Of salad sambars and unfussy kids!


“So what if there’s too much salt? It’s not going to kill you!”

“And so what if the vegetables are a little raw? Think of it as a salad – it’s good for you!”

The exhorter is my mother and the dish in question is our everyday food – sambar. My mother took the adage “necessity is the mother of invention” quite literally to mean herself  – as the mother of three hungry growing children! (That my brother and I still continue to grow – though not vertically anymore – is another matter altogether!). And so we ate “salad sambar” and many other interesting things which landed on the mound of rice on our plates – including things not “normally” put in sambar like beans and beetroot (resulting in an interesting deep red sambar!).

“Good for you” was the cornerstone of our existence – even today, if I hear the words, i tend to gulp it down fast – except if it’s oatmeal porridge – which no matter how good it may be for me – is not food fit for humans! 

The same was not true for cousins and aunts who came to visit  – my mother made no distinction between her children who were used to “mingu!” (“Swallow that!”) and cousins brought up by mothers who were more indulgent (and better cooks!) – with the result that there would occasionally be tears at the table as a cousin decided that she just couldn’t swallow that!! We three had developed survival strategies for just such situations – like sneakily hiding the nth paratha (my mother also believed in quantities!) under the plate and carefully carrying it to the sink where the maid who washed the plates the next morning never tattled on us – how i loved that woman! Also dunking the despised Threptin biscuit at the bottom of the evening glass of milk so it was drowned in it and invisible from the top (so we thought!). 

The result of this tough and “mingu” upbringing was a set of kids who can eat anything – well, almost anything – i was forgetting the oatmeal! 

And so presenting today the dish that made us grow strong and healthy – we ate SO much of it!! – Sambar!

 SAMBAR (the Tamil arachavittu  -coconut- ground -variety)

To fry with a few drops of sesame oil and grind to a smooth paste with a little water:

  • Dhania – corainder seeds – 3 tbsp
  • Red chilies – 6-8
  • Asafoetida – a little lump the size of your pinkie nail (gorantha in Telugu!)
  • Methi  – fenugreek seeds – 1 tsp
  • Chana dal – 1 tsp
  • Urad dal – 1 tsp
  • Coconut – 2 tbsp

Set the paste aside.

  • Cooked toor dal (kandi pappu/thoram pappu) – 2 cups
  • Tamarind paste – 2.5 tsp
  • Jaggery – 1 marble sized lump
  • Vegetables – drumstick or radish slices or gummadi kayi (yellow pumpkin) sliced or carrot or shallots or well lots of things possible – i DO NOT recommend beetroot and since my mother is following this blog – Mummy, PLEASE NOTE! – 1.5 cups
  • Salt
  • Water – about 3 cups
  • 2 green chilies – slit

To season:

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp  mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp urad dal
  • Karepak – curry leaves – 2 sprigs
  • Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
  • Methi seeds – 1/4 tsp – optional but i love the smell and taste.
  • Coriander leaves – 2 tbsp

 Heat the oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds and when they pop, add the methi, urad and asafoetida. Add the curry leaves and then the vegetable you are using. If shallots or okra, fry for a few minutes. If colocasia, boil first, peel and cut into slices and then fry. If you INSIST on using beetroot – please ask my mother! 

Then add one cup water and cook for about 5-6 minutes till the vegtables are three-quarters done. Add the tamarind paste, jaggery, the ground paste and salt. Add two more cups of water till the consistency is reasonably thick but can be poured. Cover and simmer till done – about 5-6 minutes more. Add the green chilies and let it come to the boil. Switch off.

Add coriander leaves and serve hot with plain rice, ghee, appadams, a dry roast vegetable on the side (potato, green plantain, beans……ok, ok, beetroot is also good here! )

And there you have the quintessential South Indian (invented by a Maratha!!) dish – also called “hot and sour sambar soup” – honest to goodness that’s what some chef called it on an American TV show once!!

One Reply to “Of salad sambars and unfussy kids!”

  1. Anu, will always remember the kindness of you Chenji siblings who showed me the trick of hiding parathas under my plate! We did reciprocate by showing you the trick of hiding an open book on the knee under the dining table – we all loved to read while eating which was so frowned upon 🙂

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