Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lentil Sambar

I'm Indian and I don't cook a lot of Indian. My friends ask if I cook Indian and I bashfully say I don't. I don't know why. I know plenty of people from you name it ethnicity that don't prepare the foods they grew up with.

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?

Serves 4

- 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.

Tamarind pulp
- 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.


Sophie said...

Thanks for stopping at my blog so that I could discover yours!!

This is one tasty dish!

I love all of the lovely flavours in here!


Ameena said...

I love eating my mom's Indian food the best too! I have no idea how to make anything remotely as good as her.

And as for the sambar...there is nothing like a delicious masala dosa dipped in sambar. Great recipe!

Fresh Local and Best said...

I am guilty of the same thing! Only recently have I started to learn to make the dishes that I grew up with. It's not easy, you have to invest the time and money to collect all of the staples and traditional cooking utensils - it's quite a commitment.

I must say that Indian food fascinates me quite a bit. This is one cuisine that I am trying to cook more of. I've made some investment in spices, and used fresh curry leaves recently, which was wonderful, but there's still a lot that I have to learn.

Katerina said...

I am Greek and I don't cook Greek food very often. Perhaps it's the fact that I grew up with all this Greek food and now I want to try new and different things. I haven't experimented on Indian kitchen at all. I am a little hesitant because my stomach is very sensitive to hot dishes and I know Indian food can be very hot. But since you give such a detailed explanation on the spices I think I will give it a try. Thanks for sharing all this info.

Rita said...

Looks wonderful! I can almost taste the creamy texture.

Barbara said...

How nice your mom gave you such a super cookbook and that you are finally starting to use it! This dish looks marvelous...I hope we see more classic Indian dishes coming our way!

Julie M. said...

I adore Indian food and this soup looks perfect for the cooling weather!

I'll have to check out that cookbook, it sounds like an overall winner!

Pam said...

I bet this would be delicious!

Design Wine and Dine said...

I LOVE Indian food! I understand your staying away from it though for as long as you did... especially if your mom's was so GOOD!

Thanks for the recipe!

Dishesdone said...

Looks like one delicious dish, so many flavors! I bet the smells coming for your kitchen are just fantastic!

Simply Life said...

oooh this looks great!

redmenace said...

I will absolutely try this recipe. I adore Indian food! Also, I needed a good cookbook recommendation, so thanks! xo

UrMomCooks said...

Red lentils are one of my favorite things! (they cook fast and they aren't brown...) Several of the ingredients were new to me, but the recipe looks wonderful! (We Texans like our food spicy, but 4 Tbsp. of red chili powder??? Yikes!) Your adjustments are appreciated!

♥peachkins♥ said...

Guilty!and I also prefer food that doesn't take too much time to prepare..

Claudia said...

I love this - I'm not indian and adore Indian food. And love lentils! This is just packed with grand flavor and aromatic spice. delicious! Many thanks for the visit.


Nirmala~ I have been to India 3 times and have been trying to conquer Indian cooking for years! It does seem like a lot of cooks overlook the recipes they grew up with...wonder why that's so common?

This sounds so warm and inviting!

Joie de vivre said...

Thanks so much for visiting! This indeed looks delicious, you should cook Indian more often!

Cynthia said...

I know what you mean about not cooking the food you are most familiar with.

From the Kitchen said...

I understand the intricacies of preparing Indian food from the many herbs and spices that go into a curry to the long preparation time. But, the end result is so delicious!

Thanks for stopping by my blog!!


Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets said...

Mm I love sambar. My best friend in high school was Indian and her mom would cook us these amazing Indian meals. What a cool fact about tamarind - as a future dietitian hopeful, I find that especially interesting :).