A plate of steaming hot idli or dosa with an accompaniment of spicy sambar and chutney is a quintessential comfort food for many. A popular and nutritious Indian breakfast option, it’s the perfect blend of vegetables and spices that elevates this dish to another level.
According to the late food historian KT Achaya, the mention of this perfectly wholesome south Indian preparation can be dated back to the 17th century. Though it is an integral part of the south Indian cuisine, if you read into the history, as per reports, there is a story that suggests that the popular dish originated in a Maratha ruler's kitchen. It is believed that during the reign of Shahuji I, the traditionally prepared Amti was tweaked a little and instead of using moong dal and kokum it was prepared with tur dal and tamarind pulp. The dish was then named ‘sambar’ after the Second Emperor of the Maratha empire Sambhaji.
Sambar for the soul
The hearty lentil-based broth—sambar is a perfect accompaniment to almost anything—from rice, idli, dosa, appam, vada and more. Made with lentils and vegetables such as brinjal, carrot, okra, pumpkin, drumstick, tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables, it is a great source of protein and fiber that can be relished with any meal. There are several variations of sambar recipes across south India that use different ingredients and vegetables; all equally delicious and wholesome.
However, it’s the powerful spice mix that can make or break this dish. There are regional variations in making this spice mix too that add to the flavour and aroma of this dish. (Click here for an easy recipe of sambar sadam)
The coarse spice mix prepared with roasted lentils and a mix of spices is what gives the lentil-based vegetable stew a unique taste. Traditionally prepared at home, the ready-made sambar powders are convenient to buy from the stores, but don’t pack the same punch as the homemade variety. If you crave for that authentic version of mouth-watering sambar, here is a quick recipe of how you can prepare the sambar using the homemade sambar powder. You can prepare this sambar powder with just a handful of ingredients under 10 minutes and use it to enhance the flavour and aroma of your homemade sambar. (Udupi cuisine is so much more than dosa and idli)
How to make sambar powder at home
1000 grams red chili
800 grams coriander seeds
500 grams tur dal
300 grams channa dal
200 grams urad dal
80 grams fenugreek seeds
100 grams methi
100 grams peppercorn
50 grams asafoetida
50 grams curry leaves
50 grams turmeric
25 grams rice
1. One thing that you have to make sure while preparing the spice mix is using whole spices instead of the store-bought powder. You have to first sun dry red chilies, coriander seeds and tur dal. An alternate way to dry the chilies is using a preheated oven.
2. The next step is to dry roast the spices together. While roasting the rice, make sure they do not char, just roast them till they pop.
3. Once done, let all the ingredients come to room temperature. Combine all the ingredient for the sambar powder and grind it into a fine powder.
4. Some other variations also include grated coconut and cumin seeds in the spice mix. In some regions, instead of the sambar powder, the lentil dish is prepared with a wet paste made with roasted coconut and spices. (Learn how to make sambar under 30 minutes)
5. Once the sambar powder is prepared, transfer it to a clean and dry airtight bottle and always use a dry spoon to transfer the freshly prepared sambar powder. Serve it with steaming hot rice, idli or dosa. (4 Ways South India Uses Rice Beyond Idli and Dosa)
With inputs from Chennai-based chef Shri Bala
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