Butternut Squash Sambar

Sambar is one of the most popular South Indian delicacies. It is a tangy, spicy stew seasoned with tamarind and spices, simmered with lentils and vegetables. While the preparation varies slightly across states in South India, the mouthwatering taste remains essentially the same. This recipe uses butternut squash, which is popular and abundant in North America. It gives the dish a nice natural sweetness to balance the spiciness of the dish. Enjoy it with rice, crispy dosas, fluffy idlis, or rotis as a warming winter stew.
January 20, 2020



Prepare the Sambhar Mix:

  1. Combine chana dal, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and 2-3 red chilies.
  2. Roast on a low flame for 5 minutes until aromatic and lightly toasted.
  3. Grind in a bullet blender or food processor to a powder.


Cook the Lentils

  1. Prepare the lentils by soaking for 30 minutes and washing and draining them. Note: Soaking is optional, but it softens them and releases some of the gas producing enzymes.
  2. If Using an Instant Pot: Add lentils to an instant pot with 1.5- 2 cups water, ½ tsp turmeric powder and 1 tsp salt. Set on pressure cook setting for 15 minutes. Allow a 15 minute natural release.
  3. If Using Stove top Pressure Cooker: If cooking on a stovetop pressure cooker, add 2 cups of water to the lentils and pressure cook for 10 minutes (around 5 whistles). Reduce the flame to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from flame and allow the pressure to release completely before opening.
  4. Mash the lentils with the back of a spoon. If well pressure cooked, it will be easy to do. The lentils should be smooth when you add to the sambar.


Prepare the Sambhar

  1. Fill a medium-sized pot half way with water. Add butternut squash, tomatoes and 1 tsp tamarind concentrate, 2 tbsp sambar powder and 1 tsp salt.
  2. Bring water to a boil and reduce to medium. Simmer until butternut squash softens and is fork tender, around 10 minutes.
  3. Once butternut squash is cooked, reduce the flame to low and slowly add the lentils to the pot, a little bit at a time.
  4. Add water as needed until you reach the desired consistency. It should be thinner than a stew, but still be hearty.



  1. In a separate small pan, add 2 tbsp of sesame oiNote: While sesame oil is traditional, you may sub a mild vegetable oil such as canola, sunflower. In some regions of the south, even coconut oil or ghee is used.
  2. Add mustard seeds and set heat to high.
  3. Once mustard seeds begin to sputter, add red chilies, asafetida and curry leaves.
  4. Allow to sauté for 1 minute, then add this to the sambar.
  5. Stir to combine and remove sambar from flame.
  6. Adjust salt as needed, garnish with cilantro and more curry leaves and serve. 

Serve with rice, rotis, idlis or dosa!  

  • To save time, you may pressure cook the lentils in advance.
  • For a lower spice tolerance, use only 1 tbsp sambar powder and avoid tempering with red chilies.  
  • If butternut squash is unavailable, you may use pumpkin or even sweet potato for a similar taste.

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