Pearl Onion Sambar

Pearl onion, also called baby red onion is my go to sambar when I make idli. It is simple to make and having sambar powder on hand makes it easier. Pearl onions are available in Indian grocery stores fresh as well as in the freezer. I always prefer fresh, I agree it is a bit of work to peel each and every tiny onion but it is totally worth it. The freshness and the taste quotient is awesome. 

In India small eateries along the highways are called ‘dhabhas’. The food served there is so flavorful and delicious that it is inevitable to try food at these joints. I have memories of eating idli and pearl onion sambar on a few occasions while road tripping. Delicious to say the least. 

I use Byadagi chilies to make sambar powder and all of my South Indian cooking. This variety is native to North Karnataka and has a medium spice level with bright red color, which makes it very striking. I make sure to get my stock of this variety of chilies from India each time I visit or have it shipped if my stock gets over. One time I also had a friend get it from India along with her package. The lengths we humans go to procure food and ingredients!!



Prep Time

15-20 minutes

Cook Time

15-20 minutes

Total Time

About 40 minutes

  • 1 cup pearl onion, peeled
  • 1 tsp oil
  • ½ cup tur or arhar dal, soaked
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp tamarind paste + 2 cups water 
  • For seasoning:
  • 1-2 whole red chilies
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp oil
  • For sambar powder:
  • 4 tbsp coriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp methi seeds
  • 12 whole red chilies
  • ⅛ tsp fresh asafetida or powder
  • 4 tsp chana dal

Step 1
To make sambar powder roast the spices in a pan for 2-3 minutes. Cool and make a fine powder using a coffee grinder. Keep aside.

Step 2
Cook tur dal in a pressure cooker until soft and mash well. Keep aside.

Step 3
Take a pan and add 1 tsp oil and add onions. Saute for 5-7 minutes and keep aside. 

Step 4
Mix tamarind paste with 2 cups of water. Place a pan on medium heat and add tamarind water. When it boils add salt and turmeric. Add the sauteed onion and cooked dal. Mix well.

Step 5
Boil for 10 minutes and adjust the consistency. Add oil to seasoning pan heat and add cumin and mustard seeds. When mustard splutters season the sambar. Serve hot with idli, dosa or rice.

This sambar is usually served with idli so the consistency is thin compared to regular sambar.


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The famous proverb "you are what you eat” as quoted by the French author Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is very true. Food nourishes you from the inside out. Good health is of utmost importance to me. Vegetarianism and Veganism are gaining immense popularity these days. Natural, organic, healthy and homemade is my mantra.

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