Spicy Red Lentil Stew

Photography by Jason Little | Food Styling by Johanna Brannan Lowe
This version of the traditional South Indian dish sambar is made with red lentils in place of toor dal, canola oil in place of ghee and store-bought sambar powder. This recipe is part of the 2018 Food & Nutrition cultural competency series, My Global Table.

SERVING SIZE: 1 cup (250 grams)
PREP TIME: 20 minutes
COOKING TIME: 40 minutes


  • 1 cup split red lentils, rinsed
  • 4 cups (950 milliliters) water, divided
  • 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) canola oil
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
  • ½ cup thinly sliced carrots
  • ½ cup diced zucchini
  • ½ cup diced eggplant
  • 3 tablespoons sambar powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Combine lentils and 2 cups water in a 2-quart saucepan. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until lentils are soft and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
  2. While lentils are cooking, heat oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until lightly golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes and reduce heat to medium-low. Sauté until tomatoes start to break down and get mushy, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add carrots, zucchini and eggplant. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes or until the vegetables start to soften.
  5. Stir in sambar powder and salt. Sauté for 1 minute, then turn off heat. Remove lentils from heat.
  6. Using an immersion blender (or standard blender or food processor) puree lentils and remaining liquid.
  7. Add pureed lentils, remaining 2 cups water and tamarind concentrate to the cooked vegetables. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
  8. Add cilantro just before serving. Serve warm with rice.

Cooking note: Sambar powder is a unique blend of spices including red chilies, coriander and curry leaves. It can be found in specialty grocery stores, Indian markets and online.

Nutrition per serving: 196 calories, 4g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 3mg cholesterol, 508mg sodium, 32g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 5g sugar, 10g protein, 513mg potassium, 145mg phosphorus

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Marcy Gaston
Marcy Gaston, MS, RD, LN, is Assistant Teaching Professor of Hospitality Management at Montana State University in Bozeman. She blogs at cookingsustainably.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.