No two sambars are the same.
For the uninitiated, sambar is a comforting vegetable dish that’s popular in Sri Lankan Tamil and South Indian cuisine. The lentil and tamarind base are standard but the rest is up to you. Tomatoes in season? Go for it. Cauliflower? You can add that too. My favorite version includes okra and zucchini. Served typically with dosa, idli, or rice, the variations are endless.
1 cup yellow lentils (toor dal)
6 cups water
2 slices ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
3-4 cups mixed chopped vegetables (I used okra, zucchini, and potatoes here)
1 serrano chili, halved lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp, soaked in 1/4 cup warm water and strained for liquid (discard solids)
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal
1 sprig curry leaves
3 shallots (or 1/2 onion), thinly sliced
1. Place the lentils, water, ginger, salt and turmeric in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover partially with a lid, and simmer until the lentils are very soft, about 30 minutes.
2. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the sambar powder: lightly toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small pan until they begin to smell fragrant, about 2 minutes. Let cool and grind in a spice grinder with the cayenne pepper, fenugreek seeds, and peppercorns. Set aside.
3. When the lentils are cooked, add the prepared vegetables, serrano chili, asafoetida, tamarind liquid, and sambar powder. Stir well, bring to a boil, and simmer gently with the pan uncovered until the vegetables have cooked through.
4. Just before serving, heat the oil in a small pan and add the mustard seeds, urad dal, curry leaves, and shallots. Stir until the shallots are tender, then pour the contents of the pan onto the vegetables. Stir and serve hot.