Quick & Flavorful Sambar in an Instant Pot: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Written By Haryana’s Restaurant

Authentic Indian Food – Classic Indian Cuisine in Terrace BC

Imagine the rich aroma of freshly cooked sambar filling your kitchen, a beloved South Indian stew that’s both nutritious and bursting with flavor. Traditionally, sambar is a labor of love, simmered slowly to coax out the depths of flavor from spices and vegetables. But what if you could whip up this comforting dish in a fraction of the time? Enter the Instant Pot, your culinary sidekick that transforms this day-long endeavor into a quick, effortless affair.

With the Instant Pot, you’ll unlock the flavors of sambar in under an hour, infusing lentils, tamarind, and a medley of vegetables with aromatic spices like mustard seeds, curry leaves, and asafoetida. This method not only saves time but also enhances the flavors, making every spoonful a delightful experience. Whether you’re a seasoned sambar lover or new to Indian cuisine, this Instant Pot recipe promises to be a game-changer in your cooking routine.


Now that you’re set to make sambar using your Instant Pot, let’s gather the ingredients. You’ll need two sets of items: one for making your own flavorful Sambar Masala and another for the sam stops itself.

For Sambar Masala

To create your aromatic Sambar Masala, you’ll need the following:

  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 5-6 dried red chilies
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened grated coconut
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 10-12 curry leaves

For the Sambar

For the sambar, gather these ingredients:

  • 1 cup Toor dal (split pigeon peas), rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups water, for cooking the dal
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
  • 1 tablespoon jaggery or brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil of your choice
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
  • 12-15 curry leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped pumpkin
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1-2 cups vegetable broth or water, as needed

Make sure to have all these ingredients ready before you start cooking, as the process in the Instant Pot moves swiftly, ensuring you get to savor your delicious sambar in no time.

Equipment Needed

To make sambar in your Instant Pot efficiently and enjoy its rich flavors, gathering the right tools is essential before you begin. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Instant Pot: The star of the show! Ideally, a 6-quart model works best for this recipe, providing ample space for the ingredients to mingle and cook evenly.
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons: Accurate measurements are key to achieving the perfect balance of flavors in sambar. Have a set of measuring cups and spoons ready.
  • Chopping Board and Knife: You’ll need these to chop vegetables and herbs cleanly and safely.
  • Ladle or Large Spoon: Essential for stirring the ingredients well and ensuring they cook uniformly.
  • Small Bowl: Useful for mixing the tamarind paste with water or for holding spices ready to be added to the pot.
  • Strainer: If you prefer a smoother sambar, a strainer might be needed to filter out solid spices or chunks after cooking.

Ensure all these tools are at your disposal to streamline your cooking process and enhance your experience making sambar in an Instant Pot.


Before you start, ensure all the necessary equipment and ingredients are on hand to make the sambar preparation seamless and enjoyable.

Roasting the Spices

Begin by setting your Instant Pot to the sauté mode. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and let it heat up for about 30 seconds. Next, add the dry spices—1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, a half teaspoon of cumin seeds, and a few curry leaves—to the pot. Stir them gently until the mustard seeds start to pop and the spices release their fragrant aroma. This roasting process should take about two minutes. Be careful not to let the spices burn; adjust the heat if necessary.

Preparing the Vegetables

While the spices are roasting, prepare your vegetables. You will need one chopped onion, two tomatoes diced, one carrot peeled and chopped, and one cup of pumpkin chopped into cubes. Additionally, prepare a cup of tamarind extract by soaking a small ball of tamarind in warm water and straining it. Once the spices are roasted, add the onions to the pot and sauté until they turn translucent. Add the tomatoes, carrot, and pumpkin. Stir well to coat the vegetables with the roasted spices, allowing the flavors to meld. Pour in the tamarind extract and about six cups of water, stirring to combine all the ingredients thoroughly. Now, your sambar mixture is ready for pressure cooking.

Cooking Instructions

Now that you’ve gathered your ingredients and prepped your veggies, it’s time to start cooking. Here’s how you can use your Instant Pot to make delicious sambar effortlessly.

Cooking the Lentils

  1. Rinse 1 cup of toor dal (split pigeon peas) under cold water until the water runs clear. This removes any dust and excess starch.
  2. Add the rinsed lentils to your Instant Pot along with 3 cups of water. Ensure that the lentils are fully submerged.
  3. Close the lid of the Instant Pot and set the valve to the sealing position. Press the ‘Pressure Cook’ or ‘Manual’ button and set the timer for 15 minutes at high pressure.
  4. After the cooking time ends, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, then manually release any remaining pressure by carefully turning the valve to the venting position.
  5. Open the lid once the pressure pin drops. Check if the lentils are soft and fully cooked. They should be mushy and easily mashed with a ladle.

