Seasoned Sambar, Method One | S. Meenakshi Ammal | A Classic Recipe

Botanic Gardens
I have noticed that has been a bit of negative talk around recently. People offending others, people wanting to write posts about the offense, people taking things very personally.

I really like the writings of Steven Covey. In his works he codified for a Western Audience the approaches to life that Hindus hold dear – ie that it is the relationship between people that is important, not the individual and definitely not oneself. And that is our responsibility solely to ensure that any and all relationships are a good positive ones, stable and solid.

Its so easy to take offense from something someone else did. Or didn’t do. But when this happens, if I think for a moment, I can shift my perspective enough to see that what happened actually has nothing to do with me. The statements “how dare they!” and “how can they do this to me?” only bring my own emotions into a situation which was always more about the other person than it ever was about me.

Seek, Explore, Love

Steven Covey says two things that I love. “Seek first to understand” and “You have a different opinion to me? Fabulous, tell me more.” Both are aimed at removing  emotion from the situation and seeing it for what it is, just another occurrence that we have control over. We can make it a fabulous, joyful situation or bring our own negative emotions into it. I hope that you try it. Next time you feel that temperature rising, seek first to understand, and explore the other’s point of view or reason for their actions.

That does not mean that we don’t need to be assertive at times, or to have a discussion about difficult issues with others. But it does mean that when that is necessary, we choose  thoughtful approaches rather than reactive and emotional approaches.

It works! Love whoever you are with, even if they are hard to love! It works such a treat.

Asparagus in Botanic Gardens

A Treat from the Kitchen

Another treat that you can give yourself is a wonderful Kuzhambus, or Sth Indian “soup”. This one is of the Sambar variety and is interpreted from the doyenne of Sth Indian cooking, S. Meenakshi Ammal. Her books, Cook and See (in four parts) are a goldmine of traditional Sth Indian cooking. Hard to interpret for the novice non-Indian cook, her recipes take a bit of planning, thinking, rewriting, talking to your Indian mates. But if you are serious about real (as opposed to cookbook or restaurant) Indian food, these are are a treasure.

Today, I bring my interpretation of Seasoned Sambar, Method One.


Sambars are a style of Indian wet dish, based on lentils – a sort of “soup”, eaten not as a separate course but together with the main elements of the meal. Often sambar is ladled over rice. It contains Toor Dal and some spices, as well as optional vegetables.

Basically there are four methods of preparing Sambar. Each method takes a different taste. Any one method can be adopted to suit one’s preference and taste. Today we look at Method One.

Sambars are traditionally made with Toor Dal (also called Red Gram, Red Dal or Red Gram Dal). It took me some time to learn that Red Dal is Toor Dal (which is yellow), and I have made this recipe with whole red lentils and channa dal (both passable dishes). But when you make it with Toor Dal there is a world of difference.

It is this that confirms my thoughts that Indian dishes are designed around the spices and spice combinations, and the main ingredients, in this case lentils, are chosen to match and carry the spices.

So let’s see how Toor Dal serves as a carrier for sambar spices…


Chilli and Sambar

Before Beginning:

Please also read these posts, which will help with the recipe below.

Seasoned Sambar a la S. Meenakshi Ammal

Source : inspired by Method One, Seasoned Sambar in Cook and See Part 1
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Serves: 4 people

2/3 cup Red Gram Dal = Toor Dal
1 large Tblspn Tamarind
1 tspn salt or to taste
0.5 tspn rice flour
1 – 6 dried red chillies, depending on heat and your preference. I use 3 or 4.
0.5 tspn fenugreek seeds
0.5 tspn black mustard seeds
3 tspn Gingelly Oil = Indian Sesame Oil (a very light sesame oil without a sesame taste. Use ghee or vegetable oil if you can’t get Indian Sesame Oil)
2 Green chillies
1 pinch asafoetida
6 or so curry leaves
coriander leaves
0.33 tspn Turmeric powder
1 cup chopped vegetable (see below)

for vegetables
Vegetables like carrot, pumpkin, french beans, runner beans, cluster beans, eggplant, okra can be used. If you are familiar with them, you can also use drumstick or chow chow. It is best to use only one vegetable. Prepare them by washing and cutting into chunks or lengths.

