Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sambhar (Lentils With Mixed Vegetables)

Experienced cooks might wonder why I'd bother to post a recipe for sambhar! When it is such an ubiquitous recipe? When almost everybody knows how to cook it?

This might just be the one unifying dish for all the South Indian States and something I've noticed people from the North Indian states look at with awe and lip-smacking adulation! Each state and every family will, for sure, have their own version of making it. The version I'm posting here is a shortcut way that my mom showed me, even though she usually makes it the more elaborate way (her sambhar ranks among my all-time favorite dishes and no matter what I do, I can never quite match up to it). There are more complicated ways, with roasted ground coconut paste and all that-but I won't go into that here. This is for the benefit of certain bachelor/bachelorette cousins of mine (you know who you are!) who keep telling me to post recipes that are singleton-friendly. This is for you!

If you have the notion that you need a truckload of different types of vegetables to make a good sambhar, perish that thought! I have made sambhar with just carrots, potatoes, beans, onions and tomatoes-and it's been just as good as the others. You don't have to feel guilty if you don't have drumsticks either-I've never used them in my sambhars and you wouldn't miss it either (unless you like the lollipop effect they give!). Of course, if you want the true authentic sambhar, then run to your mom's kitchen! This is exclusively for those short on time and patience but who want to enjoy a mouthwatering sambhar that reminds them of home anyway!

I made this with finely diced vegetables because of my lil' toddler!
      To serve 2
  1. 1/4th cup tuvar/toor dal (also called arhar dal-split pigeon peas)-washed well until there is no foam, soaked in water for 15 minutes at least
  2. 1 medium carrot, cubed
  3. 1 medium potato, cubed
  4. 5-6 french beans, cut into half-inch pieces
  5. 1 medium onion, diced
  6. 1 medium tomato, diced
  7. 2 green chillies, slit
  8. A pinch of turmeric
  9. A lemon-sized ball of tamarind-soak in 1/4 cup water for 5 minutes, squeeze out the seeds, and collect the pulp through a strainer (add more water if required).
  10. 2 teaspoons sambhar masala powder-soaked in a little water.
  11. Salt to taste.
      For the tadka (tempering):
  1. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  2. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  3. 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  4. 2 dried red chillies, stalks removed
  5. 1 sprig curry leaves
  6. 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
       To Garnish: 2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)
  • In a pressure cooker, put in the dal, all the vegetables, turmeric, salt to taste, and enough water to cover the surface. Add a teaspoon of oil too to prevent foaming.
  • After the first whistle, simmer for 5 minutes and then switch off.
  • When cool, open the cooker and put it back on simmer.
  • Pour in the strained tamarind pulp and the sambhar masala powder soaked in water.
  • While it bubbles away, do the tempering-"tadka"-Heat the oil in a small pan, throw in the mustard seeds. When they sizzle, add the fenugreek seeds, wait for a few seconds. Then put in the asafoetida, wait till the pungent smell goes. Then add the curry leaves and dried red chillies. Take off the flame when they begin to wither.
  • Pour this into the pressure cooker and mix well. Take off the flame.
  • Garnish with cilantro.
You can add a cup of any mixed vegetable of your choice.
If you're fond of ladies fingers (okra), they should be diced and fried separately and added last, just before the tempering.
You could also add the sambhar powder at the tempering stage (after you've added the other tempering ingredients). Fry it a little but make sure it doesn't get burnt (thanks to Vrindechi for this tip!) 
If you don't have sambhar powder-make an impromptu emergency mix by combining:
  1. 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  2. 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  3. 1/2 teaspoon tumeric powder
  4. 1/4th teaspoon fenugreek powder
  5. 1/4th teaspoon asafoetida (if using this, omit it in the tempering stage)