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I recently found a new interest in sambar after witnessing my sister’s sudden 10-pound weight loss. My sister is a vegetarian and, in an effort to lose weight, she started eating sambar as a main meal. If you don’t mind the hot spices, it can be a wonderful meal full of proteins and vitamins due to the toor dal and vegetables. Yum!


Before getting into the details on how to prepare sambar, let’s get to a few facts that might be of interest to you.

Sambar is a vegetable stew that has its origins in South India. The dish served with rice (unpolished basmati) has a low overall Glycemic Index (GI), and also lowers the lipemic response. The lipemic response affects cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your body. According to, “The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating.” Foods with a high GI are those that are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health. With the majority of charts, a number lower than 55 means that the ranking is considered low, if the ranking is between 55 and 70 it is middle range, and above 70 is considered a high ranking. There may be some foods which cause a ranking above 100; this would normally interpret as a food that causes a higher spike in blood sugar levels.

Along with the GI index, many researchers are also leaning toward the Glycemic Load (GL) of foods to resolve inconsistencies with the GI index. A main problem with the GI index is that it is reliant on results from a measure of 50 grams of food which some nutritionists see as too small of a portion. Although Glycemic Loads are good to consider, the Glycemic Index as a standalone tool does provide you with a basic picture: The lower the number, the slower the food digests in your system, this in turn means that it will slowly alter your blood sugar which is much healthier for your body.

Low GI diets have been shown to improve both glucose and lipid levels in people with diabetes (type 1 and type 2). They have benefits for weight control because they help control appetite and delay hunger. Low GI diets also reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance. The lipemic response effects cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your body. Sambar has a low lipemic response, which is good!

According to one study titled “Glycemic and Lipemic Response to Various Regional Meals and South Indian Snacks,” South Indian food had low GIs over many other regional foods from Punjab and Gujarat. This study was performed with various controlled conditions and found that sambar with Pongal (a rice dish, you can substitute with plain basmati rice) showed a GI of 53.6 perecent. This is quite a bit lower than other regional foods and even the traditional idli and chutney meal which rendered a GI of 102 percent. A typical Punjabi meal showed a 68-percent ranking, while an average Gujarati meal ranked 83 perecent.

Now on to the delicious part—there are so many variations of sambar that one can truly never get bored of this meal that, by the way, is normally served for breakfast. Mix sambar with veggies, rice, idli (a puffed and steamed cake made from rice and urad dal), dhokla (steamed gram flour), and continue with other variations.

For a twist, Westernize the dish by throwing in croutons instead, add non-traditional veggies, such as broccoli, and tone down the spices.

As much as I like to make things from scratch, I also appreciate shortcuts to save time. Hence, the sambar daal packages available at the local Indian grocery store. I like the Gits Sambar Mix. Add water and boil.

Throw in your favorite vegetables such as tomatoes, cauliflower, or eggplant, and you have a wonderful stew.

If you want to make sambar from scratch there are plenty of online recipes which can guide you through the process, just be prepared to have a spare hour on your hands!

Shyamal Randeria-Leonard is an active partner with Meru Flavors and Food in Los Angeles, and was recently selected to judge the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair. Randeria-Leonard enjoys blogging and has written articles with topics ranging from adoption to health and fitness. View her blog