes  heavenly with  rice or  or sides  like  dosa, idli or vada.

Varutharacha Sambar - A vegetable and lentil dish made with roasted spices and tamarindTypically  a  Kerala  sambar  is  made  with a  mix  of  vegetables,  toor  dal  and  sambar  powder.  Sambar  powder is  available  in stores  everywhere,  and  usually everyone  has one or two  brands  they love.  I  use the powdered mixes   as  well, but every once in a  while  I am  tempted  to make  this  version  with fresh  ground  spices  just like  mom and  gran used to.

The special occasion  feasts like OnaSadya   require a  sambar like  this.  Often  this is  referred  to as  OnaSambar or the sambar  for  Onam.

In Malayalam  Varutharaha means  roasted and  ground,  and that is  the  distinctive process in preparing this  dish.  In addition to the  typical  spices  in  sambar -coriander, fenugreek,  chilies, turmeric and asafoteida,  there is  roasted  coconut  in this  recipe as well.   Coconut  has  two  functions  here – one  it  acts as a  thickener  and  two it  provides a  neutral  backdrop  for  all the  spices  to  shine  through.

There is a  similar  version  of  Tamilian sambar –  Arachuvitta  Sambar.  The  recipes  are  very similar, except that  in Kerala  the  spice  mix  typically do not  contain  lentils (urad/chana dal).  Both  these  versions  are  thicker  than  the  usual  all purpose restaurant  sambar.  Now  I am  not  saying  that  all restaurant  versions  are  bad,   some  very good,  especially  when  used  to  soak  idli’s and  vada.

Making  sambar  with  spice   mix is  fairly simple.  Cook the lentils – typically toor  dal  –  add  the  vegetables, tamarind  water  and  the  spice  mix  cook  till the  the  veggies  are  cooked. Once  everything taste  and  pour  the  tadka  (seasoning) over it. For an  extra  depth of  flavor  lightly  saute  the  veggies  and  heat  the  spice  powder. You could  even make it  as a one pot  dish – instant pot  or  pressure  cooker.  Is it  any wonder  that  Sambar Powder is  ever popular.

If  you were  to  adapt  this recipe   for  pressure  cooker / instapot    these are  the  steps:

  • Make Tadka
  • Add dals and  water
  • Cook dal
  • Add veggies  , tamarind  water,  sambar powder  and  salt
  • Cook  and   reduce  to  desired  consistency.

The  traditional   Kerala Sambar  has   a  mix  of  vegetables.  Drumstick and okra  are  the popular ones.  Okra  thickens  the  sambar while  tender drumstick   brings  its  own  unique  taste.   Other popular vegetables are  carrots, pearl onions, eggplant, melons,  plantains  and yams.

Varutharacha Sambar Powder

Preparing  the  spice mix  is  the  most  crucial  step in making  Varutharacha Sambar.  Fresh  coconut  and  spices  are  roasted to  light brown color.  If  using  fresh coconut  roast  them  first  until  it  turns  dry  and  light  golden and   add  the  remaining  whole spices.  If  using  spice  powders  add  them  after  the  the  coconut is  browned and  turn  off the  heat heat.

Making Sambar

If  there are  vegetables  that  take  long  to cook – like elephant yam,  plantains  – cook  these  along  with the toor  dal of  give  these a  head start.  Toor  Dal is  usually  cooked in  pressure  cooker to save  time.   Saute  vegetables, especially okra  and pearl onions,   before  adding   to the  dal  to bring  out the  flavors. With most other  vegetables  you could  avoid  sauteing, I wouldn’t   recommend it  with  okra.

To this add  the ground  mix , along  with the   cooked  dal. Add  tamarind  water  (or paste)  and  cover  and  cook til the  vegetables  are cooked  through.  Taste and  adjust  salt.  In another  small pan  prepare tadka – talikkal in Malayalam . Heat  one to 2 tbsp of  oil    and  add  mustard  seeds, curry leaves chilies  and sliced pearl onion.  Fry for a  minute  until the pearl onions  brown. Add the asafoetida powder  and pour over the  sambar.  keep  covered  till serving.  Just  before  serving  mix    and serve.


