Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sambar for the soul

    To me comfort food is soul food. Ask any south indian, sambar is in their comfort food list. It goes with variety of  dishes like Idli sambar, sambar rice, vada sambar, pongal sambar  and sambar in itself is a satisfying dish when made with lots of veggies.
  Whenever I visit India , I bring back sambar powder(customs withstanding),I store most of it in the freezer to keep its freshness. Sambar powder is like a family crest. Each family has its own unique combination of ingredients. The one that my mother-in-law and my mother make have the same ingredients but in different ratio.Making of the sambar podi (as it is called in Tamil) is a process.
      My mother buys the tuvaram paruppu  ,kadala paruppu, red chillies, coriander seeds, turmeric root, milagu and vendhayam.
Her podi ratio is as below

Dhaniya or coriander seeds 500gms
Red chilli 500 gm( short round chilli 250 gms and long thin chilli 250 gms)
Tuvaram paruppu  or toor dal  150 gm
Kadala paruppu or chana dal 75gms
Vendayam  or methi seeds 1 tablespoon
Molagu or black pepper 1tablespoon
Manjal or turmeric root (thin long variety) 50gms

Roast all ingredients till slightly warm. In tropical countries like India, people just take everything to the terrace and let the scorching sun warm the ingredients. This ensures that the powder can be stored for long without moisture or pests affecting it. All of this is put together and taken to the Flour Mill for grinding into sambar powder. The machine needs to be clean of any previous grinding as this alters the taste of the powder too. The machine powders it fine in a few minutes. The sambar podi will be warm and should be allowed to cool down completely to avoid condensation before storing it in a airtight container.This recipe yields about one and a half months supply for a sambar loving household of four. The same ratio can be used and the powder made in a mixie grinder but in several batches as the mixie tends to heat up easily for greater quantities. I feel it will not be worth the effort if sambar powder is made  daily  for one time use.
There are exceptions when making araithu vitta sambar(which is made with coconut flakes).
Making the sambar
  I love how adaptable sambar is. You can make sambar with one vegetable or as many as you can find in your fridge or in the grocers. Different combinations of vegetables produce distinct flavors like capsicum, drumstick, radish, onion etc make different varieties of sambar.

    Toor dal is the most important ingredient of the sambar as it is what gives it body. It takes the longest to cook so when you get the idea to cook sambar, cook the dal first.I usually use the pressure cooker. Soak the toor dal in water, with about half an inch standing above it .Then add half a tsp of turmeric powder in it. Now,pressure cook it for about 3 whistles. The dal must be cooked well, must be mushy. For those without a pressure cooker, It takes a while to cook dal on the stove top, it needs constant stirring or else the dal burns and sticks to the bottom of the pan.
I cup toor dal
sambar podi  1 tbsp
Veggies-red pumpkin a few cubes, capsicum a few pieces, white radish a few pieces, brinjal 1 medium, carrots(cut the veggies almost the same size except for the red pumpkin which tends to get mushy so cut that  a little bigger).
Methi seeds half a tsp
mustard seeds 1 tsp
oil for tempering
curry leaves a few
coriander leaves  few
tamarind lemon size or tamarind paste 1 tsp
small piece of jaggery or gur
asafoetida or hing 1/4 tsp
Salt to taste

1. Soak the tamarind in 2 cups hot water for a few minutes and then squeeze the pulp get rid of the pulp, keep the water .
2. In a deep saucepan,  heat oil and temper with mustard seeds, methi seeds, hing and curry leaves.
3. Add the veggies and saute the veggies for a few minutes .Now add the tamarind water , sambar podi and salt.
4.Bring to boil, let the veggies get fully cooked but not mushy. This takes about 5 minutes. Once the veggies are cooked, add cooked toor daal. Take care that the toor dal is mashed a little but not totally pulverised. This gives the sambar body and texture. Once the toor dal is added the sambar is kept on the stove only until everything comes together . It is customary to add a small piece of jaggery at the end.It does not lend sweetness to the sambar but elevates the taste. The sambar should not be watery or too thick like a semi-solid. It is in between like a stew. Now add fresh corainder leaves.

Sambar is ready.Enjoy it with rice, idli ,pongal...Susvaad.


  1. Hi Ramya,
    Good to see one more of your recipes. I triedout the pizza and it came out exactly the same way you mentioned it would. This recipe i feel is a blessing for any amateur or newlywed bride who wants to try her hands at southindian cooking and win hearts. Kudos!!!

  2. Thank you Priya.I am happy that the pizza came out well.

  3. You are henceforth christened the"Sambar Queen of the West". The passion clearly shows in your essay and thanks a lot for all the details for those of us who are not so gifted in the culinary field.

    Three Cheers

  4. Thanks Anand.Although I am passionate about food, both cooking and eating, I am hardly an expert, just sharing what I learn every day.