Sambar is to South India, what noodles is to china, Thai Red/green curry is to Thailand an over-commercialized symbol of the region, especially with the new age sambar masalas that bring grandma’s touch (why not cook’s or uncle’s or even better – mother-in-law’s touch? don’t want to antagonize the daughters-in-law?) to your sambar. I am not against sambar or sambar masalas, stupid stereotyping and gross generalizations make me cringe. Now that I’ve got the negative chi off my chest, let’s create some positive chi, some aromatic, flavour packed heavy duty sambar. The best sambars are perfectly balanced neither too tangy nor too hot.
The secret to that lies in the amount of tamarind you use. So master the tamarind and you’ve got sambar covered. There are dozens of different Sambars, some with coconut, some with jaggery, with/without garlic, some without tamarind. Each household will have its own version. What I am posting today is one such version with tamarind and garlic. This Drumstick sambar is rich and full-bodied and is best had with hot steamed rice, a dollop of ghee, appalam, and potato roast or seppankezhangu roast (coming soon).
Preparation time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 20-25 mins
Toor dal – 1 cup
Sambar onions/shallots – 10 + 10 peeled and chopped
Tomatoes – 2 chopped
Drumstick – 2 cut into 2 inch pieces
Red chilli powder – 2 tsp
Asafoetida – a pinch
Turmeric powder – ½ tsp + ½ tsp
Tamarind extract – small lemon sized
Salt to taste
Garlic – 6-7
Coriander leaves chopped – a handful for garnishing
Dry red chillies – 2 whole
Garlic – 6-7 pods unpeeled
Green chillies – 2
Cumin – 1 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – 1 stem
1. Pressure cook the dal with 2 cups water, half of the sambar onions (10), tomatoes, garlic, ½ tsp turmeric powder and a pinch of asafoetida for 15 mins or till well cooked. Mash up the dal mixture and set aside.
2. Soak the tamarind along with salt in water for 10 minutes. Start with just enough water to immerse the tamarind. Extract the juices and again add water and extract. Repeat till you’re left with the dry pulp. You’ll get around 2 cups of tamarind extract. Set aside.
3. Grind together the unpeeled garlic and green chillies without adding water to a coarse mixture, just a few seconds in the mixer. Set aside.
4. In a pot/kadai, add oil, when hot, add sambar onions, fry till translucent, add tomatoes and fry for a few minutes. Add the cut-up drumstick pieces and fry for a minute. Add turmeric powder and red chilli powder and mix well.
5. Add the tamarind extract, cover and cook for 5-10 mins till the drumstick is cooked through.
6. Add the cooked dal mixture and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. Let it come to a boil. Switch off.
7. For the tempering, heat oil and when hot add mustard seeds. On low heat, add curry leaves, cumin, red chillies and ground garlic-green chilli mixture and stir around till garlic turns golden, half a minute or so. Switch off. Tip the tempering mixture along with the oil onto the sambar and stir well. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Serve hot with steamed rice.
1. Garlic with the peel adds more fragrance and flavour to the dish.
2. You can substitute any vegetable of your choice for the drumstick – okra, pumpkin, brinjal/eggplant, avarakkai, carrot or any mix of vegetables.