Sambar is an iconic curry that is supposed to have originated from Thanjavur, Thamizhnadu. There are two main types of sambar (and a host of other, much less known varieties). The first one is called Podi Pota Sambar, largely prepared in Thamizhnadu. This uses a pre-prepared masala powder (I will post how to prepare this powder at a later date). The other is Arachu Vitta Sambar. This version, very popular in Kerala, uses freshly ground spices and coconut. There are aficionados for both types. Conversations on which is a better sambar can get very heated indeed.
Among other things, a good sambar is distinguished by the sambar powder that is used (for the first type mentioned above). Store bought powders are characterless and insipid. It is best to prepare this powder at home. Another distinguishing feature is the vegetable used. Several vegetables can be used to prepare sambar, including okra, eggplant, radish, drumstick, shallots, green bell pepper, With each different vegetable, the sambar acquires a unique flavour. Some people prefer to use a number of vegetables. This sambar is called Kadambam. This too is very tasty, though without the flavour of any single vegetable coming through.
Sambar has now acquired the proportions of a national dish with each region in the country having its own version.
My post today will concentrate on the first variety using a pre-prepared powder.
For The Dal (Gram)
1/2 cup pigeon peas (tur dal, thuvaram parupu)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder (haldi powder, manjal podi)
1 1/2 – 2 cups water
To Season The Sambar
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp split black gram (urad dal, ulutham parupu) – optional
1 sprig curry leaves
A pinch of asafoetida (hing, perunkayam)
1 cup shallots, peeled
A lemon sized ball of tamarind
2 tsp sambar powder
1 1/2 cups of water
Salt to taste
Rinse the pigeon peas well
Transfer to a pressure cooker, add turmeric and water
Cook for 7-8 whistles till the pigeon peas are well done
Let the steam release naturally
Open lid and mash the pigeon peas well
Meanwhile, soak the tamarind in hot water for about 10 minutes
Extract tamarind juice, discard the pulp
Heat a heavy bottomed vessel and add mustard seeds
When they begin to splutter, add the split black gram
Roast till the black gram turns to a golden brown colour
Add the shallots and curry leaves
Saute till shallots turn translucent
Add asafoetida and tamarind juice
Add water and stir well
Boil this mixture for 8-10 minutes till the raw smell of the tamarind evaporates
Add sambar powder and the mashed pigeon peas
Add more water, if required
Add salt and stir again
Simmer for 5-6 minutes
Remove from flame and serve hot with red/brown rice or idli/dosa.