Quick & Easy Instant Pot Sambar Recipe: A Flavorful South Indian Stew

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Written By Haryana’s Restaurant

Authentic Indian Food – Classic Indian Cuisine in Terrace BC

Imagine diving into a bowl of warm, comforting sambar, the quintessential South Indian stew that’s both nourishing and bursting with flavor. Traditionally, preparing sambar involves simmering lentils with a variety of vegetables, tamarind, and a special blend of spices. But what if you could whip up this beloved dish in a fraction of the time? Thanks to the magic of the Instant Pot, you can!


As you embrace the convenience of making sambar using an Instant Pot, gather all the ingredients listed below, ensuring that each one adds a distinct flavor and texture to this classic South Indian dish.

Main Ingredients

  • 1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas), rinsed
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
  • 12 curry leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup tamarind extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste

Tamarind and Spices

For that tangy kick that is essential to any sambar, the tamarind and a carefully measured blend of spices are crucial:

  • 1/4 cup tamarind paste, diluted in 1/2 cup warm water (or tamarind extract)
  • 2 tablespoons sambar powder
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder (adjust to spice preference)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro (coriander leaves)
  • 2 tablespoons grated coconut (optional)
  • A squeeze of lemon juice (optional for an extra zing)

Necessary Equipment

To make sambar in an Instant Pot, you need a few specific tools to ensure the process is smooth and the outcome is delightful.

Instant Pot Settings

Your Instant Pot is central to cooking sambar quickly while retaining all the flavors and nutrients. Set your Instant LUX off with these ideal settings:

  • Manual Mode: Select ‘Manual’ mode and set the timer for 15 minutes at high pressure. This is perfect for cooking toor dal (pigeon peas) until they are perfectly soft.
  • Saute Mode: Before pressure cooking, use the ‘Saute’ mode to fry the mustard seeds, dry chilies, and curry leaves. This helps release their full flavor, creating a more flavorful base for your sambar.
  • Keep Warm Function: After the cooking process, use the ‘Keep Warm’ function. It will keep your sambar at the right temperature until you’re ready to serve, ensuring it stays hot and delicious without overcooking the vegetables.

Using these settings, your Instant Pot will handle the majority of the cooking process, allowing you to prepare a traditional dish with modern convenience.

Preparation Steps

Jump into cooking your Instant Pot sambar by following these straightforward steps. Make sure your Instant Pot is ready, as these steps will guide you through using this modern cooking device to prepare a flavorful sambar.

Preparing Vegetables

Begin by washing your chosen vegetables thoroughly under running water. For this recipe, typically, you’ll use a mix of carrot, potato, tomato, and drumsticks. Peel the carrots and potatoes then chop them into bite-sized pieces. Slice the tomatoes and cut the drumsticks into two-inch lengths. This ensures they cook evenly and absorb the sambar spices well. Place the chopped vegetables aside as you’ll add these to the Instant Pot after the lentils are partially cooked.

Soaking Tamarind

Take a small bowl and add about a lemon-sized ball of tamarind to it. Cover the tamarind with warm water, which will help in extracting the pulp easily. Let it soak for approximately 15-20 minutes. Once soaked, use your fingers to mash the tamarind in the water and extract as much pulp as possible. Strain the tamarind pulp through a sieve to remove any seeds or fiber, collecting the smooth, tart liquid in a bowl. You’ll use this tamarind extract to impart a tangy flavor to the sambar. Keep this tamarind water ready to be added once the vegetables and lentils are cooked.

Cooking Process

Now that you’ve got your ingredients ready and your Instant Pot set up, let’s dive into the cooking process. Follow these steps to bring your delightful Instant Pot Sambar to life, ensuring a flavorsome and comforting meal.

Pressure Cooking Vegetailbes

  1. Begin by adding your chopped carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and drumsticks to the Instant Pot. Pour in enough water to just cover the vegetables. This typically requires about 2 to 3 cups, depending on the size of your pot.
  2. Secure the lid of the Instant Pot and ensure the valve is set to the sealing position. Select the ‘Manual’ or ‘Pressure Cook’ mode on your Instant Pot, and set the timer for 5 minutes at high pressure. This step will cook the vegetables just right — soft enough to meld flavors with the lentils and spices yet retaining a satisfying bite.
  3. Once the cooking time is up, use the quick release method by carefully turning the venting knob to the venting position to release the pressure. Open the lid once all the steam has escaped and the safety indicator has dropped.

