Vegan Red Lentil Indian Sambar

Sambar (sometimes spelled sambhar) is a popular vegetarian Indian food dish, that is also vegan as well. It’s made with red lentils, mustard seeds, onion, and fiery green chilies.


  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons cold-pressed canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 hot green chilies, seeded and minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sambar powder (see note below)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup eggplant, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Combine the lentils and water in a pot and bring to a boil.

  3. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer until soft, 30 minutes. Set aside, do not drain.

  4. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds.

  5. When they begin to pop, add the onion, garlic, chiles, and ginger and cook until softened – about 5 minutes.

  6. Stir in the tomatoes, then add the sambar powder, coriander, cayenne, cumin, and salt.

  7. Add the carrots, cauliflower, green beans, and eggplant. Cover and cook for 5 minutes to soften.

  8. Add the egetable mixture to the reserved lentils, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are soft – about 20 minutes. If the mixture becomes too thick, add more water.

  9. Stir in the lime juice and cilantro and cook 5 minutes longer. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

  10. Serve and enjoy!


  • If you don’t have a local Indian grocery source for sambar powder, learn how to make your own sambar masala.

Vegetarian red lentil sambar recipe reprinted with permission from “Vegan Fire & Spice: 200 Sultry and Savory Global Recipes” by chef Robin Robertson.

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