Sambhar (spiced lentil gravy) is almost a daily staple in most South Indian homes. It is traditionally eaten with rice, but is also a great accompaniment to dosas (Indian crepes), idlis (Indian rice cakes) and such South Indian snack/tiffin items. It is very versatile and combines well with a variety of vegetables. Tangy, aromatic, satisfying, easy to digest and simple to make, sambhar is truly a culinary feat! This particular version is particularly easy and quick to make since it requires no grinding of spices. The spice mix can be pre-ground or store bought and safely used for a few months if stored well (under dry and cool conditions).
Ingredients (serves 4):
- Toor dhal (Split red gram lentil) or moong dhal (split green gram dhal) (1/2 cup)
- Vegetables (can use only 1 kind of vegetable or use a mix of different vegetables like white/yellow pumpkin, carrots, beans, onions, tomatoes (yes, try it!), roasted okra, drumstick, potatoes, zucchinis, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, radish, leaves like spinach, kale, swiss chard etc.)
- Haldi (turmeric) powder (1/2 tsp)
- Methi (fenugreek) powder (1/2 tsp)
- Hing (asafetida) powder (1/4th tsp)
- Sambhar masala (store bought or here is the recipe for the homemade version) (1 tbsp). However, the quantity may vary depending on how spicy the masala is, so this is sort of a trial and error process the first time you are using a masala mix. Tip: add the masala little by little and taste the end product. You can always add more even at the end and bring to a boil before serving).
- Salt (to taste)
- Jaggery/sugar (1/2 tsp or as per taste)
- Tamarind paste (1 tbsp or as per taste)
- Oil/ghee (1 tsp)
- Mustard seeds (3/4th tsp)
- Curry leaves (approximately 7-10)
- Finely cut coriander leaves (1 heaped tbsp.)
- Water (for cooking)
- First cook the dhal/lentils with a little haldi, until they are soft and completely mushy. I usually pressure cook my lentils (3 whistles and 7 minutes on simmer).
- Cut the vegetables into bite sized pieces (approximately 1 cubic inch). If you are using leaves, chop them coarsely.
- In ½ tsp of oil/ghee, sauté the vegetables lightly on a medium flame until they are well coated with the oil. I usually omit this step while making sambhar with leaves alone.
- Add water such that the vegetables are just covered and add haldi, hing, methi, sambhar powder, salt and half the curry leaves.
- When the vegetables are almost done, add the tamarind and jaggery and bring to a boil. Don’t wait till the vegetables are completely done to add the tamarind, otherwise, by the end of the cooking process, you will end up with soggy, overcooked vegetables.
- Mash the cooked lentils and add to the above vegetable and water mix. Add more water if necessary (this depends on how you want the consistency of the sambhar to be – thick or watery) and bring the sambhar to a boil.
- Heat remaining oil/ghee and add mustard seeds when warm. Once they splutter, add remaining curry leaves and pinch each of hing and methi powders.
- Taste the sambhar and adjust spices as per taste. If you end up adding more tamarind at this stage, bring sambhar to a boil. The sugar/jaggery is usually added to neutralize any extra sourness or tartness in the sambhar.
- Garnish with finely cut coriander leaves.
- Sambhar makes for a good wholesome lunch for kids when combined with a grain of choice. Here, I’ve paired sambhar with rice and served it with poriyal and home-made yogurt for my kids’ lunch.
Sweet (lentils, vegetables like carrots, potatoes, sugar/jaggery, oil) sour (sour vegetables like tomatoes, tamarind), salty (salt), pungent (chillies in sambhar masala, mustard seeds, onions if added), bitter (methi), astringent (hing, haldi).
Tridoshic in general since it is balanced with all the tastes, elements and also has a good mix of heating and cooling ingredients.
For pitta prakriti/vikriti or during summer – reduce salty, pungent and sour tastes and increase sweet, bitter and astringent tastes.
For kapha prakriti/vikriti or during late winter/spring – reduce sweet, salty and sour tastes and increase pungent, bitter and astringent tastes.
For vata prakriti/vikriti or during fall/early winter – reduce pungent, astringent and bitter tastes and increase sweet, sour and salty tastes.
Replacing the toor dhal with moong dhal will enhance the digestibility of the sambhar, without altering the taste too much. Moong dhal is considered the most sattvic of all lentils.
The choice of vegetables can also be based on the doshas. For example, grounding root vegetables like carrots, potatoes may be a good addition for vatas. Lighter vegetables like zucchini and leaves like spinach will be good for kaphas. Beans, bitter gourd and leaves may be good for pittas.
This is largely sattvic, but if pungent spices, tamarind and salt are overdone, can be rajasic in nature. The sattvic nature increases if moong dhal is used since moong dhal is easier than toor dhal to digest. If you store the sambhar and reuse/reheat after refrigerating, the tamasic quality will start to increase as the prana/life force in the food goes down.
Neither too hot nor too cold, moist, liquid, mobile, heavy (mainly if toor dhal is used – moong dhal would make it slightly lighter), cloudy.
Ingredients that tend to produce heating effect are salt, tamarind, chillies, mustard seeds. Ingredients that tend to produce cooling effect are sugar (note: sugar is cooling, but jaggery is warming), hing, methi, haldi, coriander. It can be made such that both ingredients are well balanced to make the dish have a balanced heat that can be tweaked by choosing appropriate quality and quantity of ingredients based on the season, constitution, time of day etc.