Sambhar is a South Indian red lentil-based vegetable stew from Tamil Nadu that is eaten daily, all the way from Mumbai to Bangalore. Sambhar puts vegetables front and center and surrounds them with a sharp, clean dal flavored with curry leaves, tamarind, tomatoes, and chiles. You’ll only need a little rice or bread and a dollop of yogurt with this and you’re on your way.
This recipe is from Fresh India, my new book published by Flatiron and out in Spring 2017.
1 cup red lentils
4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
12 fresh curry leaves
4 shallots, finely sliced
8 ounces butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small eggplant (10 1/2 ounces), cut into 1-inch cubes
4 medium, ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons tamarind paste
1 1/2 teaspoons nice red chili powder
7 ounces green beans, trimmed
Step 1Wash the lentils with cold water until the water runs clear, then put into a deep saucepan, cover with three times the amount of water, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until soft, scooping off any foam.
Step 2Meanwhile, put 1 tablespoon of oil into a wide, lidded frying pan and add the fenugreek, coriander, and cumin seeds. Stir-fry for a minute, then take off the heat and grind to a coarse paste with a pestle and mortar.
Step 3Put the remaining oil into the frying pan over a medium-high heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves, followed closely by the shallots, and cook for around 10 minutes, until the shallots are golden. Then add the diced squash and a couple of tablespoons of water, cover with the lid, and cook for 5 minutes.
Step 4Add the eggplant and another couple of tablespoons of water, cover and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes, along with the spices you ground earlier, the salt, sugar, tamarind paste, and chilli powder. Cover again and leave to cook for a further 5 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down and the squash is tender. Add the lentils to the vegetables (or the other way around, depending on which pan is bigger), then add the green beans and enough water to make a thick, soupy texture, and cook for a final 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt, sugar, and tamarind as you wish.