This dish is as eponymous with South India, mainly Tamil Nadu, as is pasta to Italy. However, history has a different version for this story. The sambhar we are all so fond of today, came originally from Maharashtra, when the Maratha king, Shahji, conquered the kingdom of Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu. During his reign of this region, there was an exchange of culture and food, including the sambhar. The chefs made some significant changes to the original lentil dish, aamti. substituting toor dal (tuvar dal or yellow pigeon peas) for mung beans and used tamarind for the local kokum fruit. In addition, they used a variety of local vegetables, drumstick pods (moringa), eggplant, white radish and others, and spiced the dish heavily with black pepper, nigella seeds, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds and more transforming this dish to
the amazing sambhar of today.
I have about 50 recipes for sambhar amongst my cookbooks, but I chose this one as I think it is quite spectacular. The flavors are intense and the mix of spices are perfect giving the sambhar a tart and spicy pop. This is a elaborate recipe but there are a few tricks to make the dish easier.
For more recipes from this cookbook click here.
4 1/2 oz coriander seeds
4 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons fenugreek seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons chana dal
2 teaspoons toor dal
1 cup dried red chiles, or to taste
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
1/2 cup dried curry leaves
Individually dry roast all the ingredients, except turmeric powder and curry leaves on a pan on medium heat till they are lightly toasted and aromatic. Cool completely and grind to a fine powder in a coffee mill. Store in a airtight container. It will last a while.
You can buy commercially available sambhar powder or sambhar paste instead.
For the sambhar:
1 generous cup toor dal
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chile powder, or to taste
1 1/2-2 tablespoons sambhar powder, from above
4 oz tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons tamarind extract
Salt to taste
4 cups water
10 oz vegetables, mixed or single including drumstick pods, daikon radish, whole shallots, eggplants, green chiles or others as desired
1/ cup water
3 tablespoons cilantro, minced
For the tempering:
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal
15-20 curry leaves
Pinch of asafoetida
Add the toor dal, turmeric, chile powder, sambhar powder, tomatoes, tamarind salt and water to a pressure cooker, mix well and cook till the dal has fallen apart, in my Instapot it takes 35 minutes. You can also cook this on the stove but it takes much longer.
Meanwhile, cook the vegetables in water with salt till they are cooked through and to a consistency desired, about 8-10 minutes. I do not like to make my vegetables too mushy so I leave them just tender. Cool and save the cooking liquid with the vegetables.
Open the cooked dal and mix in the cooked vegetables with their liquid. Simmer together for 10 minutes. Taste for salt and spice and adjust. Add 3/4 the minced cilantro and mix in.
Heat a small pot (tadka pot) on a medium to low flame. Add the tempering ingredients in the order listed. When the mustard seeds begin to pop remove and pour into the sambhar. Mix in well.
Serve topped with the fresh cilantro and idlis and dosas or plain rice.