The Indispensable Sambar
Sambar can easily be the most favourite of all kuzhambus in south indian cuisine. This is the second course in a Tamilnadu meal (https://dosaikal.com/2011/10/14/thamizhar-virundhu-feast-of-the-tamils/). This is a lentil and vegetable gravy prepared with an exclusive podi/powder called the Sambar Podi. One cannot find a south indian or especially Tamilnadu household without Sambar Podi or Powder. Though there are several sambar powders available in stores across the world, in traditional homes or in most households, the powder is still prepared by mothers and given to their daughters. I still get it from Amma and have no plans of making my own in the near future too! My mother got it from her mother and now it is my turn!
amma’s sambar podi
Since the basic sambar powder is a household preparation, transferred from mothers to daughters, the taste of Sambar in each home differs in taste and looks. Though thuvaram paruppu/thuvar dhal/split pigeon pea is the lentil used in the sambar to be had with rice, the vegetables used and the combination of the ingredients used in the powder differs. This gives the specific flavour of Sambar of each household.
Sambar is had with Idlis, Dosais, Uppumas, Adais, Idiyappams – all breakfast/dinner items and with starters or with deep-fried snacks like vadais, bondas and many more. When lunch and dinner has rice as the base food, sambar is the most preferred. A busy day’s simple lunch would constitute rice and sambar with a vegetable side-dish and rice and curds to end. Sambar to go with idlis and dosais differs from the sambar made for rice.
sambar saadham/sambar rice
Several ingredients are dry roasted and ground in the mill as each family makes it in plenty to store for months and packs for daughters like me. When I came to live in a country very far from Chennai, and the Sambar powder that amma sent with me would be done in five to six months time… my chithi (mother’s sister) gave me this idea. She dry roasted all the ingredients needed for sambar powder and packed them in several packets. After amma’s ready-made sambar powder would be done, she asked me to just re-roast one packet each time, and powder it in a blender and fresh sambar powder would be ready. Thankyou Chithi!! That was an excellent idea for some fresh sambar powder without struggling for the ingredients each time.
chithi’s ingredients for sambar
So, till today, I do not know to make traditional sambar powder – thanks to amma and chithi. But to inform my readers about the ingredients that go into my sambar powder – I collected this from amma.
Note: Chithi’s powder is different from amma’s!!
- kothumalli vithai/coriander seeds – 1/2 kg
- milagai vatral/red chillies – 1/2 kg
- kadalai paruppu/bengal gram – 100 gms
- thuvaram paruppu/split pigeon peas – 100 gms
- uluntham paruppu/dehusked black gram – 100 gms
- seeragam/cumin seeds – 4 tsp
- venthayam/fenugreek seeds – 2 tsp
- raw rice – 1oo gms
ingredients to be dry roasted
Method of Preparation
- In a hard bottomed vessel, dry roast all the ingredients except rice
- Separately roast rice – after a while the rice would puff up – 100 gms of rice would become nearly 200 gms, after roasted
- Spread in a plate and cool it for a short while
- Dry grind into a smooth powder
- Sambar Powder is ready.
Take measurements in limited quantities for less powder.
Now to the making of Sambar … Generally in Tamilnadu, Sambar is made with split pigeon peas and one vegetable – Murungaikkai Sambar (drumstick sambar), Mullangi Sambar (radish sambar), Kathirikkai Sambar (brinjal sambar), Vendaikkai Sambar (okra sambar), Avaraikkai Sambar (indian broad beans sambar), Mangai Sambar (raw mango sambar), Keerai Sambar (spinach sambar) and a nearly never-ending list of sambar varieties.
mixed vegetables for sambar
Sometimes it can be a combination of two vegetables -like murungaikkai-kathirikkai sambar – drumsticks and brinjals with lentils. Even though, we find many other vegetables like carrots or beans in sambars in restaurants, traditionally it is not preferred even now. When there are guests from different parts of the world or even from other parts of India, I do mix up a variety of vegetables.. but when it comes to family alone, then there is only one vegetable – which does not go the non-sambar way!
vegetables cooking in tamarind water and sambar powder
Thakkali sambar (tomato sambar) and onion sambar (shallots sambar) are generally had with idlis, dosais or pongal.
Mullangi Sambar/Radish Sambar
shallots, tomato and radish
Ingredients (serves 4)
- cooked thuvaram paruppu/split pigeon peas/toor dal – 2 cups
- tamarind – lemon sized ball
- shallots – 10-12 nos
- thinly sliced mullangi/radish – 1 cup
- tomato – 1 no.
- sambar powder – 2 tsp
- salt – as needed
- coriander leaves – for garnishing
- oil – 2 tsp
- kadugu/mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
- uluntham paruppu/dehusked black gram – 1/2 tsp
- venthayam/fenugreek seeds – 1/2 tsp (optional)
- perungayam/asafoetida – 1/2 tsp
- karivepilai/curry leaves – a few
tamarind juice and cooked lentil
Method of Preparation
- Soak tamarind in hot water for half an hour; Mix it well with hands and strain it
- Thinly slice radish and cook the lentil till soft
- Heat oil in an iruppu chatti/hard bottomed vessel
- Add mustard seeds, when it splutters add dehusked black gram and fenugreek seeds
- When black gram turns golden brown, add curry leaves and shallots
- Add chopped tomatoes, fry for a while and add sliced radish
- Pour the strained tamarind juice and sambar powder and salt
- Add more water if needed and close the vessel with lid and let the vegetable cook in the tamarind juice and sambar powder
- When the radish is cooked, add the cooked lentil and mix well
- Bring it to boil, check salt and add very little water if needed to bring sambar to pourable consistency
- Sprinkle asafoetida and coriander leaves
- Sambar is ready; Serve with hot rice.
mullangi sambar/radish sambar
- In Thoothukudi or Tirunelveli Sambar, tomatoes are not used. Here, tomatoes are used to reduce tamarind
- Tamarind juice/pulp, lentil and vegetables can be reduced or increased as per preference
- Kuzhambus/gravy dishes generally start with seasoning, and all other ingredients are added to it for cooking. So, all kuzhambus start with mustard seeds and black gram and then the vegetables are added gradually
- Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli Sambars (Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli are my mother’s and father’s native places respectively) have ground coconut added in the end – that can be a different recipe all together… might be in the near future!