Tirunelveli (Or Nellai) Sambar

Concluding my recipes from Tirunelveli, I will post a sambar recipe that tastes different from both the ‘podi pota’ and ‘arachuvitta’ sambars. For the edification of my readers who are not familiar with these terms, let me explain. Sambar is a wet dish that is mixed with rice. Or it can be had as an accompaniment to idli, dosa, oothappam… (these are breakfast dishes). Podi pota sambar means that the sambar masala is ground and stored. It is used to flavour the sambar whenever the dish is made. Generally speaking, Thamizhnadu style. Arachuvitta sambar means that the masala is freshly ground and added to flavour the sambar. This method uses grated coconut while the earlier one does not. Arachuvitta sambar is, generally speaking, Palakkad style.
Nellai sambar differs from both these and is unique to the Tirunelveli region.

Nellai Sambar

A lemon sized ball of tamarind, soaked and juice extracted
1/2 cup pigeon peas (tur dal, thuvaram parupu)
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped (optional)
1 1/2 cups of any vegetable of choice (I used green pumpkin)
A pinch of turmeric powder (haldi, manjal podi)
A pinch of asafoetida (hing, perunkayam)
Unrefined salt to taste
To Temper
1 tsp mustard seeds (sarson, kadugu)
1 tsp cumin seeds (sabut jeera, jeeragam)
2 tsp split black lentils (urad dal, ulutham parupu)
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds (sabut methi, venthiyam)
1 sprig curry leaves
To Be Ground
1/4 onion
4-5 dried red chilis
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 cup grated coconut
Wash the lentils and transfer to a pressure cooker
Add 1 1/2 cups of water and turmeric powder
Cook for 6-7 whistles
Let the steam release naturally and open the lid
Mash the lentil and set aside
(If you prefer to cook on stove top, keep adding water until the lentil is cooked and mushy)
Grind all the ingredients mentioned under “To Be Ground”, using very little water, to a paste – grind raw, do not roast
Set aside
Heat a wok and add all the ingredients mentioned under “To Temper”
Roast for about a minute
Add the onion and continue to sauté till the onion is translucent (sprinkle a little water, if necessary)
Add the vegetable being used and continue to sauté for 2-3 minutes
Add the tamarind extract and salt
If the tamarind extract is thick, add water to bring it to a thin consistency
Let this mixture boil for about 8 minutes until the raw smell of the tamarind has evaporated and the vegetable is cooked
Add the ground paste and boil for a couple of minutes more for all the ingredients to blend well
Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl
Serve hot with steamed red/brown/millet rice

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Meena C.P says:

    You didn’t mention when to add the ground paste in your recipe.


    1. I realised that after I posted. Will correct tomorrow. Meanwhile, add the paste after the tamarind has boiled for 8 minutes. Thank you for pointing it out.


  2. Jayanthi says:

    You haven’t mentioned when to add the ground paste..


    1. I realised it only after I posted. Will correct today. Meanwhile, addit after the tamarind has boiled the 8 minutes. Thank you for pointing it out.


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