Super Sambar (Chunky Vegetable Stew with Dal and Tamarind)

David Rosengarten

Sambar is a very special kind of dal: though it’s made with lentils, the finished product looks like a rich, veggie-studded minestrone soup decked out in shades of yellow. It is traditionally served as an accompaniment to specific dishes, particularly the great breakfast foods of southern India, like dosas. As for me, I love it so much I like to serve it simply as a soup course. Chock-a-block with southern flavors—tamarind, mustard seeds, curry leaves—it is most certainly a stand-alone bowl! –David Rosengarten

  • 1 cup toovar dal (dry yellow lentils, not oiled)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 cup Tamarind Me Chua, Trong Luong (dried tamarind pulp)
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped okra
  • ½ cup frozen green peas
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets
  • ½ cup string beans cut in 1" lengths
  • ½ cup lg. chunks of green pepper
  • 1 overflowing cup of lg. eggplant chunks with skin (triangles about 1" thick)
  • ¼ cup Kalustyan's Samber Powder
  • ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 16 whole fresh curry leaves
  • 4 dried red chiles
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • cilantro leaves for garnish
  • NOTE: All specialty ingredients are available at, and by mail-order from, Kalustyan's on Lexington Ave. in New York City.

1. Place 4 cups water in a large pot over high heat. Immediately add the toovar dal. Bring water to boil, then boil for 15 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt, and simmer gently for 15 minutes more. Reserve.

2. Place 4 cups water in another large pot over high heat. Add 1/3 cup Tamarind Me Chua, Trong Luong. Break up the tamarind in the water with a wooden spoon. Bring water to boil, then simmer for 8 minutes. Pass tamarind water through a sieve, pressing on the tamarind solids to extract all of the juice.

3. Return tamarind water to its pot, and place over high heat. Add tomatoes, okra, peas, cauliflower, string beans, green pepper, eggplant, the remaing teaspoon of salt, and the Samber Powder. Bring to boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the contents of the dal pot to the vegetable pot. Turn heat to high, and simmer sambar vigorously until lentils are mushy, another 20-30 minutes or so.

4. Temper the seasonings. Place mustard seeds, curry leaves, red chiles and cumin seeds in a bowl. Place vegetable oil in a sauté pan over high heat until it is just starting to smoke. Turn off flame, add spices, sizzle for 10 seconds, and add to sambar. Stir thoroughly and taste for salt. Divide among 6-8 bowls and serve, garnished with cilantro leaves.

Published on July 8, 2010
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