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Traditional Sambar Like My Amma's

By DIVYA NAIR
April 15, 2022 09:31 IST
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Every South Indian home has its unique style of cooking sambar.

My mother-in-law, who is from Udupi, likes her sambar slightly sweet, using generous amounts of yam, brinjal and topped with a small ball of jaggery which melts and adds its own flavour to this watery, restaurant-variety of sambar and most of my friends gulp it down to the last drop.

I learned to make sambar from my Amma. Hers is mildly spicy but full of flavour. You may want to check my Amma's recipe here.

Over the years I have given Amma's recipe of sambar my own twist by adding the vegetables and spices I prefer, which has been now tweaked further to my son's liking.

Sambar

Photograph: Divya Nair/Rediff.com

Traditional Sambar

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

  • 2 cups ash gourd or Madras cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup chopped bhindi or okra (edges cut and chopped into 1-inch pieces)
  • 2 cups diced or roughly chopped tomato
  • 1 small potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup cubed carrots (peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces)
  • 1 drumstick, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup toor dal, washed and soaked for 20 minutes
  • 2 cups water
  • 3-4 curry leaves, with the stems
  • Oil
  • 1 tsp methi or fenugreek seeds
  • Pinch of hing or asafoetida
  • Small ball of tamarind, soaked in water
  • 1 tsp haldi or turmeric
  • 1 tsp red chilly powder, optional
  • Dash salt

For the tempering

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp rai or mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped shallots
  • Few curry leaves
  • 2 dried chillies

For the masala

  • 1 cup freshly grated coconut
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • Few curry leaves
  • 1 cup roughly chopped onions
  • ½ cup water
  • 3-4 dried red chillies (please see note below)

Method

  • In a pressure cooker boil the toor dal with 2 cups of water, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cooking oil for 4-5 whistles.
    The oil prevents the dal from spilling over while cooking.
    Pre-soaking the toor dal helps reduce cooking time and makes it more tender.
    Open, cool, mash and keep aside.
  • Fry the okra in a frying pan with a tbsp of oil and a dash of salt till the stickiness disappears.
    Keep aside.
  • In the same pan, add 2 tbsp oil.
    Add the coriander seeds and gently roast them over low to medium heat but don't brown them.
    Add the onions and roast a few minutes more.
    Add the grated coconut, curry leaves, chillies and saute for 3-5 minutes till the raw aroma vanishes.
    Take off heat and cool.
    Grind in a mixer to a fine paste with a 1/2 cup water and keep aside.
  • In a a large kadhai (please see note below) boil the pumpkin, potatoes, carrot, tomatoes, drumsticks (not the okra) with enough water to cover the the vegetables completely.
    Add the salt, turmeric, red chilly powder, hing, fenugreek seeds.
    Cover and cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes.
    When the vegetables are semi-cooked, add the tamarind water and the okra.
    Add the ground masala and the cooked toor dal and 2-3 curry leaves with the stems and continue to cook till it achieves sambar consistency and add water if necessary.
    Check salt and turn down heat to low.
  • In a small frying pan or small kadhai, heat 1 tbsp coconut oil for the tempering.
    Add the mustard seeds.
    When it splutters, add the onion and saute till brown.
    Add the curry leaves and dried red chillies and fry a minute or two.
    Add the tempering to the sambar, mix gently and cover.
    Simmer 5 minutes to allow the flavours to blend completely.
    Serve hot with steamed rice, a dollop of ghee, papadam and pickle of choice.

Note: I mix bedgi with guntur chillies for better flavour.

I prefer using an aluminium kadhai as food cooks faster in it.

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DIVYA NAIR / Rediff.com