Varutharacha Sambar - A vegetable and lentil dish made with roasted spices and tamarind

Varutharacha Sambar

By Syama
A popular  south Indian  dish made  with a  mix of  vegetables  and  lentils.   Roasted  spices  and  tamarind   add  a unique  flavor  to  this  version  from Kerala.  
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Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine India
Servings 4 - 6 Servings


  • 1/2 C Toor dal / Yellow Pigeon Peas
  • 1 1/2 C Mix Vegetables See Notes
  • 1 Drumsticks Cut lengthwise
  • 6- 7 Pearl Onions
  • 2 - 3 Green Chilly To Taste
  • 1 Tomato Medium
  • Tamarind - Marble sized soaked in half a cup of hot water for 10 mins
  • Few Coriander Leaves Optional

To Grind (See Notes)

  • 1/2 C Fresh Grated Coconut
  • 2 Tsp Coriander Seeds
  • 2 Red Chili To Taste
  • 1/4 Tsp Fenugreek Seeds
  • 1 Pinch Turmeric Powder
  • 2 Curry Leaf

For Tempering (Tadka)

  • 1 Tbsp Oil Preferably Coconut
  • 1/2 Tsp Mustard Seeds
  • 1 Sprig Curry Leaves
  • 3 - 4 Chilies See Notes
  • 1/2 Tsp Asafoetida
  • 1 Pearl Onion Sliced


Cook Dal

  • If using a pressure cooker, add 1/2 C dal along with 2 C water and cook for 3 whistles. If using a regular pan add the cook the dal and 3 C water together for 20 to 30 minutes until the dal is cooked through. When done it should mash easily.

Prep the veggies

  • Quarter the tomatoes and chop the coriander leaves .Skin the pearl onions. If panning to use regular onions cut 1 medium sized onion into large chunks. Peel the root vegetables and cut into 1 inch cubes. Cut t he drumstick into 3 inch long pieces. Cut all the remaining vegetables into even pieces of about 2 inches in length.

Make Sambar Masala

  • Dry roast the coconut in a thick bottomed pan or kadai. Stir often and keep the heat at low
  • to medium until the coconut turns golden. If using whole spices add them now along with curry leaves. Roast till the coconut turns dark brown. Turn off the heat and add the powdered spices. Set aside to cool. Once cooled transfer to a grinder and grind to a fine powder.

Put it all together

  • In a frying pan drizzle about 1 of coconut oil and add the ladies finger, stir fry for a minute and add the pearl onions. Saute the onions till the outer skins become translucent. Add the remaining vegetables and saute for 1 minute.Add the tamarind water and the cooked dal and 1/2 Tsp of salt . Cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Uncover and add the spice powder . Mix well , taste and adjust salt. Add the tomatoes and let it simmer slowly until desired thickness is reached. Sprinkle the coriander leaves on top.

Make Tadka (Tempering)

  • In a small pan heat the coconut oil for tempering . When hot add the remaining ingredients listed under tempering. When the seeds splutter and the onions are fried pour the mix over the sambar. Mix just before serving .


  • A mix of vegetables like carrots, eggplant, cucumber, gourds, and yams can be used in sambar.
  • When making the roasted masala use either whole or ground spices. When substituting ground spices for whole use double the amount of whole spices.
  • For tadka often times dried red chilies are used, though I prefer to use
    green chilies.

Important: Nutrition Values are estimates. Actuals vary based on ingredients and serving size.

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Wonder  what an  average  south Kerala/TamilNadu  vegetarian lunch looks  like ?  Usually it will be rice , a  dry vegetable, a gravy vegetable, something fried (chips, papad), pickle and  curd or  buttermilk.   A  sambar like this served over  rice is  complete  meal in  itself.   And  that is  what I do  often – make one or  two  dishes  that  completes  the  meal  and  enjoy  the process of  both cooking  and  savoring!


Checkout   more sadya  recipes : Sadya Recipes

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