Sambhar: Vegan, Vegetarian South Indian Stew

April 30, 2015

It's bordering on Farmers' Market season. Sure, that means beautiful produce. But, if you are like me, it also means a few of those well-intentioned impulse purchases going to waste. Think of this amazing stew as a way to collect all the little veggies you meant to eat and putting them to good use. 

Although I grew up eating North Indian food in my home, I also ate a ton of South Indian food made by friends from Tamil Nadu and other areas of South India. My absolute favorite was homemade Sambhar and a fermented rice-lentil crepe called dosa. Here's my take.

A couple of things to note: You will need a good Sambhar Powder, which you can make yourself or purchase from an Indian grocery store or right here on my site. If you have my book, Indian For Everyone, check out the Sambhar recipe on page 128. You will also need Pigeon Peas or Toor Dal, which we now sell on my site as well - woo hoo! Please note that the only reason I link to product on my site is to make it easier for YOU. If you have sources for these items - fantastic. Many of you are from smaller towns or unfamiliar with these ingredients and I want this to be as easy of a process as possible. 

Also, note that this dish is a typical Indian 2-part process. Make the main dish and then add more flavor with the heated oil tarka. Don't be intimidated. The extra layer of work is so, so worth every single second. Your tools are noted in bold below. Please do take note of my beautiful Le Creuset Dutch oven pictured above in Quince. #lecreusetrocks

You can use just about any vegetable to make Sambhar. The best ones include traditional stew-type veggies including everything from turnips, carrots, parsnips to daikon and potatoes. Here's what I had on hand. Take note of the leftover cabbage in a bag to the left and the okra to the right. This is the opportunity to get rid of leftovers, folks! Also, note the fresh turmeric on the bottom left of the image by the carrot. I have been adding a bit to my Sambhar and just love the taste and the anti-inflammatory properties. I always say, get the goodness in where and when you can. Fresh turmeric is more readily available these days. I purchased mine at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park in the produce department. Head to Devon Ave. if you are in Chicago or another Indian grocery store in your area. 

Spiced South Indian Stew, makes 12 cups (Want less? Cut your recipe in half)

2 cups duhli toor dal (dried, split, and skinned pigeon peas), picked over, washed and soaked for 1 hour in 6 cups boiling water, and drained
7 cups room-temperature water
1 teaspoon turmeric powder 
6 cups boiling water, divided
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons tamarind paste (omit if you don't have)
2 teaspoons red chile powder or cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt (modify to taste)
1 tablespoon Sambhar Powder * 
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
5 cups chopped veggies - any kind - see notes above      

Spiced oil infusion

1/4 teaspoon hing (asafoetida) (omit if you don't have)
1/2 heaping teaspoon mustard seeds 
15 whole dried red chiles (Pictured above - find at a spice shop/Indian grocer)
15-20 fresh curry leaves **
3-8 fresh Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed and sliced in half lengthwise

1. Combine the drained toor dal, the room temperature water, and turmeric in a heavy-bottomed 6-quart stockpot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil and then simmer over medium-low heat, partially covered, for 1 hour. At this point the dal will break down. Remove from heat. 

2. Transfer the dal to a blender and add 4 cups of the boiling water. Blend until smooth. You can also use an immersion blenderIf you like a little texture you can also omit this step.

3. Return the stockpot to medium-high and add the dal from your blender, the garlic, the tamarind paste, the red chile powder, the salt, and the Sambhar Powder. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside to cool slightly while you prep the remaining ingredients. 

4. In a heavy-bottomed 4-quart saute pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the chopped vegetables and cook for 2 minutes until just wilted. Add these cooked veggies to the stockpot and stir well. 

5. Return this same saute pan to medium-high heat and warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil for your tarka. Add the hing, mustard seeds, dried chiles, curry leaves, and fresh chiles. Be careful, keep a lid handy - the seeds can splatter. Cook 1 minute, until the chiles brown slightly. Transfer this mixture to your stockpot with the dal. 

6. Add the remaining 2 cups of boiling water to the stockpot and return to medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and bring to a simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir well. 

Enjoy this stew as is, with basmati rice, dosa, or idli. 

* Sambhar Powder can also be made at home. Check out my recipe on page 38 of Indian For Everyone. I will also add the recipe as I update this post. 

** Curry leaves are not easy to find, but they are worth it once you do. Head to an Indian grocery store if you can for them. If you don't have them, omit, but know that the flavor will be instantly enhances by adding them. Substitute cilantro at the end if you don't have curry leaves. If you're near a Hindu temple ask them if they have any curry leave plants, they sometimes sell them for you to grow at home. 

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