Brinjal Sambar

Think of South India and one is sure to picture an image of the mouth-watering dosas, idlis, vadas and the lip-smacking aroma of sambars and rasams. Sambar is an exquisite South Indian Lentil delicacy. Sambar/Sambhar/Sambaaru is a perfect accompaniment with steaming hot Idli, Dosa, Vada, and Rice. Though sambar is a very common dish in the South, the preparation varies from State to State, infact, even in every home. The dish adapts its taste according to its environment and culture. For example the States along the coastal areas, mostly use coconut as an ingredient in the sambar. In certain areas the sambar is prepared only with the main ingredients Tomato/Kokum/Tamarind, vegetable and dal.

While at lunch in an ‘Iyer’ home, I learnt this dish has an interesting tale attached to it. It states that the recipe for the authentic dish ‘sambar’ was the result of, a Tanjore ruler named Sambhoji, substituting tamarind for kokum (a tart fruit native to the western coast of India)!

During the ages of Maratha rule in Tanjore, the great Samboji, though a king, was fond of cooking and he liked his dish ‘amti’( a basic dal preparation made spicy, sweet and tangy) with quite a handful of kokum thrown in. There came a season when this ingredient kokum, which was imported from Maharashtra, was not supplied in time to reach his kingdom. The angry king Samboji was calmed down by his sous-chef Vidushak who gave him the idea to prepare the dish with tamarind instead of kokum, as the localites of the ancient Tanjore city used tamarind in their dish. Hence the Maratha King rejoiced over his new dish which contained toor dal(mainly grown in Maharashtra), vegetables, spices, tamarind pulp and asafoetida(a spice which was then used commonly in Maharashtra). This was declared an outstanding dish in the entire kingdom and thus was born sambhoji’s, new form of, amti which later on was named sambhar.

What’s more, given that migration from the Maratha kingdom to different regions of south India dates back to the 1600s, one can wonder which Tamil dish is actually a result of Marathi influence. Hence from then on a lot of research has gone in, to get to the modern version of several types of Sambar.

Enjoy and relish the delicious sambar, just as the South Indian people are inexorably linked to this ubiquitous dish- as in idli and sambhar, dosa and sambhar, puri and sambar, sambar and rice and so on.


  • ½ kg brinjal/aubergine diced
  • 1 cup tur dal (split pigeon peas/lentil)
  • 2 tsp sambar powder
  • 2 tsp freshly ground coriander powder (dry roasted coriander seeds ground to a fine powder).
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tomatoes sliced
  • 2 garlic pods
  • 1 tsp Tamarind paste
  • Finely chopped coriander leaves for garnish(optional)

For seasoning

  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 red chilli (whole)
  • ¼ tsp asafoetida (hing) powder
  • 1 tsp ghee
  • Curry leaves
  • Salt to taste


  • Boil dal/lentil with turmeric powder, chilli powder, tomato, garlic pods, and 1 tsp sambar powder.
  • Heat ghee in a thick bottom pan add onion and sauté. Then add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, red chilli, asafoetida, curry leaves, 1 tsp sambar powder and fenugreek seeds. Fry well.
  • Add tamarind paste and fry for 2 minutes.
  • Now add the brinjal and simmer for few minutes in the tamarind water
  • Add the boiled dal and simmer.
  • Once the brinjal is cooked, add some freshly ground coriander powder and fresh coriander leaves. Put off the flame after 2 minutes.
  • Serve hot with rice, idlis, dosa …

Preparation Time: ½ hour

Serves: 4-6

Slurp Tip:

  • If served with rice, add ¼ tsp ghee to the plain white rice and then pour sambar over rice. This tastes awesome.
  • Else before serving dribble a little ghee over the steaming sambar to enhance its aroma and taste.
  • The freshly ground roasted coriander powder added at the end, gives the sambar a lovely aroma.
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