Four Clan Kitchen

What we eat everyday

A South Indian Meal in 4 parts-Part 1: (Sambar)

Posted by fourclankitchen on October 17, 2010

Many in India will claim that this is their favorite breakfast or dinner meal.  It consists of rice and lentil crepes (dosas), eaten with a lentil and vegetable dish (sambar), a spicy coconut chutney (tenga sadam) and a mild potato curry.    If you make them all together, you will spend 1 1/2 hours in the kitchen and will wash at least 4 pans.  But at the end you will have 2 full meals which are really nutritious and which together cost less than $ 15.  Also, you dont have to do them together.  You could do the dosas (crepes) and one other item or you could eat the sambar (lentils) as a soup or over rice.  These dishes require a trip to the Indian grocery store, but if you are a flavor hound like I am, you will find that this trip and this particular repertoire of dishes is well worth it.

Because these dishes are complicated and require ingredients novel to many, let me break this meal  into 4 blogs.  I will begin with the sambar.


First a brief introduction to the ingredients that you may not know about:

1. Pigeon Peas (Arhar or Toor Dal)

This is the most flavorful yellow lentil I know of.  It is sold as a whole pea (skin on), whose flavor is really very different from the split and skinned version you will use here.  2 varieties of the latter are sold in the Indian grocery store:  one oiled (I guess for preservation), nearly orange and icky and the other, pale yellow and flavorful.  This is the one you want.  Wash multiple times as you would rice, rubbing the lentils with your hands till the wash water comes clean- about 3-4 times.

2.Curry Leaves: Leaves  from the Curry Leaf Tree (Murraya koenigii), are widely used for flavoring curries in the southern part of India.  The flavor is unique and cannot be replicated by substitutes or even by dried curry leaf powder.  Get fresh leaves from the Indian grocery store,  use within a few days and store unused leaves in the freezer, where they keep for months.  If you cant find it, just omit it.  The flavor wont be the same, but it will be good.

3.  Tamarind paste: This concentrate is made from the pulp of the Tamarind  (Tamarindus indica) fruit and is widely used in the diverse cuisines of Asia.  The flavor is very sour, but it also has a sweet undertone so that you could nearly think of this paste as tamarind molasses.  In many Indian dishes, its near sweetness is enhanced by making chutneys where it is paired with dates, or unrefined sugar (jaggery, gud) and other sweet flavors.  It is unbelievably nutritious, with the highest vitamin C content of any vegetable.  So use it often.  If you cant find it, a good substitute is a raw mango.  Again, the flavor wont be the same, but it will be good.

4.  Sambar Powder: This is a curry powder of sorts and contains a mind boggling array of ingredients.  I have never bothered to make it at home.  I just buy it.  It is spicy, so use sparingly if you have a low tolerance for the hot stuff.


A. Make the dal:

Wash the dal thoroughly and boil the following ingredients together in a large pot for 45 min or until the dal is perfectly tender, but still holds its shape.

1  1/2 cups split pigeon peas (called arhar or toor dal by N. Indians)

6 cups water

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 1/2 – 2 tsp salt (or to taste)

1 cup onions coarsely diced

1 1/2 cup tomatoes any kind, diced (I used about 3 small roma tomatoes)

1/2 cup eggplant, diced (dont bother peeling if you eggplant is organic)

1 1/2 cup carrots, peeled and diced (about 2 large carrots).

B. Add the tamarind. Continue to simmer on low while you complete making the sambar.  In a small bowl, add:  2 tsp tamarind concentrate to a few tbs. of the dal liquid and fully dissolve the paste.  Add to the dal and thoroughly mix.

C.  Now temper the dal. Heat 1 1/2 tbs. oil in a small sauceopan till hot, then add the following ingredients:

1 tsp black mustard seeds (rai)

1″ ginger finely minced

2-3 dry cayenne peppers, broken in half (optional)

8-10 curry leaves

1 heaping tsp sambar powder (less if you are averse to spicy stuff)

D.  Finish the sambar. When the ingredients release a strong aroma, add the temper to the dal.  Boil briefly, taste the salt.  Serve either with the accompaniments suggested or eat over rice or as a soup.

Note: The picture of the tamarind tree is from Wikipedia.


2 Responses to “A South Indian Meal in 4 parts-Part 1: (Sambar)”

  1. […] Comments (RSS) « A South Indian Meal in 4 parts-Part 1: (Sambar) […]

  2. […] To this dish, you can add any of the following: carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, grated beets, take your pick.  However, do take the trouble to get/prepare some of the ingredients that make this dish “Indian tasting” or South Indian  tasting (mustard seeds, curry leaves, grated ginger, turmeric). I have described these in detail in the last 3 posts, here, here and here. […]

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