Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sambhar ( Mixed vegetable- lentil stew ) made easy!

There would hardly be an Indian who does not know what "Sambhar" is! While it is a staple dish in South Indian households, it also has the honor of being one of those few South Indian dishes that North Indians are not only familiar with but like it , make it and relish it! That says a lot about "sambhar".

To understand this a little better, let me explain a few things: first and foresmost, for those who are unaware: India is the 7 largest country in the world area-wise and the second largest population wise. India has 30 states.Unlike most countries in this world,  the uniqueness of India is the fact that each state has a separate cuisine, spoken/written language , culture/attire etc. India is very diverse. Adjoining states may have a few commonalities but the differences are a lot more than the similarities. However, we could roughly divide India mainly into two major parts: Northern India which would be from Jammu and Kashmir in the North to Maharashtra( the capital of which is Mumbai) in the south. Southern India is mainly comprised of 5 states: Karnataka ( the capital of which is Bangalore), Andhra Pradesh , Telangana ( both of which have Hyderabad as their capital), Kerala ( whose capital is Trivandrum) and Tamilnadu ( whose capital is Chennai). North Indians are said to have originated from the Aryan race and therefore have a fair complexion, are tall and have straight hair. On the contrary, South Indians are believe to be descendants of the Dravidian race and are therefore short and stout with  curly hair and have a darker complexion. Because of this, North Indians  usually have a superior attitude and tend to look down on the South Indians.

I hope now you understand why it is a big deal that "Sambhar" is so popular! Traditionally, Sambhar is make with split pigeon peas. Using any other dal( lentil ) is like blasphemy to the South Indians! Well, guess what?? That's exactly what I have done here!!!

Cooking split pigeon peas takes a long time, even with the use of a pressure cooker. I like to make things quick and easy.. Especially on weeknights or if I am rushing. I have therefore swapped the split pigeon peas with split orange lentils. I have found that these lentils cook really fast( almost one-fourth the time) and in no way alters the taste of the Sambhar! Bonus: The split orange lentil is not gassy. It is gentle on the tummy while the split pigeon peas can  be extremely gassy! This was another reason that made me do this swap!

By the way did I mention that I am a South Indian with North Indian roots???

Servings: 4-6


Masoor  dal ( split red lentil): 1 cup
Potato: 1 medium, peeled and diced medium.
Chayote : 1 medium, peeled and diced small .
Carrots: 1 small, peeled and chopped.
Cauliflower florets : 1 cup
Broccoli stems: 1 cup
Onion: 1 medium, diced large.
Sambar powder: 1 tbsp ( I use MDH or Everest brand).
Tamarind paste: 1/4 tsp
Jaggery or brown sugar: 1 tsp
Asofoetida( hing): pinch
Water:  3 cups + 3 cups + 1/2 cup
Cilantro: 1 tbsp, chopped

For tempering:

Coconut oil: 1 tsp( any cooking oil will do).
Mustard seeds: 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves: 1 sprig


Soak masoor dal( split red lentil)  in 3 cups of water for 10 mins. Add 1 tsp haldi ( turmeric powder and cook it in a pot until the lentil is well cooked ( around 15 mins). Turn off the flame and keep aside.  When cooled, whip it lightly so that it becomes homogenous.

Boil  3 cups water in a pot and cook the vegetables until tender adding the ones requiring the longest cooking time first and the least last. Also , add the chopped onions last. Cook it just a little so that the onions retain a slight crunch.

In the mean time take 1/2 cup warm water and make a tamarind solution by dissolving dried tamarind /tamarind pulp in it. Add sambar powder,  jaggery/ brown sugar and mix well. Keep aside.

Now add the whipped lentil to the cooked vegetables.Mix well.

Add the tamarind & sambar powder mixture and let it come to a boil. Turn off the flame.


In a small frying pan, heat oil, add mustard seeds . Once the mustard seeds splutter, turn off the flame.Add curry leaves. Add it to the sambar.

Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro/ coriander leaves.

Serve hot with rice/ idlis/ dosa or even a crusty slice of bread!


Cooking made easy:

You can swap all the vegetables listed above to whatever you have on hand. You could even make it with one or two vegetable and onion. There is no set rule.  I make Sambhar when I have a little bit of this and a little bit of that vegetable left in my refrigerator and pantry.

Tip for healthy living:

Try to include 3-4 colors of vegetables and fruits in your every meal. This ensures that you get your daily dose of vitamins and nutrients. Each color represents a vitamin that the fruit/vegetable is rich in. Hence, more variety, the better.

Food for thought:

We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are. Max de Pree