Gravy side-dishes / Sambhar & Rasams

Keerai sambhar/ Tangy spinach dal

Growing up in Delhi, everyday food for us at home was roti-dal-sabzi, followed, of course, by curd-rice, without which any self-respecting south-Indian cannot live. South-Indian food was relegated to the weekend, by virtue of which it became special food.

My mother would pounce upon any typically south-Indian vegetable –  podalangai/snake gourd, drumsticks, sambhar onions and the like – when she spotted them at the weekly vegetable market. Banana items like raw banana, banana stem and flowers weren’t adifficult to get since many houses in our colony had banana trees and people would always pass on the goodies to one of the four or five south-Indian and Bengali families that lived in the colony.

So, Sunday lunch would typically include sambhar (usually white radish or small onion sambhar if she got lucky), rasam, some thogayal (chutneys with a more coarse texture, usually mixed with rice), coconut-sprinkled vegetables and fried rice appalams/papads.

After getting married though, south-Indian food became de rigueur while proper north-Indian became weekend cuisine. Over a period of time, of course, by the power of my stubborn will, I got my hubby to appreciate simple north-Indian fare of dal and rotis. These days, it is usually south-Indian for lunch and north-Indian for dinner, which is why the blog features mostly south-Indian dishes (since I usually write my posts during the day. I’m no night bird and am generally snoring before the clock shows 10.30!).

While my mother usually stuck to onion, ladies finger and white radish for sambhar (other vegetables like pumpkin, drumstick etc. being routinely rejected either by me or my brother), my mother-in-law’s repertoire extends to include brinjals, capsicum, drumstick, carrot, spinach etc.

I used to find cooking spinach a chore until recently, when I realised that the result far outweighs the effort that goes into cleaning the vegetable. Incidentally, spinach sambhar, I feel, is one of the easiest sambhars to prepare since it requires less tamarind than the other varieties, thus less cooking time. Another reason being, I like to add a lot of tomatoes to this sambhar, since I love the spinach-tomato combination.

Spinach Sambhar


(Quantities mentioned serve two)

Toor dal – ½ cup

Tamarind – A marble sized ball (smaller than a standard lemon)

Tomatoes – 2 (you can decrease the quantity of tamarind and add more tomatoes too)

Any spinach variety – 1 cup

Mustard seeds – 1 tsp

Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp

Oil – 1 tsp

For the powder:

Red chilies – 3-4

Dry coriander seeds – 2 tsp

Fenugreek seeds – ½ tsp

Chana dal – 1 tsp

Hing – 1 pinch

Turmeric powder – 1 pinch

Oil – ½ tsp

(Alternatively, you can use 2 tsp readymade sambhar powder)


Heat ½ tsp of oil. Add chana dal

When dal starts to change colour (don’t wait till it becomes golden brown though), add coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, red chilies and hing

Take off heat when dal turns golden-brown and the chilies bloat and turn deep red

Cool and grind along with turmeric powder. Keep aside

Heat the tamarind ball in half a cup of water. Cool and squeeze out the pulp

Wash spinach in three changes of water. Dunk clean spinach in a pot of boiling water. Let it stay that way for 10-15 minutes. Then take it out of water and chop roughly. Do not waste this water

Pressure toor dal with ¼ tsp turmeric powder till 4 whistles. It should be soft enough to mash with a ladle

Heat 1 tsp of oil. Splutter mustard seeds

Add tamarind pulp along with readymade sambhar powder, if using. Boil till quantity reduces by half

Add tomatoes, spinach, dal and ground sambhar powder. Add a cupr or so of the drained Spinach water.  Cook for 10 minutes

Add salt. Take off heat. Serve


You can add 1-2 tsp of grated coconut while grinding sambhar powder

You can leave out tamarind altogether and use 4-5 tomatoes instead. Reduce dal quantity to 1/3 cup in this case.

3 thoughts on “Keerai sambhar/ Tangy spinach dal

  1. Hey Nandini, I have a small doubt, the first step with fenugreek seeds coriander seeds all these we grind so is this called the ground sambhar powder?

  2. Yes Sharanya. The powder you get by roasting and grinding the dals, seeds and chillies is ground sambhar powder. If you want to omit that step, you could use readymade powder too and boil along with tamarind pulp

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