The Ethereal Drumstick Leaves Sambar
Image Credit: Sambhar/

The instant connection that Indians can lovingly associate with toor dal is the South-Indian sambar. Now, this memory is going to be etched deeper with Kerala-style Drumstick Leaves Sambar which is steeped in enchanting flavours of curry and Drumstick leaves. It is cooked in two simple steps involving the boiling of dal and preparing the masala. The oil tempered with fenugreek and mustard hustles up a tempting aroma which accentuates even more with curry leaves. Just two ingredients, onions and red chillies attentively sauteed and blended with chilli, turmeric, coriander, hing powder and sambar masala give the perfect curry for Sambar.  However, the addition of drumstick leaves to the almost cooked sambar, in the end, helps achieve one of the most easily-prepared and authentic sambars ever!

The Birth Of Sambar, Its Accompaniments  

And It's Newer Versions

Famous food historian KT Acharya traces the origin of Sambar to the 17th century in Tamilakam. And the word Sambar? Well that is Tamil too and is found to have been used first in Tamil inscription of 1530 CE, through the word champāram, which meant a dish of rice accompanying other rice dishes or spice ingredients. However, the etymology of the word is also famously attributed to Thanjavur Maratha ruler Sambhāji, albeit with little historical proof. This lentil-based vegetable stew, cooked with pigeon pea and tamarind broth is not just popular in South India and Sri Lanka like it's other South- Indian counterparts, but has also infiltrated to Burma, where it's incorporated with dried salted fish and a variety of vegetables in a soup base of pureed chickpeas.

Talking of the many ways Sambar is cooked and liked in South India itself, Kerala Sambar has potato and carrot, while Tamil Nadu Sambar includes local vegetables like drumstick, brinjal and radish. Furthermore, in Tamil Nadu dry spices are used, while in Karnataka wet paste is used. Today there are as many as 50 varieties of this ancient dish which includes seafood sambar, chicken sambar and even bizarre milk sambar.

Sambhar/ Youtube

Cooking: 35 minutes

Servings: 3


1. 1 hand full drumstick leaves

2. 1 cup toor dal

3. 30-32 shallots 

4. 2 tomatoes

5. 5 green chillies

6. 4 -5 sprigs of curry leaves 

7. 4 dry red chillies 

8. 1 small round ball of tamarind 

9. 1 tbsp hing powder

10. 1 tbsp turmeric powder 

11. 1 ½ tbsp chilli powder 

12. 1 tbsp coriander powder 

13. 2 tbsp sambar powder 

14. 1 tsp fenugreek seeds 

15. 1 tsp mustard seeds

16. 1-2 tsp salt 

17. 2-3 tbsp oil 


1. In a heavy bottomed pot, take washed toor dal, shallots, tomatoes, green chillies, hing powder and turmeric powder. 

2. Add water to all of it, put a sprig of curry leaves, cover the pot and boil them until dal is cooked.

3. In a small bowl add water and tamarind ,squeeze with hands, drain it and set aside.

4. In another pan, heat oil, add fenugreek seeds and mustard seed and let them splutter.

5. Then add dry red chillies, curry leaves and shallots saute them well.

6. Then add chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, sambar powder and hing powder,  and lastly sambar powder to it. Stir everything well and saute for a few minutes.

7. To this add drained tamarind water and stir everything for 4 -5 minutes . Combine them well.

8. Now add this masala to the cooked dal mixture. Pour water, mix everything well and let it come to a boil.

9. Then add cleaned drumstick leaves and cook them well.

10. Remove from fire and set aside.

Savour the Drumstick Leaves Sambar with Idlis or Dosas. You can choose to pressure cook the dals in lieu of boiling to achieve faster cooking. This sambar does away with the need to add a bunch of vegetables found typically in many Sambars, but does not let go of the lush taste of sambars we cherish.