Sambar is a tamarind vegetable-lentil stew meant to be served with rice. It is daily fare in millions of South Indian households. Everyone's sambar is different -- I present to you mine, perhaps the first ever sambar recipe to come from a Lutheran girl from Minnesota (who happens to be married to a guy from Tamil Nadu). You will need to visit an Indian grocery store before making this recipe (for the toor dal, channa dal, sambar powder, etc.). Sambar powder is a mixture of spices you can buy commercially, though many Indian home cooks make their own in huge batches. My mother-in-law gives me a jar every so often, though I did use store bought most recently. I used Priyom brand, which contains red chile, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek, asafoetida, pepper, curry leaves, urad dal, gram dal, and salt. —Southern Fried Curry
For the sambar
black mustard seeds
Thai green chili, halved lengthwise (or about ¼ of a jalapeno)
onion, cut in half crosswise, then cut lengthwise along the grain into pieces slightly less than an inch wide
1 1/8 teaspoons
For the channa dal/coconut paste
dried red chilies (small, like Thai chilies)
dried flaked coconut
coconut oil, for finishing
In This Recipe
Rinse the toor dal three times in a large sauce pan, then add four cups water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Skim off any foam that appears.
Cook for approximately 40 minutes, or until the lentils are very soft and falling apart. Add water if the lentils look like they are drying out.
When lentils are done cooking, take a wire whisk and whisk them into a rough puree.
While the lentils are cooking, start cooking the onion. Heat the coconut oil, mustard seeds, and green chili in a large heavy-bottomed pot until the mustard seeds turn grey and start sputtering out of the pot.
Turn down the heat, add the sambar powder and asafoetida, and stir for a few seconds.
Add the onion and stir to coat with the spices. Cook the onion for a few minutes, then add 2 1/2 - 3 cups water to cover the onions well.
Dissolve the tamarind concentrate in a bit of water, and add it to the onion mixture. Add some salt, and bring to a boil.
Once the mixture starts to boil, lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the onions are soft, about 20 minutes.
While your onions are simmering, make the coconut/channa dal paste. Heat the 2 teaspoons of oil in a small skillet (reserve the 1 tablespoon for the end), then add the chilies, coconut, and channa dal. Roast on medium heat until the coconut is light brown. Take care not to scorch it.
Puree the coconut/dal mixture in a blender with a small amount of water to make a paste.
When the separate elements are done, you just need to put them together. Add the whisked toor dal to the cooked onions (reserving a small amount of plain dal for your kids if necessary), then add the coconut/channa dal paste, and mix. Add more salt if necessary.
Add the final tablespoon of coconut oil, and simmer the sambar for a few minutes. That's it. Serve with rice and a nice vegetable curry.