Diwali Happiness 2 – Sambar

by Sherri Koehler on December 1, 2008

Still, no pictures. Really, I will get better about this. I also realize that it is December and Diwali is many weeks past now, but I am at least going to get my recipe for sambar posted!

Sambar, a lentil stew very popular in India, is one of my favorite dishes. Over the past few years I’ve been learning to make some of the foods I most enjoy. I try to read many recipes and if it is a dish I eat at a restaurant, I try to pay close attention to what I enjoy (or sometimes dislike) about the dish. After aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower, Indian style), sambar is high on my list of favorite Indian dishes.

The third part of my recipe, the oil and spices added at the end, is derived from the one in the Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen cookbook. I really find this flavor to be so nice that I haven’t varied it much. In looking at other recipes this does seem to be pretty standard, a few differences here and there (more chilies, some other spices).

DO make the effort to get toor dal and fresh kari leaves (I like shopping for Desi items at India-4-U)! These particular details are part of what will make this dish taste like Indian home cooking. There are many steps to this dish and one step involves hot oil (very exciting), it is entirely worth the effort. I am very pleased to share that my sambar leaves my co-workers from Chennai smiling and happy!

This makes a huge amount of sambar — I often make it for office potlucks (like the one for Diwali this year). It freezes quite nicely too!

makes 4 quarts

Step One — The Toor Dal

  • 2 cups toor dal
  • 5 cups water

Wash lentils and put into pot with water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are soft. The lentils will begin to break apart. If you are using a pressure cooker, the toor dal cook in 8 minutes.

The lentils are pre-cooked; half will be used immediately in the stew and will thicken it. The other half will be added at the end for more texture.

Step Two — The Stew Base

  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup carrot in 1/4″ rounds
  • 3 cup chopped cauliflower (Romanesco broccoli is also nice)
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped, fresh tomatoes (yes, canned is OK, but if you have fresh, use them, it is worth the effort)
  • 1 cup green beans, snapped into 1″ pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
  • 2 teaspoon sea salt (more or less, to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon cane sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Sambar Pudi
  • 2 Tablespoons tamarind paste (e.g. Tamco Tamarind)

Add water and chopped vegetables to large stock pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat, add half the toor dal, half the fresh coriander, salt, sugar, sambar pudi, tamarind, and stir well. Simmer, covered until vegetables are tender.

Step Three — The Exciting Part!

  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 4 dried, red chilies – stemmed, seeded and broken into 1″ pieces (more or less of these to change the heat level of the stew)
  • 30 fresh kari leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Heat oil in pan, add seeds and chilies and fry until spices are fragrant (mustard seeds may begin to pop). Add in turmeric and quickly incorporate. Add kari leaves in last (these will make quite a lot of noise as they fry in the hot oil, a splatter shield is useful). After leaves are frying scrape all spices into the pot of vegetables and lentils (again, there will be quite a lot of noise as the hot oil hits the stew).

Simmer the sambar for at least 15 minutes more to allow the spices, lentils and vegetables come together. Stir in the remaining toor dal & fresh coriander and allow to simmer again for 5 minutes before serving.

Garnish with additional fresh coriander. Serve with rice, cream of wheat pilafs, and pappadum.

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