I am often Just under the wire with my entries for all these fun events. I like to think it’s because I work better under pressure. While that may be true to an extent, most of the time it’s because I have so many wild ideas that it’s hard to settle down and choose one! This and the fact that I had no time to cook last weekend prevented me from getting a “J” ready for Nupur’s A-Z of Indian Vegetables by Saturday. So here I am Just a few days late 🙂
Down the road from work is a great little Indian cafe. They serve chaats of all variety, sambhar to die for, and sweets galore. I have tasted a couple of their chaats, but mostly it’s their sambhar I crave. It’s silky smooth and bursting with flavor, with little chunks of brinjal, carrot, and sometimes potato floating about between the mustard and cumin seeds. I really wanted to recreate it at home. MHD makes good sambhar powder and I like it, but its heat is a little too brash for this. I tried with a homemade version I had in the freezer, but I still couldn’t quite get the distinctive taste of that sambhar.
The last time I visited the shop, I hinted around a little, trying to get a secret or two:
Me: “I’d like one sambhar please, to go”.
Proprietor: “Oneplainsambharnovadanoidly”??? (he’s always in a hurry)
Me: “Yes please. Oh, it smells heavenly! I make sambhar at home but it’s never quite the same” (smiling… hint, hint…).
Me (little deflated): “Yes, please, one plain sambhar”.
Hmm… maybe he doesn’t think I know what good sambhar *is*…
While I wait, I browse around the small selection of grocery items. I pick up a package of toor dal and a package of mustard seeds. Maybe he’ll take me more seriously if he sees me buying these. I lay them by the cash register.
The proprietor ignores me, bustling about behind the counter.
I forge ahead anyway.
Me: “You folks serve the most delicious sambhar I’ve ever tasted! There must be a secret ingredient”! (flashing big grin now… HINT HINT!)
Proprietor (unmoved by my blatant plea): “Youwanttopayforthesenowwiththatplainsambhartogoma’am”?
I give up and to console myself, I buy the package of jackfruit chips I’ve been eyeing, too.
Well, I guess we both knew there was no way he was going to divulge his secret!!
After stalling a long time, I finally bought a lovely new pressure cooker (my first one went home with my sister months ago). Past few days I read about a zillion sambhar recipes — rereading some of my favorites and checking out some new. While reading, I munched on the jackfruit chips I picked up in the little shop near work. I had never tried them before, and they were tasty. They also gave me an idea. Into the kitchen I went with my new pressure cooker, and gave it a whirl.
1 c toor dal, picked over and washed
1 small piece tamarind (golf ball or lime size)
1/2 c jackfruit chips
2 tsp canola oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp chana dal
a few methi seeds
curry leaves (10-12 small or 5-6 large)
For the vegetables
2 big shallots cut fine
1-2 big green chiles (cut a slice off top and bottom, but leave whole)
2 carrots, sliced
6-8 red radishes, diced
1 long asian eggplant, cut in chunks
1 tsp kashmiri chile powder
1/2 tsp coarsely cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp cumin-coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp methi powder
Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
Pressure cook (yay!!) the dal with 2 c water. Mash to a smooth paste and set aside.
Soak the tamarind in a cup of hot water till soft. Strain the pulp and set the tamarind water aside.
Boil the jackfruit chips in about a cup of water till soft. Drain and set aside. Reserve the boiling water. If any oil rises, just skim it off and discard.
In a large saucepan, heat the canola oil and do the tadka. I did the dals and methi first until fragrant, then popped the mustard; cumin and curry leaves went in last.
To this spiced oil add the shallots and stir around for a minute or two, then add the green chile, carrots, radishes, and eggplant. Saute this mixture about 5 minutes or so, then add the tamarind water and all the seasonings. Let it simmer together about 10 minutes, then add the mashed dal paste, the reserved jackfruit water and 4 cups fresh cold water.
Bring everything to a boil, mixing well to blend the dal in completely. Boil just a minute or two, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the boiled jackfruit pieces, add salt to taste and simmer about 30 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. Thin with a little more water to get the consistency you prefer.
This was the first time I made a real sambhar without following a recipe. I think half the battle was won when I brought home the new cooker. Dal cooked on the stove in the regular way is good, but the pressure cooker brings a completely different dimension in both taste and texture. I won’t be without one again. I have to say, I was thrilled with the results — it was nearly as good as the little cafe’s, and twice as good the next day.