The almost steady drizzle that had been falling for the last two days has come to an end and the blaze of sunlight is streaming in through the slightly ajar main door. I am sitting at my desk, a light pashima silk around my neck, sipping my second cup of morning tea and enjoying the solitude. It is a beautiful day. The last two days, I simply couldn’t summon the energy to take pictures and write recipes. I was delighting in the rain, enjoying the grey sky with the occasional peak of the sun. I had been waiting for this for a while. Perhaps ever since I got back from the pouring monsoon in Kerala. I’m totally loving the winter showers, shallow puddles and chill in the air. Aha.
I’ve had this recipe for sambar in my draft since last week. Sambar is a hearty curried vegetable soup prepared with yellow lentils, vegetables and spices. This dish is said to have originated in the state of Tamil Nadu and soon became an all time favorite veggie dish in South India. It is one of the main items in the Kerala sadya and is quite nourishing as well as tasty. The recipe requires a bit of time, but you can easily rustle up the curry by using readymade sambar masala powder available in Indian specialty stores. Make sure to get a good quality masala mix. I like Brahmins sambar powder that is available in the stores in Kerala. But remember, it is well worth the effort to prepare it from scratch.
There are different versions of samabar in response to different regions as well as personal taste. My family prefers this dish with lots of mixed vegetables and the lingering flavors of tamarind and asafetida. I use vegetables like carrots, potato, drumsticks, raw bananas, yam, green beans, ash gourd and snake gourd. Carrot, drumsticks and beans are cut into 2-inch sticks and the rest of the vegetables are diced into big chunks. You can use any seasonal vegetables or swap around the veggies to suit your taste.
Mixed Vegetable Stew — Sambar
4 cups mixed vegetable chunks
½ cup split yellow lentils (toor dal), rinsed
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon split black lentils (urad dal)
7 dry red chilies, divided
1 ½ tablespoon coriander seeds
½ cup fresh coconut, grated
7 sprigs curry leaves, divided
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
20 small shallots, halved
3 green chilies, slit
1 garlic, halved
1 small tomato, quartered
1 teaspoon ready-made sambar powder (optional)
3 teaspoon tamarind paste
2 ½ teaspoon asafetida powder (hing)
1 ½ teaspoon jaggery or sugar
Rinse dal thoroughly. Soak in 1 cups water for 15 minutes and drain. Pressure cook dal by adding 1 ¾ cup water, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon oil and 1 teaspoon turmeric powder. Cook for 5 minute at full pressure (cooker whistles when it reaches full operating pressure). Remove from heat and allow cooker to cool gradually on its own. Once cool, open and mash the dal.
Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoon oil in a large pan over low heat. Add fenugreek seeds and cook, stirring, until seeds turn light golden brown. Tip in split black lentils and toss until golden, then add 6 red chilies and coriander seeds and fry for a minute. Stir in coconut and 4 sprig curry leaves, and roast until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool and grind all ingredients to a fine paste by adding little water.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a deep pan over medium-low heat. Add mustard seeds and cook until seeds crackle, about 30 seconds. Stir in shallots, 1 dry red chili, green chilies, curry leaves, garlic, tomato and mixed vegetables and gently fry for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Pour in 3 cups water, salt and sambar powder. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender. Take care not to overcook if you enjoy veggies on the crunchier side.
In a bowl, mix the mashed dal with the masala paste, tamarind, and jaggery. Add this mixture to the curry, stir well, and bring everything to a simmer for 3 minutes. Garnish with cilantro. Serve warm with steamed rice. This also makes a fantastic accompaniment when served with south Indian breakfast dishes like idli, dosa and vada.
This is one of those dishes that gets better after a day or two and is best for making ahead. Note that the curry will thicken as it cools; feel free to add hot water for desired consistency.