We all know that there is no one way of making anything and it holds pretty good when it comes to food. Sambar is such a classical example for this. It is a South Indian spicy sauce that has pigeon peas and tamarind as its key ingredients. Although Sambar is said to have originated in Tamilnadu, each of its neighboring states prepares a distinct variant of this that is dominantly influenced by their own cuisine.
Keralites give it a strong coconut flavor by using coconut oil and shredded coconuts. Kannadigas make it to taste quite sweeter by adding a good amount of jaggery. People of Andhra spike up the spice level quite extensively. I have seen umpteen number of ways of making Sambar even within our very own Tamilnadu. The way my mother makes it is a lot different from how my mother in law makes it. How many ever recipes it may have and how much ever different they may taste, Sambar is so liked by everyone in India. I have some friends from the northern parts of India that can drink bowls and bowls of Sambar.
Sadha sambar, arachu vitta sambar, kadamba sambar, hotel sambar etc. are some of the different kinds of sambar you can find in its home state of Tamilnadu. Sadha sambar is the simplest form of it that is commonly/regularly made at home; ‘Sadha’ means ‘simple’. Arachu vitta sambar is made during special occasions and it uses a special, freshly made sambar masala in addition to the regular sambar masala; ‘Arachu Vitta’ means ‘freshly ground’. Kadamba sambar is very common in Tamil weddings that includes a good amount of mixed vegetables; ‘Kadambam’ means ‘mixture’. Hotel sambar is the kind of sambar served at restuarants; In Tamilnadu the term ‘hotel’ is used many a times to mean restaurants’.
The recipe I’m sharing here is for ‘hotel sambar’ or restaurant style sambar. I have had so many requests to share this recipe and it makes its way to the blog finally now. This pairs up exceptionally well with idly, dosa and medhu vada.
Prep time : 10 mins
Cook time : 50 mins (including time to cook dhal)
Total time : 1 hour
Yield : about 4-5cups of sambar
1/2 cup toor dhal (pigeon peas)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 cherry tomato size tamarind
1 teaspoon regular sambar masala
1/2 cup pearl onions (chinna vengayam)
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
6-8 2 inch drumstick pieces (Moringa or Murungai)
1/4 teaspoon hing (asafoetida)
1/2 teaspoon jaggery
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro for garnish
For special sambar masala
1/2 teaspoon chana dhal
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2-3 whole red chili (dried)
2 tablespoon shredded fresh coconut
6 whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon oil or ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
Add turmeric and one cup water to the dhal and pressure cook until it gets soft and mushy. It takes about twice the time to cook toor dhal as rice. It takes about 15-20 minutes for the dhal to get cooked. Meanwhile, soak tamarind in a cup of warm water. You could chop the onions and tomatoes in the meantime.
Heat oil in a sauce pan/soup pot, add onions and saute until they become soft and translucent. Add tomatoes and saute for a minute or two. Add drumstick or any other sambar vegetable (green peppers, pumpkin, okra etc.) and saute for a couple of minutes. Now, add hing, sambar masala, salt, jaggery, cooked toor dhal and a cup of water. Wait until it comes to a boil, simmer and cook covered. This allows the veggies to get cooked really nice and soft, about 10 mins. Meanwhile, squeeze out pulp from the tamarind and discard solids. When the veggies are cooked, add the tamarind pulp and crank up the heat to medium. Let it come to a boil again and turn down heat to simmer.
Prepare the special sambar masala now. Heat oil in a small skillet, add fenugreek seeds and roast until they start to turn golden brown. To this add the rest of the ingredients for the masala except coconut and roast them until the chana dhal turns golden brown. Turn off heat, cool and transfer to a mixer. Add coconut and grind. Add 1/4 cup of water and grind again to make a somewhat smooth paste. Add this masala and a cup of water to the sambar, raise the heat to medium and cook until the masala gets nicely incoroporated, about 5 mins. Turn off heat.
To temper, heat ghee in a skillet. You can use the same skillet that you used to roast the spices for the masala. Add mustard seeds and let them splutter. Lower heat, add fenugreek seeds and fry until they turn golden brown. Add curry leaves and turn off heat. Pour on top of sambar, garnish with cilantro.
Serve warm with rice, idly, dosa or vada.
1. You can use MTR brand for the regular sambar masala if you do not have the homemade kind.
2. You can add more/less water to the sambar to get the desired consistency. Some like it thick and some like it dilute. Always try to bring the sambar to a slight boil after adding water and then turn off heat.
3. If you do not have the patience to make the special sambar masala, you can skip it entirely. This gives you a simple sambar that is still delicious.
4. If you are using frozen coconut for the masala, adding warm water while grinding helps to get a smoother paste.
5. Some like to use cumin seeds in place of fenugreek seeds while tempering. This is absoutely fine.
6. Use oil to temper instead of ghee if you are vegan.