Adding Tamarod and Lentils

  1. Take the soaked tamarind and strain it to extract the pulp. Add this tamarind pulp to your cooked vegetables in the Instant Pot.
  2. Next, add the pre-cooked toor dal to the pot. The dal should be mushy and well-cooked prior to this step, as it blends with the vegetables and tamarind to form the base of your Sambar.
  3. Stir everything together well, adding salt to taste. Put the lid back on, set the Instant Pot to ‘Manual’ or ‘Pressure Cook’, and adjust the time to 3 minutes at high pressure. This will help all the flavors integrate beautifully.

Tempering the Spices for Sambar

  1. While the sambar cooks, it’s time to temper your spices. Heat a small pan over medium heat and add a tablespoon of ghee or oil.
  2. Once the ghee is hot, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, a pinch of asafoetida, dried red chilies, and curry leaves. Sauté these ingredients until the mustard seeds start to splutter and the chilies turn a slight brown, releasing their aromatics.
  3. Carefully pour the tempered spices into the Instant Pot once the final pressure cooking has completed and you’ve released the pressure. This tempering process is vital as it adds a burst of flavor and aroma that’s distinctive to a traditional Sambar.
  4. Stir the sambar well to ensure the tempered spices are distributed throughout the dish.

Combining and Finishing

Now that your vegetables and tamarind pulp are perfectly pressure-cooked, it’s time to bring all the elements together for that quintessential sambar flavor.

Mixing the Ingredients

Open your Instant Pot and stir in the pre-cooked toor dal to the mix of vegetables and tamarind pulp. Ensure a thorough mix to distribute the lentils evenly throughout the stew. This step is crucial as it helps the flavors meld seamlessly. Next, prepare the tempering by heating oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and let them pop before adding cumin seeds, dried red chilies, curry leaves, and asafoetida. Once the tempering is aromatic, carefully pour it over the sambar in the Instant Pot. Stir everything together to infuse the sambar with these fragrant spices.

Adjusting Consistency and Flavor

Examine the consistency of your sambar; it should be rich and somewhat thick. If it appears too thick, add a bit of warm water to reach your desired consistency. Conversely, if it’s too thin, set your Instant Pot to ‘Saute’ mode and simmer for a few more minutes to thicken. Now, taste your sambar and adjust the salt and spice as needed. If you desire a deeper tangy flavor, you might consider adding a little more tamarind pulp. After adjusting the flavors, let the sambar sit on the ‘Keep Warm’ setting for a few minutes before serving. This resting period allows the flavors to develop fully and mingle, resulting in a more flavorful dish.

Serving Suggestions

Now that your Instant Pot sambar is ready, let’s explore some traditional ways to serve this delightful stew to enhance its flavor and appeal.


Sambar pairs splendidly with a variety of South Indian staples. Serve it hot with steamed rice for a classic combination that never disappoints. The fluffy rice complements the thick, spicy stew perfectly, absorbing its rich flavors. Additionally, you can enjoy sambar with idlis (steamed rice cakes), dosas (thin, crispy crepes), or vadas (savory deep-fried doughnuts). These dishes help soak up the sambar, ensuring you relish every bit of its tangy, spicy goodness.

Garnishing Tips

Elevate your sambar by adding a splash of freshly chopped cilantro on top just before serving. This not only adds a burst of color but also infuses an aromatic freshness that complements the spices used in the sambar. For an extra touch of texture and flavor, a squeeze of lemon juice can be added; this enhances the tangy profile of the tamarind base. Optionally, sprinkle a pinch of fried mustard seeds and a few curry leaves, which have been briefly sautéed in a little oil, to introduce a crispy, fragrant highlight to your delicious bowl of sambar.


Now that you’ve mastered the art of making sambar in your Instant Pot it’s time to dazzle your family and friends with this delectable South Indian dish. Embrace the ease and speed without sacrificing the traditional taste that makes sambar a beloved staple. Whether you’re pairing it with rice or savoring it with idlis and dosas remember to add those final garnishes—they’re not just for show! They truly enhance the flavors making every bite a delightful experience. So go ahead dive into the comforting world of sambar and let your Instant Pot do the heavy lifting. Enjoy the delicious results!

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