Saturday, April 7, 2012


‘Sambar’ is the most well-known of all South Indian dishes. In fact many of my North Indian friends had the wrong notion that we make ‘sambar’ every day! Sambar is just one of the many gravy curries (koottaans) on the menu! The original ‘Palghat Iyer chamayal’ (cuisine) never included onions and garlic – our forefathers kept away from these. But the current households include onions – especially pearl onions – while preparing sambar. For a special Sunday lunch it is ‘vengaaya sambar’ – made only of pearl onions. Since cleaning these small onions is time-consuming, on other occasions you can include a handful of them along with other vegetables – a sort of ‘kadamba sambar’. For regular meals – especially with an old mother at home who won’t ‘touch’ onion, I just use a mixture of vegetables. At times we can make ‘vendakka sambar’, sometimes ‘mullangi (radish) sambar’ or ash-gourd – colocassia (arbi / chembu) – drumstick sambar.
My ancestors would make mild sambar without coconut and coriander seeds. They would only add the ground paste of a little chana dal, fenugreek seeds, whole chillies and asafetida. I guess that is the authentic Palghat sambar. But feasts / ‘sadhya’ have the spicier sambar – as given in the recipe below.
Good side-dishes for 'Sambar' are any of the 'thoran' / 'poduthuval' varieties like cabbage / beans / avarakkai / 'mezhukkuvaratti' - even 'avial' / 'koottu' / 'olan' / 'mathan koottu'. 'Urulaikizhangu roast' is ideal with 'vengaaya sambar'.

‘Kadamba sambar’

Ingredients -
Tamarind – 1 big lemon-sized ball – soaked in water
Ash gourd/bottle gourd – 350 gms – cubed
Drumstick – 1-2 – cut in 3” pieces
Bhendi/ eggplant/ capsicum – 100 gms - 1” pieces
Carrot – 1 – diced
Tuvar dal – ¾ cup
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Salt to taste
Sambar powder – 2 - 3 heaped tsp
Grated coconut – 1-2 tbsp
Asafetida – ½ tsp
Oil – 1 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – 8-10
Fresh coriander leaves (finely chopped) – 1 tbsp

Method -
Extract the tamarind pulp. Add a cup of water to it.
Then add the cut drumsticks to the tamarind water. Add the rest of the vegetables except carrots. Add turmeric powder and salt. Boil them till tender.
Grind the coconut with the sambar powder.
Pressure-cook the tuvar dal along with the diced carrots. Cool.
Mash the dal and carrots well and add to the cooked vegetables. Add the ground coconut too. Add enough water to get the right consistency.
Boil well.
Heat a tsp of oil and add 1 tsp of mustard seeds. When they splutter, add ¼ tsp of asafetida and curry leaves add to the sambar.
After 10 minutes, garnish with coriander leaves.

Tips –
If it is less sour, add 1 tomato (chopped) and boil.
The sambar should be thicker than what we get in restaurants with idli/dosa.
Always add the garnishing of coriander leaves after 10-15 minutes so that the leaves remain green.
If asafetida is added at the end as ‘tadka’, it gives a better flavor than when added to the vegetables while boiling.

'Vengaaya sambar'

Vengaaya (onion) sambar can be made with ½ kg pearl onions alone – it is a super speciality – a part of the Sunday special lunch!

Peel the pearl onions. Wash. Heat a tsp of ghee and fry the onions in it till light brown. Add them to the tamarind water and boil with turmeric and salt and make the sambar.
Regular onion (sliced and fried till translucent) can be used (with other vegetables) instead of pearl onions but it is not as tasty!

Sambar Powder

To make fresh ground sambar powder, dry-roast 1 tbsp chana dal (Bengal gram dal), 1 ½ tbsp coriander seeds, ¾ tsp fenugreek seeds and 3-4 whole red chillies and grind along with the grated coconut.

Sambar powder can be prepared at home and stored for a couple of months. It can be used to make rasam too.

Sambar powder –

Chana dal (Bengal gram dal) – ¼ cup
Coriander seeds – ½ cup (50 gms)
Red chilli – 1 ¼ cup
Fenugreek seeds – 1 tbsp

Dry roast each of the above separately without oil –
Roast the Bengal gram dal on medium/low heat till light brown.
Dry roast the coriander seeds on low heat for a minute or two.
Dry roast the fenugreek seeds on low heat till they splutter – take care to remove them before they turn black.
Dry roast the red chillies on low heat for 1-2 minutes – they should not change color but only turn crisp. Alternately, they can be micro waved for 30 seconds.
Mix all the roasted ingredients and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Powder it in a mixer.
Store in an airtight container when cool.

Tips -
You can add a piece of asafetida in the container to retain the freshness of the sambar powder.
You can use spicy and non-spicy red chillies (1:1) if you don’t want very spicy sambar.
© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

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