Image of sambar

All about the South Indian Sambar

Recently I came across a whatsapp forward saying that the South Indian Sambar can prevent cancers, coz of the spices used to make it. May or may not be true with regard to cancers, but it is indeed very healthy.

So time now for me to do justice to this regular in our house. Look no further. After reading this post you will be able to make sambar like a South Indian.

Sambar is a liquidy dip, you can call it a stew, broth or whatever, which is believed to have originated in the South Indian state of Tamilnadu. Though I came across a few reports that it was invented by Sambaji, the son of Chatrapathi Shivaji when he was at Tanjore in Tamilnadu. And hence, the name sambar.

It is categorized as kuzhambu in Tamilnadu, kootaan in Kerala, meaning something which is in a pourable consistency.

Every state in South India has its own version, each one distinct from the other, so much so that, just by tasting you can find out its regionality. But for me, the one from Tamilnadu remains the best of all. It serves as an accompaniment to our breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

North Indians or Non- Indians who are planning to try out my Idli or Dosa recipes should try this out. This combo will become a staple in your house.

A Note on the ingredients

Talk about the ingredients…The star is, of course, the Sambar powder, which is made by roasting coriander seeds, chana dhal (Bengal gram), red chillies, pepper, cumin, fenugreek seeds, and asafoetida or hing. You can definitely make your own (My recipe coming up) or buy from stores.

I used to mostly rely on store-bought ones until I started making my own. Once you make your own there is no going back. There are umpteen brands available, but I would suggest that you buy one that is made in Tamilnadu, so you get close to the original one.

Usually, when using homemade sambar powder you will have to add more when compared to the store-bought ones. So taste test and adjust accordingly as the store-bought ones tend to be spicy.

Then come the lentils. Pigeon peas or Tuar dhal are generally used, though split yellow Moong dhal or even red lentils are also used. Good quality lentils are a must for good Sambar. Look for ones that are not glossy or too big.

The lentils are pressure cooked to a mashable consistency. So if the lentils are not good it’ll take a long time to cook and the taste is also impacted. Normally a wooden masher is used to mash the lentils. But I always pass the cooked lentils through a strainer, so that it gets mashed up well.

For people in Qatar 24mantra organic, organic tattva and shama tuar dhal are good. Still, most South Indians bring Tuar dhal from their native place when they go on vacation 🙂 .

Tamarind is another important ingredient, though you can make Sambar with tomatoes alone. Apart from tomatoes, onions – pearl onions are preferred though you can use big onions too, curry leaves and coriander leaves are also a must if you are looking to make a perfect Sambar.

If you are in a hurry, you can make plain Sambar, else you can add vegetables. Country vegetables like drumstick, brinjal, ladies finger, broad beans, ash gourd, pumpkin, greens are preferred though carrots, radish, beans & potatoes are also used.

The consistency of the Sambar is a matter of personal preference. By reducing the total water added in the recipe or adding more of tuar dhal you can control the consistency.

Normally when we make sambar idli or sambar vada in which the idli/vada needs to be dunked in sambar, it is made thin. Otherwise, I always prefer to make it medium thick. It usually thickens as it cools, so if you make a very thick sambar, it’ll become gravy-like.

The method of preparing depends on the vegetables used. For instance for okra sambar, the vegetable is first sauteed in a bit of oil to remove the sliminess. Sambars made with drumstick/ lady’s finger/ brinjal/ ash gourd/ broad beans are the most loved, apart from the one made with whole pearl onions.

Other classic  combos

  1. Drumstick, potato, and brinjal
  2. Lady’s finger & brinjal
  3. Radish & black Chana

Though these days it is made with almost every vegetable you can think of. Carrots, beans, methi leaves, stalk of greens, bitter gourd, pumpkin, Chayote, turnips etc just to name a few. In the restaurants invariably drumstick is added to sambar as it gives a very good flavor.

There is another type, in which instead of adding sambar powder, the spices are ground with a bit of coconut into a paste and then added to make arachuvitta sambar. This sambar is distinctly different from the regular sambar which we make from sambar powder and is generally served in weddings.

A sambar tastes out of the world when the tanginess is balanced by the lentils with a good amount of flavor provided by the sambar powder. I always prefer to add a bit of jaggery or sugar, to make the flavors more pronounced.

And here is my secret for a very flavourful sambar. Before tempering I sprinkle a big pinch of pepper powder, cumin powder and asafoetida (My magic mix), over the sambar, and pour the tempering over it. This brings out the flavor so well, that it would waft through the entire house.

Also, I reserve a tsp of sambar powder which I mix in a cup of water and add to the sambar before switching off. This enhances the flavor as well as gives room for adjusting the spices, the tanginess as well as the consistency of the sambar.

For people outside India, tempering is an Indian cooking process in which a bit of oil is heated up, spices such as mustard seeds/cumin seeds or lentils like split chickpeas/channa dal and split urad dal are spluttered. Red chillies and curry leaves are also added to give that wonderful flavor, and this is poured over the curry.

So that was my small note on sambars. Coming up on this page will be the different varieties of sambar that is prepared in our households.

And rest assured that you have come to the right place, as I am known as “the sambar expert” in our family circles 🙂  .

[P.S.  South Indians, please excuse me….. this is not for you guys, as I know that you are already experts in making sambar 😀  .]

So here goes….

Vendakkai sambar thumnail








More to come…

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