If you prefer, you can briefly par-boil the eggplant, okra, pumpkin or any of the beans before using in the recipe.

You can also use Amaranth stems, radish, white radish or onions, which can be par-boiled with the tamarind before using in the recipe. Save any cooking water.

If you are in India you can use a cooking vessel with a narrow lid, even a stoneware vessel. Otherwise use a saucepan.

If you are not using the tamarind to cook the vegetables in, soak it now in enough boiling water to cover it well.

Wash the dal. Boil about 6 cups water, add the dal, the turmeric powder and 1 tspn gingelly oil. Cover with a lid and cook until very soft. Add more water as it cooks if needed. The dal will absorb water as it cooks. It will take 30 mins or so to cook till very soft.

Heat a small pan and add the remainder of the gingelly oil. Break the dried chillies in half and add to the oil with the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and asafoetida. Allow the mustard seeds to pop and fry the seeds till they are a dark brown but NOT BLACK.

Slit the green chillies into 2  and add with the curry leaves. The curry leaves will splatter so stand back! Tip the oil and all the spices into the dal.

If you have been soaking the tamarind, strain the tamarind water and add to the dal. Mix the dal well and mash it a little. Add the vegetables with enough cooking water to make a soupy consistency. Allow it to boil well.

Mix the rice flour in some water, mixing well to remove lumps. Stir into the dal. Boil again for a few minutes. Remove from the stove.

Wash the coriander leaves and chop, sprinkling over the dal. Garnish with fresh chillies and curry leaves.

Serve as a soup or ladled over rice. Enjoy! [Remember to avoid the large chilli pieces unless you are a chilli fiend.]

Read More

Important Links

Rasams, Dal Soups and Dals Series


About Ganga108

Heat in the Kitchen, Cooking with Spirit. Temple junkie, temple builder, temple cleaner. Lover of life, people, cultures, travel. Champion of growth, change and awareness. Taker of photos. Passionate about family. Happy.
This entry was posted in 08 Late Winter, 09 Early Spring, Beans, Carrots, Cooking the Books, Indian, Lentils - Grains - Rice - Nuts, Pumpkin, Radish and Daikon, Sambar, Thoughts, VEGETARIAN and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Seasoned Sambar, Method One | S. Meenakshi Ammal | A Classic Recipe

  1. Srivalli says:

    Lovely post, as I said I can never get enough of sambar..:)…Traditionally the toor dal is cooked little more to mush and soft. Only handful of them will retain it’s shape when used in sambar. that makes sure it gives volume. Nothing wrong in allowing them to retain it’s shape nice that you are enjoying the book..


  2. Sonia@7spice says:

    Lovely post dear! I read it twice and breathe. Very simple but hard to digest but not impossible to try. :) I never have seen sambar as thick as yours here. Looks really beautiful with tadka on top. :)


  3. Anita Menon says:

    Beautiful post. I did a presentation on Steven Covey’s book- Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, way back in college.Since then I find his observations and examples quite life changing. I found your post opening a lot of such windows today. Thank you for sharing.

    The sambar looks a little different from what I make at home or how it is traditionally made at my mum’s. But it is a long and tedious process to make sambar from the scratch. So kudos to you for doing it because these days I reach out to the ready made sambar powder.


    • Ganga108 says:

      Thank you so much, Anita. Covey is a “must-read” book, I reckon. Yes it looks like I must cook again and take my time. In too much of a hurry I think, and did not cook the dal as long as it needed. I am cooking bisibelebhath at the moment! Note to self: cook the dal and rice long enough. :)


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