Tiffin sambar

Tiffin sambar is a very flavorful recipe that can be made with or without vegetables. On day-8 of the No Veggies, 21-Day Lockdown Series, we are going to see how to make an easy sambar recipe without any vegetables.

Tiffin sambar, a comforting lentil stew, is a South Indian staple traditionally served with idli and dosa. But between the chopping, prepping, and simmering, who has the time for an elaborate sambar every morning?

This is where the magic of the no-vegetable tiffin sambar comes in. This quick and easy version retains all the delicious flavor of the classic sambar, minus the vegetables, making it a perfect time-saving option for busy mornings.

Be it idli, dosa, pongal or anything for that matter, sambar is a great accompaniment to these. I love to have dosas and pongal with sambar. When I was a kid, I used to love Saravana Bhavan’s tiffin sambar. Even till my marriage, whenever I visited the hotel, I would always order dosa, just to taste their sambar (though, the sambar taste has changed a lot over the years).

But even today, whenever I think of the sambar that I had in my childhood, my mouth would start to drool. I never forgot the taste and I’ve never had sambar as tasty as the one that we used to get in Saravana Bhavan, years back.

Oh! And how can i ever forget this- VADAS! They taste absolutely amazing with sambar. Have hot crispy vadas dunked in a bowl full of sambar with some raw onions. Paaahhh! Heaven! Try it once and you would tell me the same!

So, sambar always played a crucial role in my life. LOL! I make tiffin sambar in two ways- the first way is where I use moong dal and vegetables like carrot, potato, etc to make the sambar. I adapted this from my mother. The other way is what we are going to see today. This would taste similarly to the ones that we get in restaurants. For this type of sambar, we mainly use arhar dal, shallots and tomatoes only. Though it lacks in vegetables, this sambar is still packed with all proteins and nutrients from the arhar dal used.

There are no fancy ingredients that are required to make this sambar. I would have used a very small quantity of coconut. Using coconut enhances the taste and this would make it quite similar to the ones that we get in the restaurants but, it is still optional. If you are running out of coconuts, then you can simply skip it. The sambar would still taste great.

This sambar goes well with dosa, idli, pongal and what not! Enjoy it with your family. Stay safe, stay healthy! Happy cooking and eating!

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Tiffin Sambar

Abhipriya Raghav
A tasty sambar recipe using arhar dal that can be served with idli, dosa, vada, pongal, etc.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Breakfast, Side Dish
Cuisine Indian
Servings 6 servings


To cook the dal

  • 1/2 cup arhar dal / toor dal
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric powder

To grind

  • 1 medium-sized tomato, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp grated coconut
  • 1 tbsp roasted Bengal gram
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder

To make the sambar

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp whole black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 10-12 shallots, each halved
  • 1 medium-sized tomato, chopped
  • 3 green chilies, slit and halved
  • 1-2 sprigs curry leaves
  • 2 tbsp sambar powder
  • 1 tbsp tamarind extract
  • 1 tsp tiffin sambar powder
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • salt, as per taste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp hing
  • handful of chopped coriander leaves

For final tadka

  • 1 tbsp oil / ghee
  • few curry leaves
  • 2-3 red chilies


  • Wash the dal and transfer it to a pressure cooker. Add 1.5 cups of water along with turmeric powder and pressure cook the dal for 4-5 whistles or until dal is completely cooked. Let the pressure release naturally.
  • To a mixer grinder, add all the ingredients listed under 'To grind' along with little water and grind to a smooth paste. Set aside.
  • Cut the shallots, tomatoes, green chilies and gather the rest of the ingredients required to make the sambar.
  • Once the pressure has settled, open the lid of the cooker and mash the dal.
  • In a kadai, add oil+ghee and let it heat. When it is hot, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seed, and whole pepper. Let it splutter.
  • Add the curry leaves and the green chilies and fry for a few seconds.
  • Add the shallots and saute them until the turn translucent.
  • Now, add the tomatoes and cook till they turn soft and mushy.
  • Add the sambar powder and mix well.
  • Add the ground paste and cook till the raw smell disappears.
  • Add the tamarind extract.
  • Add the red chili powder and the mashed dal and mix well.
  • Add 2 cups water along with the salt, mix well and let it come to a boil.
  • Add the tiffin sambar powder.
  • Let the sambar boil until it reaches the desired consistency. Now, add coriander leaves.
  • Finally add hing and switch off the stove.
  • In a tadka pan, heat ghee / oil.
  • Add the curry leaves and the red chilies. Let them fry for a few seconds.
  • Temper the sambar with the above tadka and serve with idli, dosa, pongal or vada.


  • Do not add more water while grinding the tomato and the coconut.
  • Skip the whole pepper if preparing for kids.
  • Add sambar powder as per taste.
  • Red chili powder can be added to the sambar or to the tomatoes and the coconut while grinding it to a paste.
  • If the sambar powder that you are using has enough spiciness, then, skip the red chili powder.
  • The amount of water added to the sambar depends upon the consistency in which you want it. 
  • If you have added more water, then let the sambar boil for a few more extra minutes.
  • Always remember that sambar thickens on cooling down. So, switch off the stove just before the desired consistency is reached.
  • I have used a combination of oil and ghee to temper the sambar. You can always replace ghee for oil or vice versa.
Keyword breakfast, dosa, idli, Lockdown Series, pongal, sambar, tiffin, vada