Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spicy Tamarind Sambar, A Dal Soup Easy and Perfect With Any Meal

   When I was preparing the menu for my Foodbuzz 24x24 pongal feast, I had one step that was easy. I knew that no matter what I had on the menu, one dish was an absolute must in any South Indian meal, and that was a sambar. This spicy dal soup is an essential part of any festive occasion. The great thing about sambars is that they make up really, really quickly. They also keep well and can be made ahead of time which saves on the work involved. This was a good thing since I was chasing all around Sonoma County looking for more exotic ingredients and stuffed velvet mini-elephants.
   Over the years, I've made variations on this basic dish, but there are two things that always make a sambar: Tamarind and toor dal. Well, actually three things, the third being Sambar Powder. Can't have the sambar without the powder that adds the necessary spice and flavor.
   Sambar powder is sort of like curry powder or garam masala. There are many variations and you can buy it ready made. However it's really easy to make a batch up yourself and then store it in an airtight jar in your spice cabinet, so why not do that? I always keep a supply of old jars around the house for just such a purpose. Paula gave me that hint. Run them through the dishwasher to make sure they're clean and they're perfect for labeling and storage of anything you desire.
    So for starters here's how to make a basic sambar powder that works well with Spicy Tamarind Sambar.

Tamarind Sambar

 Sambar Powder
 In a heavy skillet (I use cast iron) heat 1 Tbs of vegetable oil.
 When the oil is hot toss in:
 1 cup of dried red chilies
 Stir them around for about 2 to 3 minutes. They'll darken a bit and turn fragrant. Set them aside in a bowl for later. Wipe the skillet clean of oil.
  In the skillet dry-toast the following spices separately until they turn color and put off a strong scent. As each one is finished set it aside in the bowl with the red chilies.
  3/4 cup of coriander seeds
  2 Tbs of cumin seeds
  3/4 Tbs of fenugreek seeds
  3/4 Tbs of black peppercorns
  3/4 Tbs of brown mustard seeds
  1 tsp of chana dal
 1 tsp of toor dal
 1 tsp of poppy seeds
 1 large stick of cinnamon
 A few (3 or 4) curry leaves
  After all these spices are toasted, put them together in a blender or food processor along with 1 tsp of turmeric (untoasted) and grind it up to a fine powder. Store it in an airtight jar in your spice cabinet.   Bingo, there's the sambar powder!

Now to make a Spicy Tamarind Sambar.
   Soak  two pieces of tamarind, each the size of a lemon, in 4 cups of hot water for about 15 minutes. The thing about tamarind is that it seems to be very gettable, Back in the day, I used to buy it in hard blocks that contained the seeds and it was rather a chore to prepare. Recently I found blocks of seeded, dried tamarind in my local Asian market. Break off a piece, place it in the hot water and then strain the tamarind soaking water into another bowl, getting as much liquid out of the tamarind chunk as possible.
 Set the tamarind juice aside and toss out the pulp.
 In a heavy skillet or kadhai heat about 4 Tbs of sesame oil .
When the oil is hot toss in:
 4 dried red chilies
 2 tsp of brown mustard seeds
 1 tsp of fenugreek seeds
   When the mustard seeds start to pop add iin:
 2 tsp of toor dal
 2 tsp of chana dal
 2 tsp of urad dal
 A few curry leaves
Stir this all around and saute it until the dal starts to turn a light, toasty color.
 Add in:
 12 peeled and lengthways chopped challots.
 Saute them for a few minutes and then add in:
 6 tsps of Sambar Powder
  Saute for another minute or so and then pour in the tamarind soaking water
 4 Tbs of jaggery (or dark brown sugar if you can't find that).
 Salt to taste
 Put a lid on the pan and simmer it for about 10 minutes or so, until the shallots are tender.
While that's cooking in a small bowl, mix together into a smooth batter:
  4 Tbs of chickpea flour
  1 cup of water
 Add the batter to the sambar and bring it to a boil. Boil it for about 2 minutes. Serve it hot with rice and a couple of other vegetable dishes .
   This dish is a winner on a lot of fronts. Not only is it vegetarian, it's gluten free and vegan also. Plus it's delicious. So delicious that your guests/family will never realize they're getting something healthy.
 There are a lot of variations on Sambar recipes and I'll be showing a few more in the next few weeks, a perfect dish for a Meatless Monday, any day of the week.


  1. Love this soup! What wonderful flavors!!

  2. Beautiful display Kathy! The soup sounds wonderful. Never thought about keeping those jars, great tip, thanks.

  3. Yum! I love the ingredients. I adore the smell of curry leaf. I don't know why but it makes me happy.

  4. Awesome Sambar...fantastic pics...

  5. @Belinda@zomppa,
    yes, and it makes up so fast! I really love this recipe.

  6. @Premalatha Aravindhan,
    thanks so much!

  7. @red kathy,
    yes, the jars are a great idea. Every time Paula Wolfert gives me something it's in a little jar and she told me she saves them, so now I do too and they really come in handy.

  8. @Janis,
    yes me too..also cilantro. Are you going to be coming to California this week?

  9. pegasuslegend,
    It's a really great dish. Healthy too!

  10. wow sambar! i don't think i've ever seen my mom make this at home. when we go to local indian chaat places we usually get a bowl of sambar with everything we order. it's kind of overkill!! they've turned me off of it completely. but nice to see you can make this at home if need be. your pictures are lovely. thanks for sharing.

  11. You always work so well with the flavours. thumbs up!

  12. Looks good. I have never used chana dal in sambar before. I will give it a go next time. Feel free to stop by my blog when you get a chance.

  13. Tamarind can be bought in pulp form (a dark brown paste), from supermarkets and local markets here in Panama. tamarinde wat is dat



Blog Widget by LinkWithin