Sambar is a staple in most South Indian homes. It is a spicy lentil and vegetable stew. What's nice about sambar is that you can make it as hearty or thin as you like it depending on how much water you want to add. It can make a complete meal because it is packed with protein from the lentils.
Wash red lentils until water is clear, drain and set aside.
Heat oil in a pot at medium heat and put in carrot and potato. Coat with oil and stir a bit. Add in drained lentil and sautee for a few minutes. Add 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil under medium/high heat. Ladle out any foam that comes to the surface. Once foam stops, add turmeric and mix up. The dal and vegetables take about 30 minutes to cook.
Add sambar powder and mix well. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt to your taste, tamarind and coconut and mix well. Turn off heat.
In a separate small pan, heat 2 teaspoons of ghee or oil and put in mustard seeds. Wait for them to pop a bit. To help this happen, you can put a lid over the pan. Once its popped for a few seconds, turn the heat down a little and put the curry leaves and broken up chilis. Coat the leaves and chili with the oil and fry for a few seconds. Pour this oil mixture over the lentils and vegetables and mix well.
In the same small pan put a teaspoon or 2 of ghee or oil and fry onion until they are fragrant. Add these onions to the sambar and mix well.
Garnish with cilantro leaves.
You can serve with rice and some yogurt on the side.