Monday, July 6, 2009

Sambar Inspired by Viji Varadarajan

A few months ago, on this blog, I introduced you to Tamil Brahmin Cookbook Author, Viji Varadarajan in the interview, Insights and Inspirations by Viji Varadarajan.

Viji has encouraged me since to not only continue to try her recipes in my own kitchen but has given me permission to republish some recipes on this blog. I will share the first recipe in this post, the recipe for
Vengaaya Sambar as found in her book, Samayal: The Pleasures of South Indian Vegetarian Cooking (Winner Gourmand World Cookbook Award)

Sambar is a thick, lentil based vegetarian stew. I am translating 'sambar' as stew, because often it has a lot of lentils, and sometimes these lentils are cooked and mashed then placed into the sambar, creating a thick variety. Some sambar, however, is a bit thinner, still having dhal, but not as much, and not mashed in. (Incidentally, I have learned too that sambars with mashed dhal in it should be eaten quicker as if it sits longer as leftovers, it becomes thicker and thicker; almost pasty and hard to eat as a usual 'topping' to rice.) This thinner sambar is very watery, and could be considered a soup. Often this sambar is served with rice or idli. The thicker variety, I think would go well with rice or dosa. Some sambars, called
kozhumbu, are thicker gravies that are often more tangy because of concentrated tamarind and a bit more spicy. Some eat this kozhumbu straight with rice. However, for me, who likes spicy, flavorful food, but may not be able to handle this 'straight on rice' because it is a bit more hot due to concentrated peppers (green and red chilies), love to eat this rather as a side with curd rice (thayyir sadham).

Lastly, it must be noted that all varieties of sambars and kozhumbus on my site are not only vegetarian but vegan, they contain no meat, meat broth or eggs. There are sambars and kozhumbus in India, particularly, I think in Chettinad cuisines that do contain meat products.

Now that your taste buds are tempted, here is Viji's recipe for
Vengaaya Sambhar (shallot and gram gravy) as found on pages 16-17 of the book, Samayal: The Pleasures of South Indian Vegetarian Cooking.


1/2 cup

Red Gram/Thuvaram Paruppu/Thuvar Dhal (Toor Dhal)

2 teaspoons

Thick Tamarind Pulp

1/2 kilo/250g

baby onions/shallots pealed

1/4 teaspoon

Asafoetida/ Hing powder

1 ½ teaspoon

Sambar powder*

a few

curry leaves/Karuveppalai/Kari Patha torn or crushed

½ bunch

cilantro/coriander leaves

½ tsp


For Seasoning (tadka)

¼ teaspoon

Mustard seeds/kadugu/rai

½ teaspoon

Black gram/ulutham paruppu/urad dhal (optional)

¼ teaspoon

Fenugreek seeds /Methi/mendhiyam

A few

Curry leaves/Karuveppalai/Kari Patha torn

1 tsp


1. Soak the toor dhal in hot water for 15 minutes and cook in 2 cups of water to a very soft consistency. Or, pressure cook for four or five whistles.
2. Heat the hoil and pop the mustard. Stir in the urad dhal and fry for 8 seconds until brown. Now add the fenugreek sees/methi and brown.
3. Into this add the onions and stir for 1/2 minute. Add sambar powder and a cup of water. Cover and simmer on medium flame for ten minutes.
4. Add the tamarind pulp, asafoetida powder, salt and some curry leaves.
5. Simmer over a medium flame for a couple of minutes until the onions are soft.
6. Add the cooked dhal. When it thickens slightly, remove from fire.
7. Garnish with finely chopped coriander leaves and remaining curry leaves.

Serve hot with steamed rice, kootus, and avial and karis, and assorted tiffens.

Tasty tip: This dish can be prepared with okra, eggplant, radish, brussel sprouts, turnips, capsicum, carrot, potato, bitter gourd, cabbage or spinach. You can also prepare a kadamba (colorful) sambhar adding a few of the vegetables of a much lesser quantity. Each vegetable still retains its own flavour.

*Viji has her own homemade sambar powder recipe in the book that she refers to for this recipe. However, you can use ready made sambar powders from the store also. You may want to experiment with the amount you want to use by adding what she's recommended, and taste throughout and see if you get a good flavor. It should be flavorful, adding more should not make it more hot spicy unless the sambar powder has as it's first ingredient red chili. Try and taste for yourself!

I have made this sambar as above and with my own flair, to be posted soon!

Other related links:
Link to Viji's Profile on Alaivani, with links to all her cookbooks, fan page and more!

Link to Padmini's Profile on Alaivani with links to insightful and inspirational articles on Indian culture and spirituality.

Related Posts/Sites:
Sambar Varieties - Recipes
Vathhal Kozhumbu
Besan (Chick pea flour) Sambar
Savory Sambar
Mysore Sambar
Homemade Sambar Powder
Eggplant Sambar

tags : "cookbook authors", "south indian food", "tamil brahmin", "tamil food", "vegetarian samayal", traditional cookery "indian cooking" vegetarian "Indian vegetarian cooking" "pure vegetarian cookery' sambar stew vegan vegetarian gravy

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