— a culinary journal —

Sambar (a spicy lentil gravy)

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Sambar is the quintessential South Indian dish. It was traditionally part of most household’s daily main meal.

Consequently, there are quite a few variations.

It is vegan, gluten free and full of protein and vitamins.

It’s really just cooked dal (lentils) + tamarind water + vegetables + spices. It’s usually served with rice and a side of even more vegetables.

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The first time you make it, reserve about an hour and a half of your time.

Subsequently, it will be more efficient. It can be made very quickly with minimal involvement.

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Make a large pot on a Sunday evening to last for a few days. In fact, some people think it tastes better the day after you make it.

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Learn this basic version well. I will be sharing many more varieties and efficiency tips in future posts.

Note: You will need to go to an Indian market for many of the ingredients listed below.

Ingredients

1 cup toor dal (or red lentils, if you do not have a pressure cooker)
2 cups water
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
~1 pound of vegetables, chopped (any combination of green peppers, radishes, onions, eggplants, etc)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground asafoetida
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
4-5 fresh curry leaves, chopped
1/2 cups tamarind concentrate (Swad brand works well)
3 1/2 cups water
1-2 teaspoons salt (to taste)

spice blend:
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons bengal gram dal
1/4 teaspoon of ground asafoetida
2-3 dried red chiles (depending on your spice tolerance)
2 teaspoons grated coconut (unsweetened, dry is fine if you don’t have fresh)

garnish:
a handful of roughly chopped cilantro (about 4 tablespoons)
4-5 fresh curry leaves, chopped

Method

The most efficient way of making sambar is to multiprocess.

Start by cooking the toor dal in a pressure cooker- wash the dal well, add 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon of turmeric. Mix well and cook until soft. If you do not have a pressure cooker, use red lentils and cook with 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon of turmeric in a heavy pot on the stovetop until the lentils are soft.

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There is a lot you can get done while the dal is cooking.

First, prepare the spice blend.

Sauté all the spices for the spice blend (not coconut) in 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil in a small skillet on the stovetop.

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Once they are golden add to a spice blender with 2 teaspoons of coconut and blend well. Set aside.

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Now, prepare your vegetables. I used about 1 pound of vegetables (1/2 daikon radish, 1 small tomato, 1/2 green pepper and 2 small eggplants). You do not have to combine them as I have done. You can also add onions if you would like.

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Just chop them roughly and set aside.

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By now, your toor dal has most likely finished cooking. Make sure it is cooked well by giving it a stir. If everything is soft and creamy you do not need to cook further. Set aside cooked dal for now.

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In a large, heavy pot heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.

Add 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1/4 teaspoon ground asafoetida and 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds. Keep the heat on a medium-low.

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When the mustard starts popping, add the chopped curry leaves.

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Add the vegetables and mix well.

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Let the vegetables cook for about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the tamarind. Mix 1/2 cup of the paste into about 1 1/2 cups water.

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Add the spice blend and one teaspoon of salt to the vegetables, followed by the tamarind paste. Mix well and add two more cups of water.

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Cook covered (with a slight opening so there is no bubbling over) on medium-low for about 20 minutes.

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Once the vegetables are cooked and the sambar has been simmering for about 20 minutes, add the cooked dal.

Add salt to taste.

Garnish with cilantro and curry leaves.

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Serve mixed with cooked rice.

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