Sambar with my eyes closed

Mumma, will you please write down this recipe? So that when you're dead, I will still know how to make this?

A compliment, I think!

Perhaps it comes from all that talk about my Mom's nankatai, not knowing which recipe was the one she used and how the only way to figure it out was to try both and hope that one of them was it. Either that or it's the prolonged morbidity that has prevailed in our conversations lately!

So many bloggers start their blogs as a legacy of recipes and memories for their children. Others because they hit a wall looking for accurate pictures and descriptions of ingredients and homemade Indian food. Many others use it as a tool to share memories with family and friends far away. Me? I wish I had something even remotely as endearing. But no, I just wanted to figure out how Blogger worked. This was back in March of 2003, and food & family was the easiest topic to blog on. It didn't matter whether anyone would ever read what I had to say, I just needed to figure out what the hype was all about.

I've never really conformed and our life path after marriage certainly hasn't either. However, once there was a child in the picture, a lot of things changed because we didn't want our child to bear the brunt of our lifestyle. But she remains different as do her thought processes, shaped as she is by our attitudes and outlook. Sometimes, a tad too mature for a 9 year old. Other times, too naïve.

So when she asked me to write down the recipe, I wondered whether that could be the new meaning of my blog. And my inner core shuddered. But, like I said, when there is a child or there are children, one's perspective changes. I don't know that my entire blog or all the recipes, anecdotes and thoughts are for her - it's really for me and it's perfectly alright to be selfish on some fronts, I think - but this recipe is definitely for her. As is the backup of all my recipes. My blog, though, remains mine and a release for me and me alone.

One Pot Sambar

  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • pinch asafoetida
  • 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 Thai green chilli or 2-3 finger hot pepper, sliced vertically into two
  • 2 sprigs of kadipatta
  • 1 red chilli, broken into 2 pieces (optional)
  • small ball of tamarind fruit pulp, about the size of a dollar coin
  • 1 can of Hunts organic diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup tur dal (split pigeon peas)
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 heaped tsp MTR Sambar Masala
  • salt to taste
  • cilantro for garnish, optional

  1. Heat oil in the pan of your pressure cooker
  2. Add mustard seeds and when they pop, add a pinch of asafetida, followed by fenugreek seeds.
  3. Add green chillies and kadipatta. Be ready with a splatter screen if these are wet or damp.
  4. Add the turmeric powder and the red chilli, followed by the diced tomatoes. Add about 1 can of water, too. This way the can gets rinsed out, too!
  5. Add about 1/4 up to 1/3 cup water to the tamarind fruit pulp and heat it in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds. Mash the tamarind pulp till you have a thickish paste. Discard any fibers or seeds. Add more water if needed.
  6. Wash the tur dal in a couple of changes of water and add it to the pressure cooker, followed by 3 cups of water, tamarind paste, MTR sambar powder and salt.
  7. Cook under pressure for at least 3 whistles. Sometimes I forget and let it go to 4 without any problems! Or cook for as long as it takes for tur dal to cook in your pressure cooker.
  8. Allow the pressure cooker to cool before you open it. Remember that it is still cooking in the built up pressure and you want to make the most of that. Plus it is wise to be safe.
  9. Stir well, adjust for salt and sambar powder, if required. If it is too thick for your liking, add more water and adjust the seasonings again.
  10. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot with rice or idlis or dosa.

We love this sambar so much that we can be found sipping on it, rather like soup. It's quite perfect for this cold weather!

  • If you aren't sure if 3 tsp of MTR's Sambar powder is the right amount for you, start with 2 tsp and once you have opened the pressure cooker, do a taste test to see if you need more. I used only 2 teaspoons until recently as Medha could not handle the spice.
  • I have used a lot of sambar powders, and made my own, too. But for a quick sambar, I think MTR wins in taste and flavor. MTR spice mixes can be found in any Indian grocery store. Remember that you want the Sambar Powder and not the Instant Sambar Mix. Avoid the latter!

