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Tiffin sambar is a quick and easy restaurant-style sambar, perfect accompaniment to many South Indian dishes. Sambar is a lentil-based curry, with a stew-like consistency, made with lentils, a blend of vegetables, and aromatic spices.
Serve this Tiffin sambar with some Dosa, Instant Rava idli, or medu vada for a perfect weekend brunch or a company. This Tiffin sambar is easy to make and tastes amazing. Enjoy this VEGAN, GLUTEN-FREE, NUT-FREE recipe.
Sambar is a South Indian dish made with split pigeon peas, mixed vegetables, and tamarind, flavored with a special spice mix known as Sambar masala (spice mix), which adds soul to this dish. Tempered with some aromatic curry leaves, and mustard seeds, adds a ton of flavors and aroma to this dish.
Sambar masala is a blend of various spices and lentils, dry roasted, and grind to a powder. Good sambar masala is key to making this aromatic, flavorful sambar. You can use homemade sambar masala or a good quality store-bought.
Sambar is typically served with dosa, Rava idli, or over rice, thus making it a complete, well-balanced meal.
Tiffin or Dabba, is a stackable steel container used to pack lunches or mid-day snacks. I remember, my mom used to pack me lunch in this small tiffin, that had 2-3 stacked containers. Tiffin comes in handy to pack multiple food items.
Tiffin or Dabba, are referred to as lunch delivered at workplaces. The tiffin could contain home-cooked food or food from the restaurants.
Tiffin sambar is mildly sweet, sour, and quite thick, unlike homestyle sambar, Tiffin sambar is mainly served with Idli, Dosa, and Mendu Vada, where sambar can be served with rice too.
There are many ways this tiffin sambar is made throughout India. Today, I am sharing my recipe for Tiffin Sambar, which I learnt from my aunt. She makes the best Tiffin Sambar!!
Pic Shown: Instant Pot Tiffin Sambar
INGREDIENTS FOR TIFFIN SAMBAR
1-1/2 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas) – lentils for the base of the sambar
4 cups water – for pressure cooking, plus as needed to adjust the consistency
1/2 cup lauki (bottle gourd) – peeled and cut into small pieces
1 small onion – chopped or sliced. You can use small pearl onions for this recipe.
1 small tomato – chopped into small pieces
8-10 green beans – chopped
1 small carrot – diced
1-2 green chili – green chili, increase or decrease to suit your taste.
1/2 inch ginger – chopped or grated
2-1/2 tablespoon sambar masala powder – homemade or store-bought, adjust to taste. I prefer MTR brand store-bought sambar masala.
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 tablespoon tamarind pulp – adjust to taste
1-2 teaspoon jaggery – adjust to taste
salt to taste
NOTE: The veggies should be around 2 cups – lauki, onion, tomato, green beans, carrots.
4 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon hing (asafetida)
1-2 sprigs curry leaves
A handful of fresh cilantro
Pic Shown: Instant Pot Tiffin Sambar
HOW TO MAKE TIFFIN SAMBAR
Traditionally, Tiffin sambar is made by cooking lentils and vegetables separately. The lentils are first cooked until they are mushy. Next, vegetables, sambar masala, and tamarind pulp is added. Then sambar is simmered until the vegetables are soft and tender. Lastly, temper with mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, asafetida, dry whole red chilis, and curry leaves. Garnish with a handful of fresh cilantro.
I like to make this tiffin sambar as a one-pot dish. Cook the lentils and vegetables together until they are soft and mushy. You can add the tempering, initially or at the end, once everything is cooked. Both work just fine. I prefer to temper the sambar later. Chose whichever method works best for you.
I love to make this tiffin sambar in Instant Pot, it’s hands down the easiest method of making restaurant-style sambar. Perfect every single time! Sharing both Instant Pot and Stovetop pressure cooker recipes. Enjoy!
INSTANT POT TIFFIN SAMBAR
Rinse the tuvar dal a few times, or until the water runs clear.
Add the rinsed dal into the inner pot of the Instant Pot, and add all the veggies.
Next add sambar masala, turmeric powder, and salt to taste. Now add water, and mix well.
Close the Instant pot, vent on sealing position. Select Manual / Pressure cook mode for 15 minutes.
Allow the pressure to release naturally for 5 minutes and then release the remaining pressure manually.
Turn ON Sauté mode (more), add tamarind pulp, and mix well.
Heat some oil in a pan, add mustard seeds. Allow the seeds to crackle. Reduce the heat to low, add methi seeds, asafetida, whole dry red chili, and curry leaves. Turn OFF the heat.
Pour this tempering over the sambar. Mix well, and bring it to a boil. Turn OFF sauté mode.
Garnish with some fresh cilantro and enjoy!
Pic Shown: Instant pot Tiffin Sambar
STOVETOP TIFFIN SAMBAR
Follow the recipe as discussed earlier. After the first whistle, reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 20-25 minutes, or till lentils are mushy and veggies are soft. Follow the rest of the recipe as Instant Pot.
TIPS FOR BEST TIFFIN SAMBAR
A good quality sambar masala is key for making this delicious sambar. You can use homemade sambar masala or a good quality store-bought masala. I use MTR brand sambar masala. It tastes good and is easily available in most Asian / Indian grocery stores.
A combination of vegetables adds a nice flavor to the sambar. The taste of the sambar will depend on the vegetables used in the sambar. We love the combination of lauki, onion, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, and pumpkin. You can add veggies of your choice.
