Sambar is basically dal (lentils) with vegetables and tamarind water. I’ll explain. There are varying ways this can be made, and this is how I do it. (Quick-ish and easy). Eat with steamed rice.
1/2 cup toor (arhar) dal. In a pinch, I suppose any other dal will do, like moong or masoor, but try to use toor.
1/2 tsp Tamcon or some other tamarind paste, dissolved in 1/2 cup water.
1 cup frozen veggies such as cauliflower, peas, carrots, peppers, pear onions. Boil these till tender but not squishy. You can also boil potatoes. Pretty much most veggies except things like eggplant and okra will do.
2 tsp MTR sambar masala and some grated coconut, if you like.
Assorted tempering spices as below
Cook the dal with salt and 1/4 tsp turmeric powder. Mix it up nicely when cooked.
Heat some oil. Add 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1 dried red chili, a few curry leaves, and let it sputter a bit. Remember, don’t let the fenugreek burn.
Add the boiled vegetables and some salt. Stir quickly and add the tamarind water. Bring to a boil and let simmer a couple of minutes.
Add the dal and sambar powder and mix well – take care not to mash the veggies. Add the coconut and bring to a boil. Turn off heat.
Add a tsp of ghee if you like, it adds brilliant flavor. Spoon over rice and eat.
There’s a long-winded, more “authentic” way, but given the constraints of American vegetables and the grad student lifestyle, this is as elaborate as I usually get.