For us Delhiites, the very definition of South Indian food begins and ends with Sambhar. Be it Dosa, Idli, Vada or Utappam, we like to pamper ourselves with Sambhar. I remember during college days, me and my bestie Surbhi would often hang out at Madras Hotel in Connaught Place for some awesome Masala Dosa and Sambhar. The USP of the outlet was its "to die for" Sambhar. The servers or Anna as we called them would serve us generous helpings of Sambhar till our tummies would feel like gas balloons. I remember once we were so full (in the tummy, not in the heart) and sleepy after the meal that it was a tough walk from Madras Hotel to the bus stop from where we had to catch the bus to home (Delhi metro was non existent those days)!
My fondest memories of Sambhar are from my childhood, when my papa would prepare lip smacking sambhar with dosa. I still remember we had this special big tawa/griddle exclusively for preparing dosa. Even though kitchen was mom's baby, Sambhar Dosa was entirely papa's department.
How Papa, an otherwise non cook material learnt to prepare the perfect Sambhar Dosa is also a very interesting story. Apparently, once during a long wait for bus at the bus stop, papa started chatting with a roadside Dosa stall owner. While the bus came way late, it gave papa enough time to learn the art of preparing the perfect Sambhar Dosa. So perfect is he with his dish that often his boss would drop by our place for savouring Dosa Sambhar. While mom would happily don the hat of an assistant that day, papa would be so full of zeal on being the head chef! Since we were a family of 6, the batter would be prepared in a large vessel in huge quantity. After the day long fermentation, it was time to savour the Dosa and Idli. There was also a giant pressure cooker bought just to prepare enormous quantity of Sambhar.
Despite a Sambhar expert available at home, I never bothered to pick up the skill, being the lazy chef that I am! Even after marriage, Dosa Sambhar to me meant a visit to the popular Dosa joint in the WEA market in Karol Bagh and pampering myself to Dosa and unlimited Sambhar.
But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention...
After we moved to Mumbai, the spicy North Indian style Sambhar became a luxury. I still remember the first time I had Sambhar in my office cafeteria. I walked up to the server and asked him if they put the sugar by mistake in Sambhar! Pat came his reply to my horror, "M'am that's how Sambhar is to be, how else?" Oh My God! For the Delhiite used to spicy Sambhar, this was nothing short of a cultural shock! Not willing to give up that easily, I tried my luck with few more joints so called "popular for their South Indian food" however, the ordeal repeated each time.
At the cross roads, the foodie in me had just two options - either to forego the joy of relishing sambar or learn to prepare Sambhar as per our North Indian preference.
I decided to take things in my stride and became a pro at preparing Sambhar, thanks to my mom in law.
Sharing the simple and easy Sambhar that saves my day each time I have the craving to eat South Indian food.
Ingredients (for 4 portions)
- Tuur/Arhar Dal - 150g (soaked for an hour) (I have learnt a simple measurement rule from my mom in law - a fistful dal per person)
- Vegetables (Bottle Guard, Pumpkin, Onions, Tomatoes, Potatos, carrot, french beans) - Diced in mouthful size pieces (Sambhar is the best way to use the leftover grocery in the fridge!)
- Salt - to taste
- Turmeric - 1tsp
- Tamarind - to taste (deseeded and soaked in water for half and hour)
- Sambhar Powder - 2-3tsp
- Oil - 1tbsp
- Onion - 2 chopped
- Red Chilli Powder - 1tsp
- Rai/Black mustard seeds - 1tsp
- Asafoetida/Hing - a pinch (aids digestion)
- Jeera/Cumin seeds - 1tsp
- Curry leaves - few
Wash the soaked Arhar Dal and drain out the water
In a pressure cooker, take all the diced vegetables, add the Arhar Dal and water. The water should be half index finger level above the vegetables.
Add turmeric powder and salt. Close the lid and pressure cook.
After the first whistle, keep on low flame for 2-3 minutes and turn off the stove. Remove the lid and mash the vegetables a bit with the back of a round spoon (this will give a rich, thick Sambhar. You may skip the mashing if you like your Sambhar to be watery)
In a separate kadhai, heat oil. Add the asafoetida, rai, cumin seeds and curry leaves.
When the rai and cumin seeds begin to splutter, add the chopped onions and sauté.
When the onions turn golden brown, add the sambhar powder and sauté.
Next, add the red chilli powder and sauté till the mixture leaves oil on sides.
Add the mashed vegetables and water and mix well. Finally, mash the soaked tamarind into a homogeneous paste (you may also choose to blend in a blender) and add to the Sambhar.
Give the mixture one nice boil.
Tadaaa! Piping hot Sambhar is ready!
For the Onion Utappam
- Dosa batter - I am a lazy cook and allow myself some shortcuts in the form of readymade Dosa batter from the South Indian store nearby!
- Spring Onions - 2-3 chopped
- Green chilies - 2-3 chopped
- Salt - to taste
- Asafoetida - a pinch
- Oil - 1tbsp
Add a pinch salt and asafoetida to the readymade dosa batter for a good flavour and easy digestion.
Mix together the chopped spring onions and green chillies and keep aside.
In case the batter is too thick you may add a bit water to dilute else skip the step. The batter should be flowy for crisp Utappams.
Heat a tawa/griddle. Spread some oil.
Once the oil is smoky hot, with the help of a round spoon, spread some batter on the tawa. The technique is to pour a spoonful batter on the tawa and make circular motions with the round spoon, reading the batter from centre to edges.
Spread some onion chilli mixture evenly on the utappam.
Smear oil and once the other side looks brown, change sides.
Once both sides are cooked, the Utappam is ready to be served with Sambhar.