Sambar – South Indian Lentil-Vegetable Stew
Sambar is a perfect accompaniment to South Indian snacks like dosa, vada and punugulu. It is a staple dish in South Indian homes, also had with steamed rice. Different regions of India have their own tiny variation on this dish. The recipe I’m posting today is the one I savor when I visit a South Indian / Udipi restaurant in my city. Whenever I walk into such a restaurant, the aroma of Sambar permeates my senses. Give me a choice between chutney and Sambar and I will always reach for that piping hot bowl of Sambar. Lentil and vegetables flavored with aromatic spices and tamarind, the flavors blend so beautifully!
125 grams tur dal/split red gram, wash and soak in water for 20 minutes
1 onion, cut into 8 pieces
75 grams bottle gourd / dodhi, cut into big 1½ inch pieces
50 grams red pumpkin / kaddu, cut into big 1½ inch pieces
1-2 drumsticks, peeled and cut into two inch pieces
2 tomatoes, chopped
15 curry leaves
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
1/8th teaspoon hing / asafetida
3 whole Kashmiri red chilies
3 tablespoons Sambar Powder
¾ tablespoon red chili powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons oil
Tamarind ball, the size of a lemon
- In a pressure cooker add split red gram with turmeric powder, salt, onions and sufficient water.
- Allow the cooker to whistle twice, lower heat and cook for 5 more minutes. Open the cooker when cool.
- Soak tamarind in one cup hot water, cover and keep for 15 minutes. Strain the tamarind water in a sieve. Press the softened tamarind to extract thick pulp. Keep aside. (Add a wee bit of extra water, if needed, to extract the pulp)
- Beat the tur dal with a hand beater to smoothen it a wee bit.
- Heat oil in a vessel; splutter curry leaves, mustard seeds, asafetida and Kashmiri chilies.
- Add Sambar Powder, red chili powder and sauté well for a few seconds.
- Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring intermittently.
- Add the dal to this mixture and stir well.
- Add the bottle gourd, red pumpkin, drumstick pieces and allow the dal to simmer on low fire till the vegetables are cooked. (add water to the dal if it thickens excessively while you cook the vegetables in it)
- Check seasoning.
- Gradually, little by little, add tamarind pulp to the dal. Do not add the pulp all at once. Keep tasting the Sambar as you add the tamarind pulp and adjust the tanginess to your liking.
- Simmer the Sambar on very low heat for 5 more minutes and allow the flavors to blend.
- Add coriander leaves, simmer for 30 seconds and
take the Sambar off the hob. Serve with plain rice or South Indian snacks.
- When you cook the vegetables in the dal cook them to the point where they are cooked but don’t go mushy.
- I sometimes add 3-4 large pieces of aubergine / brinjal / baingan along with the other vegetables.
- I used Suhana brand of Sambar powder but feel free to use any brand that's available to you.
- When you strain out the tamarind pulp use a spoon to press the tamarind into the sieve, to extract all the pulp from it.
- Please lessen the Sambar powder and the red chili powder if you want a milder flavor.
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