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Brown coloured sambar in a brass bowl, with green curry leaves and pale white and red small onions floating on top. The bowl rests on an orange and red zari silk saree and has a white book with blue letters on Tamil merchants, on the right. All on a white background
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5 from 5 votes

Arachuvitta Sambar with Lentils and Paste of Roasted Spices and Coconut

A Tamil Iyer recipe, Arachuvitta sambar has tamarind extract boiled with cooked lentils and a paste of fragrant roasted spices and coconut. Baby red onions, drumstick, radish or bitter gourd are added to the sambar which is tempered with mustard seeds, chili and curry leaves in coconut oil
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Indian, south indian, Tamilian
Keyword: Arachuvitta Sambar, Sambar
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Sujata Shukla


  • Pressure Cooker
  • Mixie / Food processor
  • Small frying pan
  • Medium sized Pan


For the Dal/ Lentils

  • 1 cup Thowar Dal/ Thowaram Paruppu Pigeon Pea Lentils
  • teaspoon Turmeric Powder
  • 1 cup Water for pressure cooking Enough water to cover the dal well

For the Tamarind Extract

  • 1 Lemon sized Tamarind pulp the size of a small Indian lemon, or a little more than would fit into a tablespoon
  • 1 cup Water for soaking the tamarind

For the Coconut Spice Paste

  • 1 tablespoon Sesame Oil or Coconut oil
  • 4 tablespoons Dhania seeds Coriander seeds
  • 2-4 Dry Red Chilies As per taste
  • 1 teaspoon Rai/ Kaduggu Mustard Seeds
  • ½ teaspoon Methi/ Vendiyam seeds Fenugreek seeds
  • teaspoon Hing/ Perungayam Asafoetida powder
  • 1 teaspoon White Til/ Ellu White Sesame seeds
  • a few Curry leaves
  • ½ - ¾ cup Grated coconut or about ½ a medium sized coconut, grated or in small pieces

For Frying Sambar Onions

  • 1 tablespoon Sesame oil
  • 8-10 Baby red onions/ red shallots Peeled

For Arachuvitta Sambar

  • 1 cup Tamarind extract from Ingredients list above
  • ½ cup Tomato slices 1 medium tomato, diced into 2 cm pieces
  • teaspoon Haldi/ Manjal podi Turmeric Powder
  • a few Curry leaves
  • ½ teaspoon Salt or as per taste
  • Coconut paste from ingredients list above
  • Cooked towar dal from ingredients list above

For Tempering

  • 1 tablespoon Coconut oil
  • ½ teaspoon Mustard seeds
  • 1 Dry Red Chili
  • a few Curry leaves


To Cook the Thowar Dal / Pigeon Pea Lentils

  • Rinse and drain the lentils. Place in a pressure cooker with water and turmeric powder. Cook for 2 whistles. Remove from the heat and allow the cooker to reduce steam by itself. Open the cooker when required, as in the instructions below for making the coconut paste.

To Make Tamarind Extract

  • Soak the tamarind for 20 minutes in ½ cup of water, or for 10 minutes in hot water. When required, squeeze out the juice from the pulp and filter the extract into a bowl. Add the remaining ½ cup of water (in ingredients list above) to the left over pulp, and squeeze out as much of the juice as you can. Use the tamarind extract as in instructions below.

To Make Coconut Spices Paste

  • Set a small pan on the stove (I use cast iron). Heat sesame oil. When the oil is hot (not smoking hot, just hot) add mustard seeds and methi/ fenugreek seeds/ vendiyam. Stir and fry for 10 seconds or till the methi begins to darken.
    Add dhania seeds / coriander/ kothamalli vera and stir for about 30 seconds till they just begin to darken. You don't want the spices and chilies to become black as this will make the sambar an unappetizing dark colour, so keep stirring and watch the pan.
  • Add dry red chilies after removing the stalk. Stir and roast for 10-15 seconds, turning them midway so that both sides of the chili are fried.
    Add til/ sesame seeds/ ellu. Add hing/asafoetida/ perungayam and curry leaves. Stir. The curry leaves may spatter if fresh, so keep a little distance from the stove.
    Add the grated coconut or small slices of coconut. Stir well and roast for about 15 seconds.
    Remove the roasted spices to a heat resistant bowl and set aside to cool. Keep the pan on the stove for frying the onions.
  • Once cool, grind the coconut and spices in the processor with just as much water as is required to make a paste of chutney consistency, ie ground fine. Transfer to a bowl and stir the paste.
    Once the pressure cooker has cooled, open the lid, add the dal to a bowl and mash it well. Add the coconut spices paste to it and mix it in. This is how I make sambar, but if you wish, mash the lentils and set aside. Mix the paste well, and then add each of them to the tamarind extract separately, when required as per instructions below.

To Fry Sambar Onions

  • Peel the onions.
    While the roasted spices are cooling, wipe the pan in which you roasted them and add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.
    Add the peeled small onions, whole. Fry on medium flame for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are fried all over. Drain and remove to a heat resistant bowl and set aside.

To Make Arachuvitta Sambar

  • Set a pan on the stove. Add the tamarind extract, turmeric powder, tomato slices and curry leaves as listed in the Ingredients under 'For Arachuvitta Sambar'. Add a little salt ( you can add more salt, if required, at the end).
    Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer it on low heat for about 10 minutes till the raw smell of tamarind has gone.
  • Add the cooked dal/ coconut paste mixture or add mashed dal and coconut paste separately, to the pan. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes.
    Check for salt adequacy, add more if required (cautiously- there's no culinary disaster bigger than a dish well done but over salted!). Remove the pan from the heat.

To Temper the Sambar

  • Heat a small frying pan ( I wipe out and use the one I roasted the spices and onions in)
    Add coconut oil and keep the heat on low. When its hot enough, add mustard seeds. Once they finish crackling, add dried chilies, turning them over after a few seconds so that both sides are fried.
    Add curry leaves (they may splatter in the hot oil, so keep your distance) and turn off the heat.
    Pour the hot tempering on the sambar.
    Serve hot with rice and ghee and accompanying dry curry/ poriyal and appalam/ pappad.