Red Lentil Sambar from Vegan Fire and Spice

by on February 18, 2008
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Anshu's Red Lentil Sambar

Robin Robertson, the prolific author of Vegan Planet and over a dozen other cookbooks, has just come out with a new one, and boy is it hot–literally. She recently contacted me to ask if she could send me a review copy of Vegan Fire & Spice, and being the heat-seeking eater that I am, I immediately said “Yes, please!”

Vegan Fire & Spice’s 200 recipes range from subtly spicy to tongue blistering, arranged by geographic region and labeled with symbols indicating the level of heat. But what may be most impressive about the recipes is that they don’t depend solely on hot spices for their flavor, so someone who doesn’t like spicy food at all can tone down or leave out the peppers completely and still enjoy a dish that’s deliciously seasoned. Most of the recipes are uncomplicated and don’t involve huge lists of ingredients.

Robin was kind enough to allow me to post a recipe of my choice, and deciding which one to make wasn’t easy, but Anshu’s Red Lentil Sambar had all the elements that I look for in a recipe: it was simple, low in fat, and full of vegetables. Though it requires more ingredients than most of the book’s recipes do, many of them are seasonings that are added all together. I’ve reprinted the recipe exactly as it appears in the book, but I have to tell you that you can get away with using much less oil than the recipe indicates. I used about 1/8 teaspoon to pop the mustard seeds, and that was all. Even with reduced fat, this recipe was rich and hearty, a delicious dish that my whole family enjoyed. I’ll be making it again–as soon as I check out some of the other tempting recipes!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 SusanV February 18, 2011 at 10:22 am

Here are the comments that were lost when the blog was moved in 2010:

Melody Polakow said…

YUM! It looks and sounds delicious! I LOVE spicy food, so I’m interested in this book.

10:42 AM, February 18, 2008
Catherine said…

A wonderfully colorful dish! Looks fantastic and healthful!

10:52 AM, February 18, 2008
aTxVegn said…

That looks fabulous, Susan, and thanks for the lower fat tips. I just ordered Fire & Spice along with Vegan Express and it looks like I made a good selection. You know we love the heat in Texas!

2:09 PM, February 18, 2008
Mandira said…

wow Susan! The sambhar looks delish!

2:14 PM, February 18, 2008
OpenID snoogiewoogie said…

hmmmm, yummy, will add that to my meal plan for next week!


2:49 PM, February 18, 2008
Melisser; the Urban Housewife said…

Ooh, I love Sambar! Thanks for sharing!

12:30 AM, February 19, 2008
Anonymous Heather said…

Just want to tell you that

I am sending you the You Make My Day award…because your recipes have made a huge difference in my family’s life!

Have a great day.

1:06 AM, February 19, 2008
mustardseed said…

That is one funny sambar! Traditionally, sambar is a soupy lentil dish served with rice. South Indian. But over here the sambar looks more like stew…

7:09 AM, February 19, 2008
San Luis said…

If “Fire & Spice” is anything like Robin’s “Some Like It Hot,” it’ll be a winner for sure! Everything in that book works — and works and works. It’s one of the most-used cookbooks in our household, hands down. I don’t care if it’s 8 in the morning — I could totally go for Robin’s Tofu With Romesco Sauce right now.

Thanks for the preview — and the gorgeous recipe!

8:03 AM, February 19, 2008
VeggieGirl said…

oh my goodness that red lentil sambar looks DIVINE!! I love anything with “fire & spice” :0D

9:59 AM, February 19, 2008
Anke said…

yum, this sounds good. I can’t eat very spicy food so I love the fact that there are mose spices contributing to the flavor. hmmmm 🙂

12:56 PM, February 19, 2008
Melissa said…

You are unbelievable. I have been looking high and low for a red lentil sambar recipe all week since having it at a South Indian restaurant. But all the recipes I could find were for yellow lentils.

And voi-la, now here it is, on the front page! Now make idlis to accompany it. Mmm!

11:19 PM, February 19, 2008
Shay said…

Wow that looks amazin! I LOVE spicy food!! How do you get sent all the ‘review’ versions of these cookbooks??! You are SO lucky!

2:49 PM, February 20, 2008
Anonymous vegan blog tracker said…

I love a little heat! At first that recipe looks like work, given the list of ingredients, but the instructions are pretty dang easy. I’ll have to take a look at that book. 🙂

5:06 PM, February 21, 2008
Happy Herbivore! said…

the colors! woah
I will def. be making this dish very soon!

6:00 PM, February 21, 2008
Manda said…

I love food that has a lot of bulk yet is so fresh, clean and good for you; this recipe is one of those recipes.

Oh my gosh it was delicious.

6:12 PM, February 21, 2008
juju said…

I can’t live, cook or eat without fire OR spice! I LOVE your blog. Thank you! Long time visitor, first time commenter.

