Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Sambar is the signature dish of Southern India. Vegetables are cooked with tamarind, tuvar dal (split yellow piegeon peas) and an array of roasted spices. It is as unique as the cooks who make it. One of the most intricate and sophisticated dishes in Southern Indian cuisine, it is extremely versatile. Sambar is served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, with rice, idli, vada, or dosa! I do draw the line of eating it with chappathi and nan, but my huband has no such qualms!

The recipe varies from region to region, and even from cook to cook. My mother always ground a little bit of roasted fresh coconut with the spices. Our neighbor, famous for her sambar, ground fresh coconut and added a piece of jaggery, just scrumptious! I have simplified it by leaving out the coconut, less time consuming but still tasty! Besides, fresh coconut is not that easily available where I live.

There are numerous brands of sambar powder available in Indian grocery stores, a substitue for the roasted spices. Though time saving, it does not match the taste of sambar made with freshly roasted spices.


For Dal:
Tuvar dal (split pigeon peas) - 1/2 cup
Fresh tamarind - Lime sized ball (may substitue with 2 tsp of tamarind concentrate available in Indian grocery stores)
*Vegetables - 1 cup (cut as for thick french fries)
tomato chopped - 1 small
turmeric - 1/2 tsp
water as needed
salt -to taste

*Endless varities of vegetables may be used. Almost any vegetable or a combination of various vegetables work well. Here are few suggestions: egg plant, okra, drumsticks, pumpkin, chayote, potato, green plantain. I have had wonderful sambar made with spinach and even small shallots!

Spices for roasting:
Coriander seeds - 3 tbsp.
Dry whole red chilies - 3 (less for a milder version)
cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Fenugreek seeds - 1/2 tsp
whole black pepper - 1/2 tsp
Grated fresh coconut - 2 tbsp
Oil - 1tsp.
Heat oil in a pan and roast spices. Watch the spices closely as they tend to burn if not stirred constantly. Take off heat when the coriander seeds crumble easily when crushed between fingers. Grind roasted spices in blender with enough water to facilitate smooth grinding.
(Tip: I sometimes dry roast the spices and grind in a coffee grinder. Once ground, I add the water. This works just as well.)

For tempering:
vegetable oil - 1 tsp
mustard seeds - 1tsp
curry leaves - 6 (I sometimes leave it out, only because it is not easily available)
asafoetida - 1/4 tsp
dry red chilie - 1 (cut into pieces)

Corinader leaves - 3 tbsp chopped (for garnish)

Pressure cook tuvar dal with enough water till soft. Do not over cook. Alternatively, soak dal overnight and cook with water till soft.

Soak tamarind in 1 cup of water. Squeeze out the tamarind juice and add to the chopped vegetables. Add another 2 cups water and cook the vegetables. Add chopped tomato and continue cooking.
Note: If using vegetables like okra and eggplant, saute in a tsp of oil prior to cooking in tamarind.

Roast spices in a tbsp. of oil till fragrant. ( Tip: The coriander seeds would crumble easily when crushed between fingers when roasted) Grind spices in a blender with some water added to facilitate smooth grinding.

When vegetables are almost cooked, add cooked dal. Continue to simmer for few minutes. Add ground roasted spices. Continue to simmer till all ingredients are blended together.

Heat oil in a small pan. Add asafoetida powder, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, red chilie pieces, and curry leaves. When the mustard seeds have finished popping add to sambar. Take off heat and garnish with chopped coriander leaves.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Cabbage Thoran (Stir fried Cabbage with Coconut):

Thoran is a typical Kerala dish of stir fried vegetables. Shredded vegetables (often leafy ones like spinach, cabbage or even cauliflower, carrots, and beans) are stir fried with a mixture of coconut, green chilies, and cumin. I prefer to leave the vegetables to be crunchy. Use high heat and a quick hand to retain the crunchiness.

