If cooking in the Instant Pot, add turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt, dal and 1 1/2 cups of water. Close the pressure valve, secure the lid and using high pressure, cook for 7 minutes. Release pressure using natural release for 15 minutes, then release the remaining pressure.
If cooking the dal on the stove-top, using a medium-sized pan on medium-high heat add the dal, 3 cups water, salt, and turmeric and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer, cover, and allow the dal to cook for 30 minutes. Stir several times and test for tenderness.
Roast the Vegetables
Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and place them on a baking tray. Coat with a tablespoon of oil.
Roast for 8 minutes, then stir well. Roast for another 7 minutes. Stir and roast a bit more if needed. Set aside.
Make the Sambar
While the vegetables are roasting make the sambar masala. Add the ghee or oil to a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. When the ghee is hot add the mustard seeds. Test with a few seeds to see if the fat is hot enough. You want to have almost immediate spluttering. Add the asafetida and curry leaves, if using, and cook for a minute. Stir in the onions, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Cook the onions until they start turning golden around the edges. This will take about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the coconut, sambar powder, and the Kashmiri chili; stir frequently to toast for a minute or two. If there is any sticking add water in 1 tablespoon increments as needed.
Add the toor dal, its cooking liquid, the roasted vegetables, and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Taste for seasonings: salt, acid, sugar, enough heat, and additional sambar powder. Added water if you want and thinner soup.
Garnish with cilantro if you wish. Serve with rice, flatbread, dosa, idli, flatbread, vada, or on its own with a salad and some good bread. Sambar keeps well for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
If you prefer a thicker soup, replace with some of the toor dal with masoor dal (red lentils).
I’ve picked one example of a mix of vegetables. Here is a list of some other ideas, keeping in mind you need 2 cups total:
okra (can be found frozen if not in season)
When roasting the vegetables, you may want to give the root vegetables and hard winter squash an 8-minute head start. After stirring them, add is the softer vegetables.
If you prefer to cook the vegetables in the same pot as the rest of the ingredients, add them after the onions are finished cooking. Add water as needed.
It is important not to overcook the vegetables. They should be cooked through but not mushy.
My sambar recipe is slightly less acidic than a typical sambar. If you wish, add another teaspoon lemon juice or tamarind paste. If you want to balance out the acid, add a teaspoon or more of sugar.
If you include eggplant, you may want to soak it in salted water after chopping it up into bite-sized pieces. This helps to reduce the bitterness.
Sambar is often made with okra, but since that is not a favorite vegetable of mine, this recipe is okra free.
Sometimes the dal needs to cook a bit longer than 30 minutes. So adjust the cooking time accordingly. I prefer the dal to cook very well so that it's easy to mash.
This soup will thicken as it sits, so feel free to add water to give it the preferred consistency. If you are cooking it in advance, be sure to adjust the seasonings as needed.