If you don't yet have a pressure cooker, I would exhort you to consider buying one as a Christmas gift for yourself. Think about it: it takes 20 minutes to cook something that would otherwise take at least an hour, if not more. It's taken me almost 2 hours to cook 2 cups of dal in a stockpot in Boulder, which is over a mile high in altitude. So much fuel and time wasted, not to mention the added frustration. You can cook directly in the pressure cooker or you can get inserts or containers that fit in the pressure to place different items. Target and Kohl's have pressure cookers in their cookware aisles or you could buy online from Amazon. I have only recently started cooking meat in the pressure cooker and it's so tender that I wonder what that mental block was all about! At least give it a thought!

Update: I am sending this to the lovely Linda, who is the host for JFI: Toor Dal.


Pelicano said...

I only started using the pressure cooker this past year, and especially for long-cooking legumes like chickpeas, it sure is a time-saver, and I think of all the hours and hours of time I've wasted in the past sticking near the kitchen while they cooked in an open pot.
I don't have children of my own, that's true, but I can attest that there were foods of my grandmothers tables of which I wish I had recipes for. But poor Medha....she'll end up inheriting a semi-truck-load by the time your spoon comes to rest! :-D

Alpa said...

Such a lovely post! Dal looks terrific!

Rachel said...

Ha I love the quote!!
I have a dozen recipes for smbar but nothing turns out the way my mom makes it....thoughI tried mom's recipe too!!!
This goes into my collection as well

Anita said...

A big huge compliment!

Food is just a vehicle...with that will come memories flooding. Especially if the recipes are with these stories! I hope these 'etherial' blogs will survive forever. (Backup, what backup?)

Pressure cookers are a boon to us who like to cook but not spend our whole lives in the kitchen!

Latha Narasimhan said...

Long before I started blogging, I suddenly realised lot of authentic recipes are getting lost as my mother is unable to cook. Thats when I started noting down really old authentic recipes from her. A few during each of my visits.
Your sambhar is looking yummy! :)

Siri said...

Hmmm.. Interesting, As I generally cook the dal separately and then add other ingredients to that. cooking all at a time saves so much time and effort. Will try this way next time Manisha..:) and I must say, Dal looks awesome!

~ Siri

Finla said...

Love the sambhar and not to mention the idlis i saw next to it :-)

Seema said...

Nice write up.. your daughter will treasure these recipes as she grows up & starts her own kitchen!! Lovely idlid next to Sambhar!!

SMN said...

Nice write up... and lovely saambaar

Kalyn Denny said...

This is something I would love to try making because I love eating it in Indian restaurants. Thanks for the great recipe which I can print and take to the Indian grocers with me to make sure I have all the right things!

musical said...

Great compliment, but a bit heartbreaking.....Love the picture of idli-sambar! Can i have some for my b'fast please :-D. This is indeed one quick recipe, Manisha!

sunita said...

I started blogging as some sort of release too...and then started food blogging to keep a note of all those recipes whipped up on the spur of the moment...children do make one see life in a different perspective...the sambhar looks lovely.

Meera said...

I loved today's post. Makes me wonder, why have I started blogging? I don't know. Felt like blogging - probably to make new friends, share my recipes and learn something new. I may even stop it when my steam runs off!:-)
Your recipe is good.
and i always wonder why pressure cookers are not hugely popular in America? I mean they are such a time/energy savers.

Shilpa said...

Very nice post Manisha. I have always wondered why pressure cooker is not used for cooking in food network when the chefs ask to cook the legumes for hours together. Is there any particular reason why they don't use pressure cooker? I am not sure. I can't live without it for a single day, it makes cooking so easy.

Bindiya said...

What lovely thoughts and such a sweet post, I have been using the pressure cooker for years and cannot imagine life without one.Sambhar looks yum!

Kribha said...

That's a beautiful post. No two sambars are alike. Nice to see your version. Beautiful pics with dosa and idlli.

Linda said...

Hi Manisha,

I don't think there is one line in this post I could disagree with -- from "it's ok to be selfish sometimes" to the legacy to the beauty of a pressure cooker to the MTR sambhar powder! (and ISG if you're reading this, MTR was what I had before I met *you*! ;) )

Oh, and I also use the rinse-water from the cans in my cooking ;)

Thanks so much for sending this in to JFI Toor Dal. I have been so crazed this fall, I hadn't seen the post till now, and it's too good to miss! :)