Ask a tamilian a sambar recipe, they will certainly puzzle you with so many options. At least me: from tiffin sambar, meal sambar, with or without veggie, with sambar powder or without, with ground masala and even I might include a non-vegetarian sambar (mom 's special) too. You might think I am exaggerating , the truth is no. Each and every sambar taste totally different in Tamil Nadu household!
Do you know the tale behind of sambar? I found this article of Padmini Nataradjan quiet interesting about the creation.
" The Marathas were ruling Tanjore. Sambhoji was a great cook (the male clan members to note) and very fond of his amti with a handful of the tart kokum thrown in. In a particular season the kokum that was imported from the Maratha homeland did not reach the bare larder of the king's kitchen. Sambhoji was cooking and the minions were shivering in their dhothis to tell him that his favourite dish could not be made that day. A smart Vidushak, who had been elected sous chef for the day, decided to solve the problem. He whispered in the king's ears that the locals used very little tamarind pulp to gain a better sourness to the curry and that Sambhoji should experiment with this variation. Voila, the dish with the tuvar dal, vegetables, spices and the tamarind pulp was cooked and served by the king to his coterie. The court declared the dish an outstanding preparation and thus was born sambhoji's amti that in time became sambhar."
Personally, it is not my favorite food item. Sounds weird for Tamilian where sambar appears in menu every other day. Contrary my DH adores it and I only prepare once in a week especially this sambar without sambar podi. Yes, I do this one when I ran out of veggie or when I want to serve something light and quick!
Toor dhal: 3/4 cup
Pearl onion: 15 to 20 counts
Tomato : 2 medium (cut into big chuck )
Garlic: a whole garlic, peeled and crushed slightly
Tamarind: a small piece (approx 2 inch long) soaked in 1/4 cup water and extract the pulp
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Oil: 2 tsp
Hing: a dash
Mustard: 1 tsp
Cumin: 1 tsp
Fenugreek: 1 tsp
Red chilies: 10 to 12 (broken into pieces)
Curry leaves: a few
Rinse the dhal in tap water. Add 2 cup of water and cook in pressure cooker until 4 whistles.
In a pot, heat the oil in medium heat and start the seasoning with hing, next mustard and cumin once they crackle add the red chillies (don't let it burn).
Follow by pearl onion, curry leaves and garlic, when the onion turns translucent, add the tomato and cooked dhal. Add a cup of water (Sambar should be extremely watery). Now add "according ur sour level) the tamarind. The amount mention should be perfect for me.
Adjust the salt and water level.
Let it boil 5 to 8 minutes and switch off the stove. Serve with plain rice and taste good for idlis and dosai.
Note and tip:
Usually, everyone start boiling the tamarind first and add the dhal at last. It is very tricky that old method. (You may ended with a sour sambar)
As we bear very low level of sourness , I adjust the tamarind level at the end according our taste. In this method, u always end up according your taste level. Add little and taste and proceed before dumping it!
Tamilian are very particular using tamarind in sambar.
Sambar and rasam are done with "new crop of tamarind" which doesn't change the color and small amount give a high level of sourness.
New crop is bright (almost white) - less than year old.
Old crop visually "range from dark Brown to black and sticky" is preferred for Kuzhambu (gravy base)
Especially this killu millagai (broken chilli) sambar should be watery (picture doesn't do any justice above) and very mild in tamarind taste.