There are few things on this earth that are truly ambrosial on the palate – a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, a silken piece of dark chocolate cake and of course a steaming bowlful of sambar among others. The humble sambar is well travelled; to an extent that every region in the country has accepted its idiosyncrasy and played with indigenous spices to arrive at an equally interesting version. There is no denying that the traditional sambarvaries within the boundaries of Southern states as well. How a bowl of sambar tastes in Bengaluru will be different from the way it is cooked and served in God’s own country, Kerala or for that matter in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
As this article is not a deep dive into the origins or the history of sambar, but a quick guide to helping you dish out a batch like a pro, I will first take you through some of the many ways in which the soulful curry differs from region to region. Experts suggest that the use of oil and the inclusion of local ingredients bring about a stark difference in the way a bowl of sambar tastes in different areas in South India.
“In Karnataka you will find a subtle inclusion of jaggery; sambar here will have mild sweet notes to it versus the one cooked in Tamil Nadu where fieriness steals the affair. Keralites, on the other hand, give lots of importance to the use of coconut, thereby tempering is prepared in coconut oil and that is what renders the sambar a distinct coconuty flavour. Tamil Nadu traditionally uses sesame oil. The choice of vegetables also ranges – from shallots, drumsticks to tomatoes, brinjal and pumpkin,” notes Ashwin Rajagopalan, a renowned food writer.
Jayalaxmi Ramchandra, a humble homemaker from a traditional Tamil Brahmin family, has had the joy of traveling and living across the country. Over the years she picked up indigenous cooking, modified traditional recipes and successfully added newer recipes to her inexhaustible culinary repertoire. One thing that she guards – almost like a secret – is her sambar recipe; which even today is strictly traditional. “Earlier we used to make the sambar powder at home and store it to last for days,” she shared.
We were more than happy when she shared her sambar recipe with us studded with tips, tricks and a descriptive method. If you’re looking to master the art of cooking sambar, this recipe should be bookmarked and tucked with you for life –
How to Make Sambar at Home
Vegetables: You will need shallots, drumsticks, white pumpkin and brinjal.
- Boil and keep aside tuar dal (one-two bowl).
- For the sambar powder you will need 1 tbsp of channa dal, dhaniya seeds, fresh chopped coconut and 5-6 dried lal mirch. Take 3 tbsp of oil and let all of the above mentioned ingredients fry until boil. Remove when done, grind into powder and keep aside.
- Take 50gms of tamarind and soak in 2 cups of hot water, leave for 10 minutes. Squeeze out all the water from soaked imli and keep aside.
- Boil all vegetables until half cooked and add tamarind water to it.
- Cook for 5 minutes, add sambar powder and salt, cook for 5 minutes. Add dal, cover and cook for 10 minutes.
- Prepare tempering by using 2-3 tbsp of oil and adding 1 1/2tsp of mustard seeds, half a tsp of methi dana, a crushed dried red chill, few curry leaves and a pinch of asafoetida. Let it splutter and add to the sambar mix.
- Cook for a minute and serve hot.
Tips to Keep Handy
1. If you want a dash of sweetness to your sambar, add a small piece of jaggery while cooking.
2. In case the sambar is coming out as a bit runny, balance the consistency by adding few spoons of rice flour to thicken it.