A ubiquitous spicy and tangy vegetable and split pea stew, there are as many recipes for this South Indian Sambar as there are families in southern India. This is my version.
Sambar is a savior for any vegan traveler to India. Not only is this veggie stew vegan, it’s also incredibly delicious and you’ll find yourself not minding if you have it for every meal. That’s what happened to me when I visited the state of Kerala in southern India. You can read more about it here, but suffice to say that I think I ate sambar every day. And it was glorious.
It’s most often served with dosas, idlis, or plain rice. It’s also a main component of the wonderful sadya meal in Kerala, where it is most often served atop of mound of the Rosematta rice that is so loved there. During my time, I had sambars that were watery and mild, and others that were thick and fiery. Some recipes used puréed pigeon peas (also known as toor dal) while others featured whole, just cooked and almost al dente peas. The vegetables are also left up to the chef, but some traditional additions are ash gourd, pumpkin, eggplant, drumstick, radish, bean, carrot, and tomato.
Sambar is most often made by homecooks in India using a store-bought sambar spice blend, but I decided to make this one using single spices for those who would like to see what goes in it and adjust to their taste accordingly. I, for example, am not a fan of fenugreek. But shockingly for me, however, I do not mind it here. Such is the power of sambar!
- ½ cup toor dal (yellow split pidgeon peas)
- 1 Tablespoon oil
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon asafoetida
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon red chili powder (or paprika for mild version)
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon ground fenugreek
- 1 cup chopped carrot
- 1 cup chopped daikon radish (or red radish)
- 1 cup cut green beans
- 1 cup chopped large shallot (or small onion)
- 1 cup chopped pumpkin (or squash or zucchini)
- ½ cup chopped tomato
- 3 cups water
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 Tablespoon tamarind paste, soaked in 1 cup of warm water for 5 minutes
- 1 Tablespoon oil
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
- 10-15 curry leaves
- Rinse toor dal well, then soak in warm water for 10 minutes. Drain then boil them in 2½ cups of water over medium heat for 25 minutes or until they are fully cooked. Use a spoon or spatula to mash the cooked peas and set aside.
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the oil, then fry the coriander, cumin seeds, asafoetida, turmeric, chili powder, black pepper, and fenugreek for 5-10 seconds before adding all of the chopped vegetables and 3 cups of water. Add the salt. Bring it to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 10 minutes.
- In the meanwhile, soak the tamarind in 1 cup of warm water. After 5 minutes mash the tamarind water with a spoon or your fingers. Strain the tamarind juice into the pot slowly. You want to leave about a Tablespoon of the juice behind because there can be some grit that will have settled to the bottom. Add the cooked, mashed toor dal to the vegetables and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Make the "tempering" by heating the oil in a small saucepan then adding the mustard seeds. They will sizzle and may pop, so keep a lid handy. After a few seconds add the curry leaves (which will definitely pop). Immediately remove from heat and dump this seasoned oil, seeds, and curry leaves into the sambar. Stir them in and taste the dish for seasoning, adjust, and serve with rice.