Onion sambar recipe with step by step pics. It is an easy and delicious sambar variety made with pearl onions or small onions, tuvar dal (arhar dal or pigeon pea lentils), tomato, spices and herbs. This onion sambar is also known as Vengaya Sambar in Tamil Nadu and Ulli Sambar in Kerala. It makes for a healthy and delicious meal when paired with idli or dosa or steamed rice. A vegan recipe.
Sambar is a favorite at home and I often make Sambar with idlis or steamed rice. I specially buy pearl onions to make this vengaya sambar and Ulli theeyal (Kerala curry made with pearl onions). When pearl onions are not available, I make this sambar with regular onions.
Pearl onions have a distinct taste of their own and so I also add them to our everyday dals also.
This sambar not only tastes good with pearl onions but also with regular onions. The recipe uses sambar powder and I have added homemade sambar powder. There is no coconut added in the recipe.
Serve onion sambar hot with idli, dosa, medu vada, uttapam or with steamed rice.
How to make Onion Sambar
1. Rinse ½ cup tuvar dal (pigeon pea lentils) for a couple of times in water. Then add the lentils in a pressure cooker along with ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder and 1.5 to 2 cups water.
Stir and pressure cook the lentils for 7 to 8 whistles or till they are cooked completely.
2. When the dal is cooking, soak ½ tablespoon tightly packed seedless tamarind in ¼ cup hot water.
3. Also soak 20 to 22 pearl onions in water for about 20 minutes. Soaking helps in peeling the onions easily. You can also peel them without soaking.
Instead of pearl onions, you can also use shallots or 2 to 3 medium-sized onions. Just dice the onions.
4. When the dal is softened really well, mash the dal and keep aside.
5. Later peel the onions. Rinse them well in water and keep aside. Also, dice 1 small tomato.
Making vengaya sambar
6. Heat 2 tablespoon oil. Add ½ teaspoon mustard seeds along with 1 teaspoon urad dal (optional). Allow the mustard seeds to splutter and the urad dal to change into a maroonish color.
7. Then add 2 dry red chilies and 3 to 4 fenugreek seeds. Saute till the red chilies change color.
8. Next add the pearl onions and 9 to 10 curry leaves. Stir and saute till the onions turn translucent.
9. Add the diced tomatoes and one pinch of asafoetida (hing). Stir and saute the tomatoes till they soften.
10. Extract the pulp from the soaked tamarind.
12. Add the tamarind pulp to the onion-tomato mixture.
13. Add 1.5 cups of water.
14. Bring this mixture to a simmer till the raw aroma and taste of tamarind goes away. About 7 to 8 minutes.
15. Then add 2 teaspoon sambar powder.
16. Stir and mix very well.
17. Now add the mashed dal.
18. Stir again.
19. Add some more water if required and if the sambar looks very thick.
20. Add salt as required and stir well. You can also add some jaggery if you want.
21. Simmer vengaya sambar for 5 to 6 minutes or until the sambar thickens slightly.
22. Garnish with coriander leaves if you want and Serve small onion sambar hot with steamed rice or idli, dosa or uttapam.
- If you don’t have pearl onions or can’t source them, make the recipe with regular onions or shallots. When using regular onions, just dice and use them for the recipe.
- Soaking pearl onions in water will help you peel them easily. However, if you have time in hand, you can peel them without soaking as well.
- It is best to use a homemade sambar powder. But if you don’t have it made already, then you can prepare this sambar with store-bought sambar powder as well.
- Adding urad dal in the tempering is optional.
- You can adjust the quantity of water according to the consistency you want in the sambar.
More Tasty Sambar varieties
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for cooking lentils
- ½ cup tuvar dal (arhar dal or pigeon pea lentils)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1.5 to 2 cups water for pressure cooking
- 2 tablespoon oil
- 2 dry red chilies
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon urad dal (split husked black gram) – optional
- 3 to 4 fenugreek seeds (methi dana)
- 9 to 10 curry leaves or 1 sprig of curry leaf
- 1 pinch asafoetida (hing)
- 125 to 150 grams small onions (chinna vengaya) or 20 to 22 pearl onions (shallots) or 1 to 1.25 cup peeled pearl onions or 2 to 3 medium onions
- 1 small tomato
- ½ tablespoon tightly packed seedless tamarind soaked in ¼ cup water
- 2 teaspoon Sambar Powder
- 1.5 cups water
- salt as required
- Rinse 1/2 cup tuvar dal for a couple of times in water. Then add the lentils in a pressure cooker along with 1/4 tsp turmeric powder. Stir and pressure cook the lentils for 7 to 8 whistles or till they are cooked completely.
- When the dal is cooking, soak 1/2 tbsp tamarind in 1/2 cup hot water for about 20 minutes. Later extract the pulp from the tamarind and keep aside.
- Also soak the pearl onions in water for about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Let the pressure release from the cooker on its own. Open the lid and check the dal. If the dal is softened and cooked really well, mash the dal and keep aside.
- Later peel the pearl onions. Rinse them well in water and keep aside. Also, dice the tomato.
making onion sambar
- Heat 2 tbsp oil and add 1/2 tsp mustard seeds along with 1 tsp urad dal. Allow the mustard seeds to splutter and the urad dal to change into a maroonish color.
- Then add 2 dry red chilies and 3 to 4 fenugreek seeds. Saute till the red chilies change color.
- Next add the pearl onions and curry leaves. Stir and saute till the onions turn translucent.
- Add the diced tomatoes and a pinch of asafoetida. Stir and saute the tomatoes till soften.
- Add the tamarind pulp to the onion-tomato mixture.
- Add water and stir well. Bring this mixture to a simmer till the raw smell of tamarind goes away.
- Then add sambar powder and stir very well.
- Now add the mashed dal and stir again. Add some more water if required.
- Add salt and stir well. Simmer vengaya sambar for 5 to 6 minutes.
- Garnish with coriander leaves if you want. Serve small onion sambar with steamed rice or idli, dosa or uttapam.
- If pearl onions are not available, then you can make this recipe with regular onions.
This Onion Sambar post from the archives first published in June 2015 has been updated and republished on December 2022