Sambar- The south Indian vegetable stew.
If any one asks me which the most popular dish from South India is, without a doubt I would say Sambar. You can get it in any South Indian restaurant, and people make it at home so often that it is a part of everyone’s diet in the South. Nutritionally it is a winner – all the goodness of vegetables and spices combined with protein from daal, or parippu as we call it in South India ( yellow lentils). It is usually served with rice or other popular breakfast dishes such as Iddli or Dosa. The region is famous for its daal and vegetable based stews or curries and this is the most popular one among them.
These days, most people use a readymade Sambar powder to flavour the dish, but I prefer to stick to traditional method. I use individual spice powders from my spice box such as chili, coriander and turmeric, together with asafetida, all toasted in warm oil or ghee with other whole spices and added towards the end to finish the dish. In this way you can adjust the flavour and spiciness according to your taste rather than relaying on the ready made powder. It is up to you as to what vegetable you use, but the most popular ones are drum stick, onion, brinjal, yams, gourds, okra and pumpkin. The key is to get the right balance of flavours of spices, daal, vegetables, and the tangy flavour from tamarind. It is a personal choice as to how spicy, tangy, and salty it should be. There is no hard and fast rule in this, so the recipe comes only as a vague guideline.
I was quite flattered the other day when a young friend requested me to post my Sambar recipe. I never thought it as a special dish. I make it so often, (almost every week in fact) served for dinner or lunch with some fried fish and rice.
Here you go Arif – the Sambar recipe you have requested.
- Toor daal (yellow lentils) -¼ cup
- Onion -1
- Tomato – 1
- Diced vegetables- 2-3 cups
- Tamarind pulp 2-3 table spoon
- Oil or Ghee -2 table spoon
- Fenugreek seeds -½ teaspoon
- Mustard seeds -1 tea spoon
- Cumin seeds -½ teaspoon
- Dry chilli -1
- Curry leaf -a few
- Chilli powder -1 tea spoon
- Coriander powder -2 tea spoon
- Turmeric powder -½ tea spoon
- Asafoetida powder – ½ tea spoon
- Coriander leaf (chopped) -¼ cup table spoon
- Wash toor daal and cook with chopped onions, chopped tomato and two to three cups of water until the dal is cooked ( I prefer to use pressure cooker for this).
- Add all the diced vegetables and simmer until the vegetables are tender (adjust the cooking time according to the vegetables) .
- Add the tamarind pulp and salt, boil for a few minutes and keep aside.
- Heat oil or ghee in a small saucepan and fry fenugreek seeds and mustard seeds until they starts to pop, add cumin seeds, dry chilli and curry leaf and remove from fire. Then add all the spice powders and mix well to release the flavours of the spices in the warm oil. Pour into the cooked vegetable and daal mixture and simmer gently for a few minutes.
- Check for seasoning (add more tamarind pulp and salt if needed). Add chopped coriander leaves to finish.