Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sambar



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.


Ingredients:

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)


Method:
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.

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