Cabbage shredded - 3 cups
Fresh grated coconut - 3 tbsp.
Green chilies - 2
Onion - 1/4" piece
Cumin - 1/2 tsp
mustard seeds -1 tsp
turmeric pd. - 1/4 tsp
curry leaves - 5
oil - 2 tbsp
fresh black pepper - 1/2 tsp
salt to taste

In a food processor (I often take the low-tech route with my mortar and pestle) mix coconut, green chilies, onion, cumin to make a coarse mixture. Heat pan and add 2 tbsp of oil. When oil heats up, add mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds have finished popping, add the coconut mixture, turmeric, and curry leaves. Stir fry for a few minutes. Add shredded cabbage. Add salt. Stir fry for 3 - 5 minutes. Remove from heat when the cabbage is still crisp and all ingredients have blended well. Add freshly ground pepper. Serve with rice.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mathi (Chala) curry /Braised Sardines

Sardine is a common fish in Kerala, easily available and inexpensive. It is a very fishy fish, and one either hates or loves it. Needless to say, I fall into the latter category. I love to fry it or make a curry with lots of chilies. Nothing like a spicy sardine curry to wake up a meal!

Traditionally, Kerala fish curry is cooked in a clay pot. It is like a clay saute pan without handles! When I first came to the US, I found that clay cooking vessels are not readily available here. On my next visit to India, I bought back clay pots with me. I still cook fish in these pots. Times have changed, now you can buy clay cooking pot in gourmet cookware shops, at least in California.

fresh sardines - 1 lb
onion small - 1
ginger - 1/2" piece
green chilies - 3 (less if you don't want it spicy)
oil - 2 tbsp
cayenne powder - 1tsp (less if you don't want it spicy)
turmeric powder - 1/4tsp
tomato - 1 chopped
curry leaves - 5
white vinegar - 1 tbsp
water - 1 cup
salt to taste

Scale and clean sardines. Wash gently in several changes of water.

Crush onion, ginger, green chilies coarsely, I use my small food processor. Heat oil in a clay cooking pot. Add the crushed onion mixture, curry leaves and saute till the mixture is fragrant and the raw smell has disappeared. Next add the cayenne and turmeric powders and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes into this mixture and saute till the tomato pieces are soft. Add salt and water and let it come to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for few minutes. Add the sardines and continue to simmer. When the sardines are cooked and gravy thick add vinegar, take off heat. Serve with fresh cooked rice.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Fried Green Tomato Sandwich

Here is my take on the southern Fried Green Tomato.

Fried tomato:

Firm green mature tomato - 2 (sliced thick)
Flour - 1 cup
Cayenne pepper pd - 1/4 tsp
Black pepper - 1/4 tsp
Buttermilk - 1 cup
salt to taste

Sprinkle tomato slices with a little salt. Arrange on paper towels and leave for half an hour. The salt draws out the moisture. Blot with paper towels.

Add black pepper, cayenne & salt to the flour and set aside. Pour the buttermilk into a bowl. Dip the tomato slices in buttermilk. Dredge the slices in the flour mixture.

Pour quarter of an inch of oil into a heavy frying pan. When the oil heats up, fry the dredged tomato slices turning to get an even golden brown color on each side.


fresh basil leaves - 1 cup
grated Parmesan cheese - 2 tbsp
pine nuts - 1/4 cup
garlic clove - 1
extra virgin olive oil - 1/4 cup
salt to taste

Blend basil leaves, olive oil, garlic clove, and Parmesan cheese. You should have a nice thick paste. Add more olive oil if needed to adjust consistency.


Sandwich bread (any kind, I use a crusty baguette)
Fresh Mozzarella cheese or Monterrey Jack cheese
Lettuce leaves

Slice the bread into half. Liberally slather with pesto sauce. Arrange the fried tomato slices, slices of cheese, and lettuce leaves. Sprinkle with a few pine nuts. Enjoy!!

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