Sambhar (Serves: 4; Preparation Time: 45 minutes)

Come Thursday and the week  starts to look like a really long drag. For those who go to work, Friday evening  touchdown to the base looks blurred and distant; and for those who remain back home, the  weekend fun appears like a distant dream.

Just like most north Indians, I too cook vegetables, lentils and chapati on most days of the typical week. However  to break the tiring monotony and to infuse some energy I decided to cook a south Indian meal this afternoon. My little one simply loved the dosa and nariyal chutney...and the husband's verdict is still awaited.

Since the sambhar (my friend Sandhya's recipe) and chutney (my version- with a twist) turned out really well, here's is the recipe for you to try. Trust me, on a rainy day, nothing tastes better than a bowl of steaming hot sambhar, coconut chutney and crisp dosas.....WOW!!


I am yet to grind dosa batter at home - I rely on the ready made dosa mix (widely available back home and here in New Jersey, I order it with my Indian grocery)

Ingredients
  • 1 cup tuvar/ arhar dal
  • ½ tsp tamarind powder
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2-3 tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste 
  • 10-12 drumsticks, cut into quarters
  • 5-6 french beans, cut into halves
  • 1 carrot, cut into the same size as the drumsticks and french beans
  • About 18-20 shallots (small onions)
  • 2 tbsp oil
For the dry masala
  • 3 tbsp sambhar masala
  • ¼ cup coconut, grated (Fresh or Frozen; if using the latter, run it under cold water and drain)
  • 1 tsp coriander (dhania) powder
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • A pinch of asafoetida
For the tadka
  • ½  tsp mustard seeds
  • 4-5 curry leaves
  • 2-3 whole red chillies (dry)
  • ½  tsp oil

Steps

  • Pressure cook the dal with tomatoes, tamarind powder and salt (ensure plenty of water, about 4-5 cups)

  • Once the dal is cooked, pass it through the sieve into another container (this helps in getting rid of the tomato peels and lends an even texture to the sambhar, if you wish you could skip the step, it won't make any difference to the taste; just make sure you blend the tomatoes rather well); bring the dal back into the pressure cooker and set aside

  • Heat some oil in a wok and sauté shallots and the vegetables (vegetables  of your choice; i recommend drumsticks, beans, carrots, lady fingers etc), cover and cook; once the vegetables are nearly done  add them to the dal in the pressure cooker

  • Soak a small piece of tamarind in warm water for about half an hour, pass it through the sieve, or squash and squeeze the soaked tamarind into a fist to separate the softened pulp from the veins, the seeds, and the tough membranes that cover the seeds; allow this  pulp to also find  it's way into the  pressure cooker

  • Preparing the dry masala is the most crucial and important step in preparing good sambhar, for it is this masala that lends the authentic taste. In a pan, dry roast the grated coconut till the water vaporizes. Then add  asafoetida, sambhar masala (I use Everest brand), coriander and chilli powder and roast for another minute -At this stage you'll love the aroma these spices release and later the magic this masala does to the sambhar.

  • Add this masala to the dal, switch on the gas and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. This slow cooking will allow all the flavors to come together (If the sambhar appears thick add some hot water)

  • For the Tadka, heat some oil in a wok, add mustard seeds (rai), let them crackle, follow it up by curry leaves and whole red chillies. Pour the tadka over the sambhar. Your sambhar is ready - enjoy the steaming hot smabhar with crisp dosas and coconut chutney!

    Here are a few tips for making crisp dosas from the dosa mix

  • Make sure you mix the dosa batter well enough before using it. Add a pinch of salt to the batter (also thaw the batter for at least half an hour before using)
  • Heat a flat tawa (Griddle) on high flame with a very fine coating of oil (the traditional South-Indian way is to use the exposed half of a diced onion to spread the oil)
  • Reduce the flame to medium, take some mix in a ladle and pour it in center, start spreading inside-out in a circular fashion till you can easily manage. Let it cook. The dosa will start leaving the sides. As that happens, flip it over and cook on the other side.

Important
 things to keep in mind are : the tawa should be well heated before you start making dosa, the oil should be applied in a thin film (oil applied one time will last you at least 4-5 dosas, after which you can re-apply), and thin dosas cooked on low-medium flame turn out crispy.

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