Sautéing and Pressure Cooking the Sambar

  1. Set the Instant Pot to ‘Sauté’ mode. Once hot, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
  2. To the hot oil, add 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds and wait until they start to pop. Then, add 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds and a few curry leaves. Let them sizzle for a few seconds.
  3. Add 1 chopped onion and sauté until it turns translucent. Follow with 1 teaspoon of ginger-garlic paste and sauté until the raw smell disappears.
  4. Stir in chopped vegetables such as 1 cup of pumpkin, 1 carrot, and 1 tomato, all prepped as instructed. Sauté the vegetables for about 5 minutes until they start to soften.
  5. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of Sambar Masala over the vegetables and mix well to coat them in the spices.
  6. Pour in the cooked lentils along with any remaining cooking water. Add additional 2 cups of water to achieve your desired consistency of sambar; it should be hearty but not too thick.
  7. Add salt to taste and a pinch of asafetida (hing) for that authentic flavor. Mix well.
  8. Close the lid, set the Instant Pot to ‘Manual’ or ‘Pressure Cook’ mode, and cook for another 10 minutes at high pressure.
  9. Let the pressure release naturally for about 10 minutes, then perform a quick release for any remaining pressure.
  10. Open the lid and give the sambar a good stir. Adjust flavors, adding tamarind paste or jaggery if desired, to balance the tang and sweetness.
  11. Your sambar is ready to be served hot with rice, idli, or dosa. Enjoy the meld of spices and flavors that this traditional South Indian dish offers!

Assembling the Dish

Now that your lentils are perfectly cooked and the spices and vegetables are sautéed to bring out their maximum flavor, it’s time to assemble the sambar in your Instant Pot. Follow these steps closely to ensure that all the flavors meld beautifully, creating a delicious, homely South Indian sambar.

Add the Tamarind and Jaggery

  1. Start by adding tamarind paste to the sautéed vegetables and spices in the Instant Pot. The tamarind paste brings a tangy depth that is quintessential to sambar.
  2. Next, introduce jaggery or brown sugar. This will balance the tanginess of the tamarind with a subtle sweetness.

Combine with Lentils

  1. Carefully pour the cooked lentils into the Instant Pot with the vegetables and spices.
  2. Gently stir the mixture to combine all the ingredients thoroughly. Ensure the lentils, tamarind, jaggery, and vegetables are well-incorporated so the flavors can start to intermingle.

Final Cooking Under Pressure

  1. Secure the lid of your Instant Pot and set it to the “Pressure Cook” mode.
  2. Adjust the timer to cook for an additional 10 minutes. This final pressure cooking step helps the ingredients to fully merge, enhancing the overall flavor and texture of the sambar.

Finishing and Serving

  1. Once the cooking is complete, carefully release the pressure and open the lid.
  2. Give the sambar a good stir and taste it. Adjust the salt and add more tamarind or jaggery, if needed, according to your taste preferences.

Serving Suggestions

After mastering the art of making sambar in your Instant Pot, pairing it with the right accompaniments will elevate your meal to the next level. Here are some scrumptious ideas for serving your flavorful South Indian sambar:

  • Steamed Rice: Sambar poured over hot, fluffy steamed rice makes a classic South Indian meal. The rice beautifully absorbs the spices and tamarind tang of the sambar.
  • Idli or Dosas: These are traditional South Indian foods that complement the richness of sambar. Serve the sambar as a dipping sauce or pour it over fresh, hot idlis or crisp dosas.
  • Vada: Dunking savory, fried vada into your hearty sambar is another delightful way to enjoy this dish. The vada soaks up the liquid, infusing it with the sambar’s flavors.
  • South Indian Pickles and Papadums: Add a spicy touch with a side of South Indian pickle, or a crispy papadum for a pleasing texture contrast.


Ready to dive into the rich flavors of South Indian cuisine right from your kitchen? With your Instant Pot, you’re all set to whip up a delicious sambar that promises to be both nourishing and satisfying. Remember, the key to a great sambar lies in the freshness of the ingredients and the balance of spices. So grab your ladle and get ready to impress your family or guests with this aromatic and hearty dish. Whether it’s alongside rice or your favorite South Indian snacks, sambar made in an Instant Pot is sure to be a hit at any dining table. Enjoy the blend of convenience and tradition in every spoonful!

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