I love eating Indian food. I love eating my mom's Indian food the best. I don't know why but I had it in my mind that it takes a long time to prepare Indian food. And I'm sure it does if you prepare everything from scratch like all the curries and various powders. Perhaps this was reinforced by having a stay at home mom that prepared the most amazing Indian and non-Indian meals at home. She was in the kitchen a lot; happily, I think. As much as I love to cook, I don't want to be in the kitchen too much. I want to eat well without fuss.
In graduate school my mom gifted me the classic 1000 indian recipes cookbook. It's not fancy at all. It's not written by some famous Indian cook with stories about his/her childhood and what the dish means to them blah blah blah. It's no frills with some but not a lot of pictures. Mom chose it because she said it describes the cooking and preparation the way she does it so she figured it had to be good. Well, it is! Every single recipe I've tried has been a success. This is not to say that I think it's perfect. I have found cooking times and the number the dish serves to be off.
This book has sat on my bookshelf without much use until recently when I decided it's time to get into preparing Indian food again. I've been blown away about how little time some dishes take including this one, which was done in under 45 minutes with the vegetable prep. You just have to all the ingredients which you can get at your local Indian or Asian food store. Once you have the main ingredients you can whip up anything in very little time.
Thick and fiery sambars are the first course (in my case, the only course!) in any south Indian meal. They are served steaming hot with plain cooked rice and a vegetable accompaniment. Almost any vegetable can be used. The tamarind has a cooling effect and has the unique property of preserving the vitamins of the vegetables cooked in it! Did you know this?
- 1/2 cup red lentils
- 1 T oil
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp asafoetida
- 1 dried red chili, halved
- 2-3 curry leaves (I skipped because I didn't have these)
- 8 oz mixed vegetables (radish, onion, potato, carrots, bell pepper are great)
- 1 T tamarind pulp (you can make your own, it's easy, recipe below; or you can buy the pulp in a container. Mom says the pre-made pulp makes the food look black but will taste fine).
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp sambar powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- salt to taste
- 1 tbsp fresh cilantro
1. Cook the lentils in boiling water for about 1 hour until tender then drain. (Note, red lentils do not take 1 hour to become tender, try 20 minutes; first book error)
2. Heat the oil and fry the mustard, fenugreek and cumin seeds, asafoetida, red chili and curry leaves until the mustard seeds start crackling.
3. Add the green chilies and vegetables and fry for 2 minutes. Add the tamarind pulp, water, sambar powder, turmeric and salt. Cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in lentils, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve hot with rice.
Note -- to test for 'spicey' level of sambar powder, lick finger and dip into powder; taste; the powder will taste raw for sure but this will indicate how hot the powder is, and hence how much you should add. I guarantee you will need less than 1 T. I multiplied this recipe by 4 which means I should have used 4 T sambar power. I used 2 T and it was still hot. The primary ingredient in sambar powder is ground dried red chilies if this indicates how fiery this dish can be. My sambar powder came straight from the aunties back in India.
- 11 oz dried tamarind
- 2 1/2 c hot water
1. Soak dried tamarind overnight in the hot water or boil it for 15 minutes over medium heat.
2. Rub tamarind through the fingers to reduce it to a pulp then rub through a sieve and collect pulp. Discard husks. Excess pulp can be frozen.