Step by step making of Arachhu utta sambar – Lentils & vegetables in tamarind, coconut sauce

(The meanings to the italiced words are given at the end of the post. It would have been blasphemous to replace those words with translations for they would not have done justice to the meanings they convey in Tamil).

Aracchu utta sambar

Though Arachhu rhymes with Machu-Picchu, it is not a place. It is just a musical name for a dish I love, that brings forth a sea of memories and the tastes, smells and flavours of a warm kitchen.

I see my periamma’s face as she grinds the coconut, roasted pulses and aromatic coriander seeds in her aattu-kallu (grinding stone). She gathers the coarse paste with her fingers, pushing them into the central recess of the grinding stone, and runs the obelix shaped stone against the spices, crushing them to bring out the flavour and forming a smooth paste. There is a charm about the movement of the hands, the musical notes from her bangles as they meet one another, the grating and squishing sounds of the stone as it goes round and round over the paste. Sounds that have been taken away by mixers and will always be missed.

Since we were constantly changing places every year my mother hand done away with our small black grinding stone. The taste of her sambar is every sip as tasty as the one that comes from the stone but the images get superimposed ever so often.

I generally prepare the easier version that does not require coconut and is made with ready sambar powder. Whenever a bout of nostalgia hits I make ‘aracchu utta sambar’. The taste must be quite like my Mum’s because my daughter often calls it ‘pati’s sambar’. This Summer when I had been to Bangalore, I got my mother to part with all her mundane, routine recipes and practically irked her. “Wouldn’t you like something more exotic?” she would ask. “No, I just want something that will bring back memories of the aattu-kallu music back,” I replied. She found it ridiculous, but relented.

Recipe: Aracchu utta sambar (A mix of lentils and vegetables in a tangy, soupy gravy)
Yield: 4-5 gluts
Time taken: 30 minutes including the time needed for grinding masala

Prep: Soak a lime sized ball of tamarind for 15 minutes before starting the recipe.

Ingredients and method for the masala:

Coriander seeds / Saboot Dhania – 3tsp.Bengal gram / Chana dal – 1.5 tsp.
Dry red chillies – 5 bedgi chillies (3 if using spicy variety)
Fenugreek seeds / Methi dana – 1/4 tsp. level (Do not increase as it makes the sambar bitter)
Asafoetida / Hing powder – A generous pinch
Oil – 1/8 tsp.
Fresh grated coconut – 3 tbsp.


Preparation of the spices:
Heat a seasoning wok or small pan with the oil. When just hot, roast the dal till pink. Roast all the other ingredients separately till the chillies turn dark, methi turns a shade and the hing exudes its characteristic aroma.

Mix the roasted ingredients with fresh coconut well and grind with very little water to form an almost smooth paste. Set aside and proceed with the next step.

Ingredients for the gravy:

A lime sized ball of tamarind
A cup of diced vegetables. Vegetables are usually diced into slightly big cubes for sambar – about 2sqcm. in size. If using onions, slice thick. Brinjals need to be quartered lengthwise to about 1.5 inches. Drumsticks are cut about 2.5 inches long. You can also use a mix of vegetables like carrots, drumsticks, eggplants and onions.

1 cup cooked tuvar dal or pigeon peas.


A tsp. of sesame oil
A tsp. of mustard seeds
A sprig of curry leaves
2-3 red chillies


Extract the tamarind juice using not more than a cup of water.

Saute the vegetables slightly in a drops of oil to get rid of any sliminess especially when using okra. Cook the vegetables in the tamarind extract alongwith a little salt and turmeric powder till just cooked through.

Tranfer to another vessel. Add the cooked pulses and ground spice paste. Add water to bring to the consistency of soup.

Bring to a boil. Remove. Heat a seasoning wok or small pan with 1/2 tsp. sesame oil. Splutter mustard seeds followed by rest of the seasonings. Pour and watch the sambar sizzle and take in the aroma!

Vegetables generally used for sambar:

Okra (cut 1″ long)
Peeled shallots
Okra and onion
Potatoes, tomatoes and capsicum
Radish or turnip
Raw podded groundnuts
Drumstick leaves
Colocassia or arbi

Glossary to Tamil words used in this post:

Arachhu utta sambar
Arachchu – Ground, utta – poured, sambar – the name of a dish made with lentils, masala and vegetables.

Periamma – Older sister of a parent, an aunt.

aattu-kallu – grinding stone used in earlier days instead of an electric mixer. It was a larger version of a pestle and mortar. See the picture here.

Pati – grandma

Palaharam – Many South Indians prefer a light tiffin at night rather than a full dinner. This is called palaharam and it is usually had early in the evening by 7:00p.m. I am assuming that in the beginning this meant ‘phala aahaaram’ meaning a meal of only fruits but got distorted in content and meaning with time.


Harini is a vegan food photographer, writer and recipe developer. She also loves feeding birds, reading, watching crime thrillers, and travelling amongst other things.

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  • Sunshinemom

    Hey anonymous, thanks for your complement. I too added puli – tamarind and not tigers in the right places:). Do look up the post again!

  • Anonymous

    Hi: your photos are amazing. Curious: We also make araitha vitta sambar at home but we add puli (tamarind, not tigers): but where's the puli in yours? Which varieties of sambar do you add tamarind to? Thanks

    • Harini

      I noticed today when I had to visit this post that your query was left unanswered by me! Very sorry! I add tamarind to all varieties except when I make it with tomatoes.

  • PG

    so Palaharam basically means supper, atleast that is what it means here (Abendbrot) – a light meal had by 6 or 7 PM. 🙂

  • PG

    wow! wonderful recipes1 And i couldn't agree more about the mundane being sometimes better than the exotic, as nothign can be better than the memories of the childhood 'mundane'. I'm the happiest person when i can just eat daal and rice. 🙂

  • Sunshinemom

    Thanks everyone for visiting and leaving your lovely comments!

    Mrignayani, welcome! What a beautiful name:)

    HOH, Welcome:)

  • high over happy

    I am so glad to have found your blog through foodshots. I love Indian food but just can't seem to master it. Will have to give your recipes a go – thanks!

  • Mriganayani

    Hi Sunshine Mom,

    First time on your blog here – you have a wonderful space! keep it up!

    The Arachiutta sambar looks wonderful!

    Now – on to explore your other posts!

  • sra

    Hi Sunshinemom, nice, unusual presentation of the sambar, first time I've actually seen it in a cup or an uruli, is that what's called an uruli, the bronze vessel? I have a small pestle and mortar at home, I am trying to use it to grind ginger and garlic nowadays.

  • Aparna

    Have been busy with so many things, its been a while since I visited my regular blogs.

    We call this "varatharaitcha sambhar" ! 🙂
    My daughter got to see an ammi kallu and aatu kallu when we were in Cochin! Those days are now the stuff of stories.

  • jayasri

    very nice, pics are amazing, i love arachhu utta sambar what you said about ammi kallu is amazing, according to me, i still pester my mom to prepare the paste using it, i always feel it gives a different taste than the mixies, the ambodes are great when you make it from that kallu, looks yummy…

  • Pavithra Kodical

    Hmmmm flavorful sambar.Looks delicious.I read about MLLA 15 in Sia's blog today,and i see you have already posted a recipe for the event 🙂

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