Sambar is a traditional South Indian soup made with lentils.
Unlike most lentils soups, the lentils in sambar are not actually a noticeable component.
They almost melt away as they cook, creating a lentil-flavored broth that adds body and flavor to the soup.
Black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and urad dal (which can be found in any Indian market and some natural stores), fried quickly in oil and added to the soup at the end of cooking, provide superb flavor.
Sambar is also traditionally flavored with tamarind, a unique seed pod commonly found in tropical climates that contains an unexpected sour tasting pulp.
There are a number of steps involved in making this soup but the end result is worth the effort.
If you are looking for something new and exciting to try, this recipe is guaranteed to fit the bill!
Masala Dosa (Indian Crepes stuffed with Spicy Potatoes)
1/2 cup red or yellow lentils
9 cups water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup tamarind (from a block of tamarind, not from a jar of prepared tamarind paste)
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
5 to 6 dried red chilies
a 14 ounce can of tomatoes, drained and chopped
3 to 4 cups chopped vegetables (I like to use carrots, green beans, and cauliflower)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal
handful of chopped cilantro leaves
Wash and drain the lentils and place in a large pot with 4 cups of the water and 1/4 teaspoon of the turmeric.
Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
Simmmer for about 30 minutes, partially covered, stirring occasionally to keep the lentils from sticking.
Place the tamarind and 1 cup of the water in a small saucepan.
Bring to a boil over high heat and then turn the heat down to medium or low.
Cook for about three minutes or until the tamarind begins to break apart and melt into the water.
Stir the tamarind with a fork or whisk to incorporate it into the water to form a paste.
Set aside to cool.
When cool, pass the paste through a coarse sieve to separate it from the seeds (you should end up with at least 1/4 cup of tamarind paste).
Heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over medium heat in a large pot.
When hot, add the onions.
Cook the onions for about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds longer.
Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, and dried chilies and cook for another few seconds.
Add the remaining 4 cups of water, 1/4 cup of the tamarind paste, tomatoes, chopped vegetables and salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 10 to 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
Add the lentils, along with their cooking liquid, and continue to cook the soup over low heat to allow the lentils to reheat.
Check for seasonings and add salt and pepper as needed.
Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a thick-bottomed pan.
When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and urad dal and cook until they start to splutter and the urad dal begins to turn a dark red color (about 30 seconds).
Stir into the soup.
Let the soup sit for about 5 minutes over low heat before serving to allow the flavors to merge.
Serve in bowls garnished with cilantro.
Makes 6 servings
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Tamarind is available in several forms.
It comes as a pressed fibrous slab, a prepared concentrate sold in jars, and in fresh pod form (you will usually only find pods in Indian or Asian markets).
It is the fibrous slab that is used in this recipe.
If you can only find the prepared concentrate, just add it to taste starting with couple of teaspoons.
I have left the choice of vegetables up to you in this recipe.
There are many vegetables that work well here.
I like to use green beans, carrots, and cauliflower.
Zucchini, potatoes, and spinach, among others, would also be delicious.