I prefer tempering the sambar at the end, it gives a nice aroma to the sambar. It can be done first in the pot before adding the lentils. If doing the tempering first in the Instant Pot, skip the curry leaves in the tempering. Later while simmering the sambar add the curry leaves.
Fresh curry leaves add a nice flavor to the sambar. Dry curry leaves can be substituted for the fresh ones. Can’t find curry leaves where you live, skip it.
We like medium consistency sambar. Adjust the consistency of the sambar by adding less or more water to suit your taste. If adding more water, adjust the seasoning as well.
You can adjust the sour or tanginess in the sambar by adding little jaggery or brown sugar to balance the flavors.
Sambar thickens over the period, feel free to add water to adjust the consistency as per your liking.
Sambar tastes better after a couple of hours as all the flavors blend in.
Pic Shown: Quinoa Idli served with some Tiffin Sambar and Walnut Coconut Chutney
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT LENTILS CAN I USE
Sambar is usually made with tuvar (toor) dal, also known as arhar dal (pigeon pea lentils). Moong dal (split yellow petite lentils) or masoor dal (red lentils), can be used for making the sambar.
Sambar can be made with one or combinations of dal, like tuvar and moong dal, or tuvar and masoor dal.
Occasionally, I like to add chickpeas or black-eye peas for extra flavor and nutrients.
Note: Depending upon the type of lentils used, the taste and texture of sambar will vary.
WHAT VEGETABLES CAN I USE
Tiffin Sambar uses a variety of vegetables. Depending upon the availability, feel free to add veggies of your choice. Some of the vegetables we like in our Tiffin sambar are as follows:
LAUKI (BOTTLE GOURD)
CAN I SKIP JAGGERY
Jaggery adds a hint of sweetness to the sambar. It’s added in a very small amount to balance all flavors. If you don’t like jaggery you can skip it.
ALTERNATIVE TO JAGGERY
Brown sugar or honey would work just fine.
CAN I ADD GARAM MASALA
Sambar masala and garam masala both have very distinct flavors.
In this recipe, I only prefer sambar masala and no other spice. If you like to add some additional flavor, feel free to use garam masala.
ALTERNATIVE TO TAMARIND
You can use some lemon or lime juice, and fresh cranberries to add the tanginess to the sambar. Green mango (unripe mango) can be used to add some tanginess.
We love Tiffin sambar with Dosa, Idli, or Medu Vada. Serve it with some Coconut chutney and enjoy!
HOW TO STORE TIFFIN SAMBAR
Tiffin sambar stays fresh for 4-5 days in the refrigerator. Store it in an air-tight, glass container. Avoid storing the sambar in a metal container.
You can freeze the sambar for up to a month. Freeze it in a freezer-safe container. Defrost it in the refrigerator, heat, and serve.
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Tiffin Sambar / Restaurant Style Sambar
INGREDIENTS FOR TIFFIN SAMBAR
- 1 1/2 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas)
- 4 cups water – for pressure cooking, plus as needed to adjust the consistency
- 1/2 cup lauki (bottle gourd) – peeled and cut into small pieces
- 1 small onion, chopped or sliced
- 1 small tomato, chopped
- 8-10 green beans, chopped
- 1 small carrot, diced
- 1-2 chili – green chili, increase or decrease to suit your taste
- 1/2 INCH ginger, chopped or grated
- 2 1/2 tablespoons sambar masala powder, homemade or store-bought, adjust to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 tablespoon tamarind pulp, adjust to taste
- 1-2 teaspoon jaggery or preferred sweetener, adjust to taste
- salt to taste
- 4 tablespoon oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon hing (asafetida)
- 2-3 whole red dried chili
- 1-2 sprigs curry leaves
- A handful of fresh cilantro
INSTANT POT TIFFIN SAMBAR
- Rinse the tuvar dal a few times, or until the water runs clear.
- Add the rinsed dal into the inner pot of the Instant Pot, and add all the veggies.
- Next add sambar masala, turmeric powder, and salt to taste. Now add water, and mix well.
- Close the Instant pot, vent on sealing position. Select Manual / Pressure cook mode for 15 minutes.
- Allow the pressure to release naturally for 5 minutes and then release the remaining pressure manually.
- Turn ON Sauté mode (more), add tamarind pulp, and mix well.
- Heat some oil in a pan, add mustard seeds. Allow the seeds to crackle. Reduce the heat to low, add methi seeds, asafetida, whole dry red chili, and curry leaves. Turn OFF the heat.
- Pour this tempering over the sambar. Mix well, and bring it to a boil. Turn OFF sauté mode.
- Garnish with some fresh cilantro and enjoy!
STOVETOP PRESSURE COOKER TIFFIN SAMBAR
- Follow the recipe as discussed earlier. After the first whistle, reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 20-25 minutes, or till lentils are mushy and veggies are soft. Follow the rest of the recipe as Instant Pot.
- Tips For Best Tiffin Sambar
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Serving Suggestions
- How To Store Tiffin Sambar
Nutrition values are my best estimates. If you rely on them for your diet, use your preferred nutrition calculator.
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Kathryn Roosa says
I’ve never heard of bottle gourd in the US. IS there something here that might be similar? How about yellow or summer squash?
Jyoti Behrani says
Lauki (bottle gourd) or Opo squash, is available in Asian / Indian grocery stores. You can substitute green (zucchini) or yellow squash instead of bottle gourd. Thanks!