Arachivitta Sambar | Ground Coconut Sambar

arachivitta sambar,ground coconut sambar

I am still recovering from the after-effects of a team dinner at Hyatt Regency, Chennai yesterday. You know that feeling when you’ve not really had too much but you feel terribly full, uneasy and you would appreciate a good puke? Well, it was just that yesterday. Before I elaborate on yesterday’s experience, here is a little about the recipe I am posting today – Araithivitta Sambar or Arachivitta Sambar. This is a thick, substantial sambar that is best served with steamed rice, appalam and light poriyals (stir-fried vegetables) or fried vegetables. 

I followed the famous Chandra Padmanabhan’s Arachivitta sambar recipe from her book Dakshin. I picked this book up on an impulse at a Bangalore bookstore many years ago and it is one of my most-often read cookbooks. It is a little treasure-trove of South-Indian recipes. This sambar turned out great; lovely aroma and wonderful flavour from the freshly roasted and ground spices. Left to my devices I would have added just a dash of jaggery (I like that hint of sweetness that balances out the tang and spice in a sambar), but I didn’t as Jagan and the rest of my family don’t like it that way. You could thin the sambar down with a little water if desired. If you’ve not tried it before, I strongly recommend trying this Arachivitta Sambar, the next time you make Sambar. This Arachivitta Sambar tastes special and would be a good choice for the festival days as well.

Back to Hyatt, it was the usual 5-star buffet – panner tikka and chicken kebab for starters, steamed rice, veg pulav, 2 dals, paneer gravy, baby potato gravy, a local dish that never tastes like the actual dish (yesterday it was poondu Kuzhambu, the other favourite in this category is Ennai Kathirikkai Kuzhambu), a similar spread on the non-veg side, desserts in those cute mini white dishes (I love those dishes) and a whole lot of salads. I think the salads did me in yesterday or maybe it was the chicken kebab, I am not sure. The chicken kebab was bad. The chicken and asparagus salad was vile. The hummus had no trace of any flavour, bland and perfectly international. However a few of the desserts were really good, particularly the panacotta with berry compote and the café latte pudding but the cakes were just plain old. I always feel 5-star hotel buffets (specifically buffets, their a-la-carte could be good) are the last place to go if you want good food. Yesterday’s experience further reinforced this belief.  The hotel was stunning though, very contemporary and swank but I found those beehive styled thingies quite a bit hideous. We ate at the Spice Haat, the Indian cuisine restaurant that boasts of the largest spread in the city and a even a few awards for what I don’t know. 

Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 25 mins
Serves: 4


Toor Dal/Red gram – 1 cup rinsed
Sambar onions/shallots – 15 peeled and chopped or 1 big onion chopped
Tomatoes – 2 chopped
Drumstick – 1 chopped into 2 inch pieces
Brinjal/Eggplant – 2 quartered and soaked in water
Tamarind – a lemon sized ball soaked in 1-1/2 cups water
Turmeric powder – ½ tsp
Asafoetida – a pinch
Salt to taste
Fresh Coriander leaves – few for garnishing
Oil – 2 tbsp + 1 tsp for the spice paste

Spice Paste Ingredients

Whole dry red chillies – 7
Coriander seeds / Dhania – 3 tbsp
Fenugreek seeds/Vendhayam – ½ tsp
Channa Dal/Kadalai paruppu – 2 tbsp
Cumin – 1 tsp
Grated Copra/Grated Coconut – 3 tbsp

Ingredients for tempering

Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
Cumin – ½ tsp
Curry leaves – 1 stem
Whole Dry red chilli – 1 broken in half
Ghee/Oil – 1-1/2 tbsp


1.      Rinse toor dal in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear. Transfer the rinsed toor dal to a pressure cooker. Add salt and asafoetida and around 1-3/4 cups water. Mix well. Close and pressure cook for 3 whistles or 15 minutes till the dal is soft and can be easily mashed with a ladle. Mash and set aside.

2.      While the dal is cooking, soak the tamarind in water and salt to it. Squeeze the tamarind to extract the juices. Discard the pulp. Set aside the tamarind extract.

3.      To a pan, add 1 tsp oil and when hot, add all the spice paste ingredients except the coconut and roast on low till a nice aroma emanates and the channa dal starts colouring. Add the grated copra/coconut and fry for a further 2 minutes till the coconut is dry and is starting to brown. Switch off. Let cool slightly and then grind to a fine powder.

4.      To a pot/kadai, add 2 tbsp oil and when hot add the chopped onions and fry till they turn translucent. Throw in the tomatoes and cook till they turn soft. Then throw in the chopped vegetables and mix well. After a minute, add the tamarind extract and turmeric powder and let it come to a boil. Turn heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes or till the vegetables are tender and cooked through.

5.      Once the vegetables are cooked, add the ground spice powder and stir well to break up lumps. Alternately, add a ladle of the boiling tamarind extract to the ground spice powder, stir to incorporate and break up lumps. Then pour this mixture back into the pot and stir well. Let simmer for about 3 minutes for the flavours to blend. Then add the mashed dal and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. Let cook on low till the sambar comes to a boil. When it comes to a boil, switch off and give it a good stir.

6.      To a small kadai/pan, add the ghee or oil for tempering. When hot, add the mustard seeds. Once they’ve spluttered, add the cumin, urad dal/black gram, red chilli and curry leaves. When the urad dal turns light brown, switch off. Pour this tempering mixture along with the ghee/oil over the sambar and give it a good stir. Sprinkle the chopped coriander leaves on top of the sambar but don’t stir it in when hot. Serve hot with steamed rice.
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