Sunday, 16 May 2010

• Sambar

Saturday we had friends over for a South Indian 'cook-a-long' dinner. Rupak, Kinnary and Rita, Rupak's mother who is visiting from Kolkata, India, dropped by after a day of punting and sightseeing in the City Centre.

We were 5 cooks in the kitchen, busily cooking a sumptuous meal of idli (Kinnary), sambar (me), coconut chutney (Rita, with a little help from me) and dosa (Rita). We all had a terrific time, chatting and cooking. Rupak and Steve both managed to stay out of our way while somehow being instantly helpful when required to do so... Bravo, Gentlemen!

I made the sambar before our guests arrived so I was free to try and keep an eye on all that was going on so that I could reproduce the meal another time. The coconut chutney was the most 'mysterious' element as, before this day I didn't know very much about chutneys or how to make them. Poor Kinnary was suffering from hay fever but somehow was able to produce some 30+ idly for us (and two different kinds, too!)

The dosa were a challenge to make in my kitchen for, although I have a tava (which is useful for making rotis and parathas) it wasn't quite seasoned enough and the first 2 or 3 dosa stuck to the pan. Somehow Rita managed to rescue every one of them while keeping a steady flow of witty conversation going!

Needless to say, we were all ravenous by the time we sat down to eat! The food was delicious and could we be blamed for eating ourselves silly?

After polishing off as much as we could possibly eat, we retired to sofas to sleepily sip tea and nibble on cheese cake.

Here's my attempt at a sambar recipe. Although I reprised the dish this morning, I think it could stand a bit more revision:



1 cup (200 gms) toor dal
3 cups water (+ 1 cup as needed)
6 pieces tindora, halved lengthwise
1 carrot, cut into batons or uneven chunks
1/3 cup green beans
1/2 piece (6 pieces) courgette
6 pieces okra, sliced in half

1-1.5 tbsp tamarind, soaked in 1/2 cup hot water then
mashed and squeezed to yield the juice.

1 whole drumstick (moringa oleifera) cut into 2 inch 'fingers'
2 'pinches' asafoetida
1/4 tsp tumeric powder
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
2 -3 tsp sambar powder

1-2 tbsp oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seed
20 curry leaves
2 tsp garam masala
1-2 tsp sambar powder
a small handful chopped fresh coriander


1. Wash and soak the toor dal for 30 minutes then drain the water and put it in the pressure cooker and add in the carrots, green beans, tindora, water (3cups) and salt.

2. Cook the dal on medium heat, 1 whistle (3 minutes after the weight starts rocking) and allow the pressure to go down on its own.

3. When cool, remove the lid of the cooker, return the cooker to the heat and add the tumeric powder, tomatoes, asafoetida, chilli powder, drumstick pieces, courgette slices and 2-3 tsp sambar powder.

4. Mix and simmer the sambar while these ingredients cook.

5. Meanwhile, use a seive to add the tamarind to the sambar.

6. Add the balance of the water (1/2 cup or amount needed) to get the sambar to the desired consistency and boil till the raw tamarind smell has gone and the vegetables have softened.

For the seasoning:

1. Add some oil or ghee to a small skillet or saucepan and add mustard seeds and a further pinch of asefoetida and curry leaves. Turn off the heat when the seeds begin to pop.

2. While stirring, add in the chilli powder, sambar powder, coriander powder. Don't allow the powders to scorch or burn; add a little water if the pan seems to be too hot.

3. Add this mixture to the sambar and continue to simmer for another 2-3 minutes.

4. Taste and correct the seasonings, adding the juice of 1/2 lemon, if required (the sambar should be a little tart-tasting), garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve.

Use tamarind concentrate if regular tamarind is not available.

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