Kerala Sambar is a lentil-based mixed vegetable curry. It is one of the main dishes in Onam Sadya but is also served as an accompaniment to Idli, Dosa, Upma, Uzhunnuvada, and Rice.
I was missing my Mom so much today. To be more precise, I was missing homecooked food, especially, her Sambar. I’ve always felt that she makes the world’s best Sambar. I can surely bet my bottom dollar on it!
I have heard from many, even read in many food blogs that their most difficult endeavor was cooking Sambar! However, I still vividly remember the first time I cooked Sambar. I had joined my soldier husband in a temporary quarter where all we had was an electric induction cooker. So, I made Sambar in a 5-ltr pressure cooker, and boy was he ecstatic! It was finger-licking good and I fondly recall him gobbling from the cooker directly even after lunch. Fond memories indeed.
Sambar is almost a staple in South Indian cuisine. It is had with Upma, Idli, and Dosa for breakfast and with rice for lunch.
However, there are different varieties of Sambar. In Tamil Nadu, Sambar is usually made with one or two vegetables and the spices are adjusted according to the veggies that are added. For eg, Vengaya Sambar is made with Onions and Mullangi Sambar has radishes in it. This is usually to include locally available ingredients adapting to a particular palate.
I’ve also noticed that Sambar in states like TN, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka is sweet in taste, may be because of the addition of jaggery or gud (sharkkara) in it.
Kerala Sambar, however, is a perfect blend of spice and tanginess. It also uses a mix of different vegetables.
There are different varieties of Kerala Sambar as well- one with coconut and one without. The Malabar version of Sambar has roasted and grated coconut added to it.
This Kerala Sambar is made without Coconut.
What Vegetables are Used in Kerala Sambar
I’m going to share how my Mom makes Sambar. It could be different from how you make it.
We usually add potatoes, onion (usually shallots), carrots, beans, brinjals, yellow cucumber (manja vellari), snake gourd (padavalanga), drumstick (muringakka), and tomatoes. Mom and I hate having okras (vendakka) in the Sambar because it gets all mushy and slimy.
But my mother-in-law, on the other hand, adds okras and is always successful in somehow, retaining its structure without making it slimy. So, you may choose to add them all or pick your favorites.
What Makes Kerala Sambar Slightly Tangy
Kerala Sambar, as mentioned above, is a perfect blend of spice and tanginess. There are three different ways to make Sambar tangy.
a. You may use tomatoes.
b. Add tamarind pulp.
c. A mix of both tomatoes and tamarind pulp.
I’ve used only tomatoes in this recipe.
Here is also a disclaimer: I whole-heartedly agree that homemade Sambar powder is any day better than the ones we get in supermarkets. But I’m trying to give a simple recipe here which uses Instant Sambar Powder.
This recipe is especially for bachelors and any one who wants to make a quick Sambar without compromising on the taste.
So, let’s get on with the recipe.
Before that, here’s a little Sambar History!
There are many interesting stories on how Sambar was made the very first time. It seems Sambar was accidentally originated in Tanjore during the reign of Marathas. King Sambhoji loved to cook and he always prepared a dish called ‘amti’ made of special Kokum. Once, he was informed that there was no Kokum left in his palace and the chefs suggested experimenting with tamarind pulp. Sambhoji tried a dish with Toor dal, vegetables, and tamarind pulp and served this dish in his coterie. It was named as ‘Sambhoji’s amti’, later to be renamed as ‘Sambar’. Interesting, isn’t? 🙂
How to Make Kerala Sambar with Instant Sambar Powder
1/2 cup Toor Dal
Water to cook Dal
3/4 cup Carrot, cubed
1/2 cup Potato, cubed
1/2 cup Brinjal, cubed
1/4 cup Yellow Cucumber, cubed
1/4 cup Onion, cubed or 1/4 cup Shallots, cubed
2 Tomatoes, cubed
1/2 cup Drumstick, cut in 2″ pieces
Salt, to taste
1/2 tsp Chili powder
1/2 tsp Coriander powder
2 tbsp Sambar powder
1/2 tsp Asafoetida (hing/kaayam)
2 tbsp Coconut Oil or Ghee
1 tsp Mustard seeds
2 Dry red chilies
1 tsp Garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp Shallots, chopped in thin roundels
A pinch of Kashmiri Red Chili powder
First, we need to pressure cook the yellow lentils. Yellow lentils are known as Split Pigeon Peas, Sambar Dal, or Toor Dal or Tuvara parippu.
Take about half a cup of Toor Dal, add just enough water, and pressure cook for about four whistles. Once the pressure is released, slightly mash the cooked dal.
Next, cube the vegetables which you are using to make Sambar. Here, I’ve taken carrots, beans, potatoes, onions, brinjals, and toamtoes. For added flavoring, I’ve also used green chilies, curry leaves and fresh coriander leaves.
Add these chopped vegetables to the cooked dal. Let’s also add the spice powders and flavorings now. Add a teaspoon each of chili powder and coriander powder, two tablespoons of Sambar powder, abut half teaspoon of asafoetida (kaayam/hing), salt, curry leaves, coriander leaves.
Give it a quick mix. Add about one to one and a half cups of hot water to get a pouring consistency. It shouldn’t be too flowy/liquidy. Because when the vegetables get cooked, it releases additional water.
Pressure cook for one whistle and wait for the pressure to release.
Once done, we will add the tempering.
For tempering, heat coconut oil or ghee. Add mustard seeds and when it splutters, add dry red chilies, finely chopped garlic, shallots, and curry leaves. Remove from heat and add a pinch of Kashmiri red chili powder. Give it a good mix and add it to the Sambar.
Mix well and serve hot with Rice, Idli or Dosa.
Kerala Sambar Without Coconut Recipe
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