10:22 PM, February 21, 2008
little miss veggie. said…

this photo is amazing! im ecited to search your blog for a lot of recipes! check out my blog sometime too:)

1:44 AM, February 22, 2008
affectioknitter said…

That looks really yummy – I’ll have to try it – we love lentils…

11:44 AM, February 22, 2008
zlamushka said…

i am always amazed by your creativity, Susan 🙂

3:27 AM, February 23, 2008
Anonymous Angela said…

This looks great. I’m going to try it this week. Just a quick question–did you make your own sambar powder or buy it as a spice? I don’t own it so I’m not sure what to look for in the store. Thanks!

10:21 AM, February 23, 2008
SusanV said…

Zlamushka, thanks for the compliment, but I can’t take any credit for this one–it’s straight from Robin’s book.

Angela, I bought it in a package at an Indian grocery store. I’ve never seen it in a regular supermarket, so if you don’t have an Indian market near you, you may have to buy it online.

10:50 AM, February 23, 2008
Anonymous Ricki said…

Never heard of sambar, but I’ve got all the rest in the house. . . and since I love spicy foods, this is definitely one to try (not that I’ve got even 1/4 the way through Vegan Planet yet, of course. . ) 😉

3:36 PM, February 23, 2008
cash money winsome said…

oh, this was so tasty! i’ve been missing on sambar’s taste, and i appreciate that this one had lots of veggies to make it seem more like a full meal. thanks for sharing! robin’s book is going on my wishlist.

4:15 PM, February 23, 2008
Manvantara said…

As mustardseed said earlier, this IS one funny sambar!
I think an authentic version of sambar can be found in “Dakshin” – book I am sure you will love.

One glaring NO NO in this sambar recipe you posted is the adding of garam masala! Sambar is a south Indian dish and garam masala is NOT used in South Indian cooking!
I grew up in Madras and I should know…. 🙂

1:13 PM, February 25, 2008
Robin Robertson said…

In response to Manvantara’s comment about the garam masala — the original recipe from my friend’s aunt Anshu contained no garam masala — I added the 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala to the recipe when I adapted it for the book because the original recipe called for even more spices in an already long recipe so I decided instead to add a pinch of garam masala instead as a shortcut — it can easily be omitted for a more authentic recipe. And for those who prefer a thinner/soupier sambar, just chop the veggies a little smaller and add more liquid. Hope this helps! And thanks again, Susan, for posting the recipe — it looks great.

9:33 AM, February 26, 2008
Anonymous Andrea T. said…

This recipe is fabulous! I just made it tonight; my Indian husband (I am white) devoured it and said it would make a south Indian proud! This recipe has won me points with my Bangalore-dwelling in-laws…thank you!:):)

8:18 PM, May 29, 2008
Anonymous said…

Your blog is amazing as usual. Just wanted to give a tip. I am from south India where Sambhar is a staple. We do not add garam masala to Sambhar ( That is a north Indian thing ) Also you can cook the lentils in a pressure cooker cuts the cooking time in half. I normally freeze extrs lentil and use it to make a dal

9:13 AM, June 23, 2008
Jenny said…

Your blog is my new favorite thing. Making a variation of your “Dirty Little Secret” soup right now! But this recipe is really what got me interested and really made my week last week. A lot of chopping but soooooo worth it. Not sure if Robin will ever check back, but if she ever does, Robin, it would be cool to see the list of all the spices you left out to make the recipe again and this time ultra-authentic style.

1:01 AM, July 08, 2008
Leslita said…

I finally found some sambar powder and just made this tonight using broccoli along with the cauliflower and beans. It was excellent – I can’t wait to make it again with eggplant!

2:36 AM, July 21, 2008


2 Florence, Montréal July 21, 2011 at 9:25 am

Dear Susan V.,
I’ve tried the Anshu’s Red Lentil Sambar’s receipe and it was just lovely even if I had to do it without the sambar powder that I couldn’t find and that I did it with green lentils and regular mustard seeds. So I can imagine that the original is an explosion of flavours! I also used a mix of olive oil and sesame oil (that I love and try to put everywhere I can : )
I wanted to tell you that I love your blog and it has been very useful to me ever since I made the decision to eat vegetarian. There is a vegan restaurant here in Montreal called “Aux Vivres” that can convince anyone to pass to a vegan diet because everything they make is fantastic, different and healthy. I wish you could come and try it out so you can maybe reproduce some receipes and give us some secrets….I’m ruining myself by going always more and more often!!
Thank you for offering us your varied talents and art!


3 SusanV July 21, 2011 at 9:35 am

Thank you for your kind words, Florence! I would love to visit Montreal again (it’s been years since I was there), and I will definitely look for Aux Vivres when I do.


4 Sanitha Kochi June 18, 2012 at 12:40 am

This one is a great recipe. Infact I never tried this dry variety yet. I always loved this kind of spicy food. Next weekend i will definitely try this one. Thanks for sharing this variety one


5 Kim October 2, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Made this the other day – very good! One of my Indian friends liked it a lot! I will make it again.


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