Author Notes: 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
- 1 cup toor dal
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
- 1 Thai green chili, halved lengthwise (or about ¼ of a jalapeno)
- 2 teaspoons sambar powder
- 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
- 1 onion, cut in half crosswise, then cut lengthwise along the grain into pieces slightly less than an inch wide
- 1 1/8 teaspoons tamarind concentrate
For the channa dal/coconut paste
- 2 teaspoons coconut oil
- 2 dried red chilies (small, like Thai chilies)
- 3 tablespoons dried flaked coconut
- 3 tablespoons channa dal
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil, for finishing
- 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.