Monday, August 29, 2016

Sambar with roasted coconut gravy. (Varutharacha sambar)

Sambar is a staple in many South Indian households and is much more than the "delicately spiced, yet robust lentil based veggie stew" that it is served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every home has its own recipe and every cook claims his/her recipe is special. Historically speaking, there are theories that says sambar was an attempt by Sambhaji (brother of the legendary Chatrapati Shivaji, the beloved ruler of Maharashtra) to cure his homesickness.
I don't want to go that long back in time, but I remember that as a child, sambar was never my favourite dish. My Mom's version of sambar had a spicy, aromatic clear-ish broth with diced colocassia roots, okra and whole pearl onions that would burst in my mouth with a mild sweetness. The sambar would be consumed poured over idlis, or hot steamed rice with a poppadom on the side. The rules were eat it or go hungry so I would make do with whatever Mom cooked swapping the sambar for a bowl full of curds or dry chutney powder. But then I had my first "hotel sambar". Now this version of sambar tasted sweeter, was heavier on the lentils, so thicker and skimped on the veggies. But as a child I loved the combination of sweet and savoury and the lack of veggies were much appreciated. From then on, I welcomed my Mom's sambar but only after stirring a spoonful of powdered jaggery or sugar. That craziness lasted a few years!
When I got married my true culinary education started under the guidance of my Mother-in-law who had to be the fastest cook in the world with magic at her finger tips. Everything she cooked was beyond delicious. Her sambar took my world by a storm! It was nothing like my Mom's, my Aunt's or even my Grandma's sambar. Her sambar had this thick coconut based gravy, and a variety of uniformly chopped veggies that would coat anything that it was poured on and just kicked up the quality of a simple meal into feast-like feel-good-iness. That sambar reinforced ambitions in me to be able to make it like her someday and make her proud.
I never nailed her least not yet! But every time I go visit her, she asks me to make my sambar. As I comply and tell her it is a poor copy of hers, she shuts me down every time saying that she loves my version better. And I consider myself blessed!

How we use up our sambar: By drowning idlis in them! :-)

So here goes my version of sambar:

Coconut gravy:
2 tbsp +2 tbsp of fresh grated coconut
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 marble sized ball of seeded tamarind

Sambar veggies;
250 gms of peeled and cubed white pumpkin
250 gms of peeled and cubed yellow pumpkin (Kibocha squash is a good alternative)
2 drumsticks, peeled and trimmed into finger length pieces
1 handful of peeled whole shallots/ pearl onions
Roughly half cup of trimmed and halved gavar beans
1 large Chinese eggplant, cubed
3 tomatoes, quartered
2-3 green chillies, slit
1/2 cup of tur dal/ yellow lentils, washed well
1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2  tsp asafetida
1 tsp fenugreek powder/ 1 tbsp Qasoori methi
1 tbsp chopped coriander/cilantro leaves and stalks

1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp asafetida
1 sprig curry leaves
2 dry red chillies


1. Dry roast in a pan, 2 tbsp of coconut, coriander seeds, until lightly browned and gives out a nutty aroma, for about 5-7 mins in medium heat; then add the tamarind and chilli powder, roast for about a minute and then grind into a fine paste with the 2 tbsp fresh coconut and a little water.

2. In a pressure cooker or a dutch oven, cook the lentils and the sambar veggies with a tsp of salt and turmeric powder gently. Take care that it is cooked tender and not mushy. Gently stir in the coconut paste into this and bring it into a light boil and simmer for about 2-3 minutes until the coconut is cooked. Stir in the asafetida, the fenugreek and coriander leaves. Take off the fire.

3. In a small tempering pan, heat the oil and add the mustard, cumin seeds, asafetida and when the mustard seeds start to splutter, add the curry leaves and red chillies. Take it off the fire and carefully swirl the oil to cook the chillies and curry leaves in the residual heat of the oil. These can get burned easily. Now, while still hot, pour this tempering into the sambar container, stir well twice and cover it with the lid. The sambar will absorb all the tempering flavours and aromas in 10 minutes.

4. Check and adjust the salt and serve this sambar with rice, dosas, idlis or medu vadas.

And dont forget to let me know how your sambar turned out, if you and your family liked this version and your feedback. Bon appetit!

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