How to Make Sambar: A Flavorful South Indian Staple

Sambar is a popular South Indian dish that is cherished for its rich flavors and nutritious ingredients. This lentil-based vegetable stew is traditionally served with rice, idli, dosa, or vada. Making sambar at home can be a delightful experience as it combines a variety of vegetables, spices, and tamarind to create a dish that is both healthy and delicious. Here is a detailed guide on how to make authentic South Indian sambar from scratch.

Ingredients

For the Sambar:

  • 1 cup toor dal (pigeon pea lentils)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 2-3 dried red chilies
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables (carrots, beans, pumpkin, drumstick, eggplant, okra)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon sambar powder
  • 1 lemon-sized ball of tamarind (soaked in water)
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh coriander leaves for garnish

For the Sambar Masala (if not using store-bought):

  • 1 tablespoon chana dal (split chickpeas)
  • 1 tablespoon urad dal (split black gram)
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 5-6 dried red chilies
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup grated coconut (optional)

Instructions

Step 1: Cook the Dal

  1. Wash the toor dal thoroughly under running water.
  2. In a pressure cooker, add the washed dal and 2 cups of water.
  3. Add a pinch of turmeric powder and a few drops of oil to the dal.
  4. Cook for 3-4 whistles or until the dal is soft and mushy. Mash the cooked dal and set aside.

Step 2: Prepare the Sambar Masala (if making at home)

  1. Heat a pan over medium heat and dry roast the chana dal, urad dal, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, dried red chilies, and black peppercorns until they turn golden brown and fragrant.
  2. Add the grated coconut (if using) and roast for another 2 minutes.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool, then grind it into a fine powder using a spice grinder or blender. Set the sambar masala aside.

Step 3: Cook the Vegetables

  1. In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat.
  2. Add mustard seeds and let them splutter.
  3. Add fenugreek seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves, and dried red chilies. Sauté for a few seconds until aromatic.
  4. Add chopped onions and sauté until they turn translucent.
  5. Add chopped tomatoes and cook until they become soft and mushy.
  6. Add the mixed vegetables and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Add turmeric powder and sambar powder (or homemade sambar masala) and mix well.
  8. Add 2-3 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer until the vegetables are cooked.

Step 4: Add the Tamarind Extract

  1. Squeeze the soaked tamarind to extract the juice and discard the pulp.
  2. Add the tamarind extract to the simmering vegetables and mix well.
  3. Let it cook for another 5-7 minutes until the raw smell of tamarind disappears.

Step 5: Combine Dal and Vegetables

  1. Add the mashed toor dal to the pot and mix well.
  2. Adjust the consistency of the sambar by adding more water if needed.
  3. Add salt to taste and let the sambar simmer for 10-15 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld together.

Step 6: Garnish and Serve

  1. Garnish the sambar with fresh coriander leaves.
  2. Serve hot with steamed rice, idli, dosa, or vada.

Tips for Perfect Sambar

  1. Choice of Vegetables: Use a variety of vegetables like carrots, beans, pumpkin, drumstick, eggplant, and okra for a flavorful sambar.
  2. Tamarind Balance: Adjust the amount of tamarind extract to balance the sourness of the sambar.
  3. Consistency: The consistency of sambar should neither be too thick nor too thin. Adjust water accordingly.
  4. Homemade Masala: Making sambar masala at home can enhance the flavor, but store-bought masala works well too.
  5. Simmering: Let the sambar simmer on low heat to allow the flavors to develop fully.

Conclusion

Sambar is a quintessential South Indian dish that offers a burst of flavors in every bite. The combination of lentils, vegetables, and spices makes it a wholesome and satisfying meal. By following this step-by-step guide, you can make delicious sambar at home and enjoy it with your favorite South Indian accompaniments. Give this recipe a try and experience the authentic taste of homemade sambar!

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