Tuesday 28 August 2012

"Akale Onam Pularumpol..." - Varutharachu Sambar

An Onasadya is incomplete without the freshly prepared spicy Sambar. It gives the whole meal a definition and lifts the Sadya to a new dimension.

Sambar or Sambhar is a dish that holds origin and a very important place in South Indian cuisine. It refers to a vegetable stew or chowder based on a broth made with tamarind paste and split pigeon peas and tempered with coconut oil, mustard seeds, red chillies and curry leaves. Each state in South India prepares it with a typical variation, adapted to it’s taste and environment. The origins of this dish are uncertain, although legend has that it originated in the kitchen of Thanjavur Marathas ruler Shahuji, during the 18th century from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Sambar is reflective of a broad and ancient tradition of lentil-based vegetable stews in Southern India. Malayalees all over love this dish and prepare it in different ways. (differs from one region to another)

Nowadays, a ready-made spice mix for Sambar (Sambar powder) is easily available in all stores and super markets. But back in our ancestral homes, this spice mix was freshly ground and prepared and the wonderful aroma produced from these ancient kitchens was simply heavenly!

Sambar makes use of a wide variety of vegetables or vegetable combinations. Some of the veggies used are: Drumstick, Pearl Onion, Potato, Yellow Cucumber, Winter Melon/Ash Gourd, Pumpkin, Carrot, Okra/Ladies Finger/Vendakka, Elephant Yam/Chena, Raw Banana, Tindora/Kovakka, Beans, Brinjal/Eggplant, Snake Gourd, Radish etc…Sambar is an excellent curry option for kiddies who usually pick on veggies on their plates.

I have always had this crazy romance with Sambar ever since I was young. My mum used to prepare this very often at home and we always ended up having big bowls of this delicious curry even before we started off on the main meal. The complexity of texture and flavour makes the dish what it is.

Today I have for you, Varutharachu Sambar - Sambar prepared with roasted coconut and a mixture of freshly ground spices.


Split Pigeon Peas (toor dal) - 1/2 cup
Potato (cut into large cubes) - 2 (small)
Drumstick (cut into 2 inch pieces) - 1
Winter Melon/Kumbalanga (cut into medium sized cubes) - 2 cups
Carrot (cubed) - 2 (small)
Okra/Ladies Finger/Vendakka (cut into  1 and ½ inch pieces) – 5 to 6
Tomato (diced) - 1 (medium)
Tamarind – Size of a small lemon
Turmeric powder – ½ tsp
Green chillies (slit lengthwise) - 2
Pearl onions (whole or cut into half) – 12 to 15
Curry leaves - 1 sprig
Coriander leaves/Cilantro (finely chopped) – 1 tbsp
Salt - to taste

To Roast and Grind

Coconut (grated) - 1/2 cup
Coriander seeds – 3 to 4 tsp
Dry Red chillies – 4 to 5
Asafoetida/Hing/Kaayam powder - 1/4 tsp
Shallots/Pearl onions (finely sliced) - 2
Curry leaves - a few
Fenugreek seeds/Uluva - 1/4 tsp
Split Urad dal/Uzhunnu parippu - 1 tsp
Chana dal/Kadala parippu - 1 tsp
Coconut oil – ½ to 1 tsp (refer notes)

For Seasoning

Coconut oil – 2 to 3 tsp
Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
Shallots/Pearl onions (finely sliced) – 2 to 3 (optional)
Dry Red chillies – 2 to 3
Curry leaves - 1 sprig


Soak tamarind in 1/4 cup of warm water and extract its juice. Keep aside.

Heat oil in a pan and add fenugreek seeds. Fry till lightly browned and add the split urad dal and chana dal. Fry until they turn golden brown. Now add the asafoetida and fry for a few seconds till aroma comes through. Transfer this to a bowl and leave to cool. In the same pan, fry the coriander seeds and dry red chillies. Saut’e till they give out a nice aroma and raw smell disappears. Throw in the slit pearl onions, curry leaves and grated coconut and fry till the coconut turns brown (take care not to burn the coconut). Keep aside to cool. Grind to a powder in a mixer. Add a little water and grind to a fine paste.

Cook the pigeon peas/toor dal along with diced tomatoes in a pressure cooker adding enough water. Cook for 1 whistle. Open the lid of the pressure cooker when pressure has fully escaped and mash the dal-tomato mixture. Toss in the veggies - potato, pearl onion, winter melon, carrot, drumstick (refer notes) with turmeric powder (1/4 tsp), enough water and salt. Pressure cook for upto 1 whistle.

Meanwhile saut’e the okra pieces in a little oil until their slime disappears. Remove lid of the pressure cooker and add tamarind extract/juice into it. Throw in the sautéed okra pieces and a few curry leaves. Bring to a boil. Give it a good stir. Add the ground coconut paste and rest of the turmeric powder. Check for salt and add if necessary. Adjust the gravy according to your desired consistency. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes on a gentle simmer. Switch off flame.

Preparation of Seasoning

Heat coconut oil in a small pan and splutter mustard seeds. Add finely sliced pearl onions and fry till light brown. (if you are using them) Add the dry red chillies and curry leaves and fry for a few seconds. Pour over the prepared sambar. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Keep covered for at least 20 to 25 minutes before serving. Serve hot with rice and pappads.


1. Coconut oil enhances the flavour of the curry and lifts it to a whole new level. For health benefits, I tend to use a lesser quantity of coconut oil in my cooking. I avoided using coconut oil while frying the spices and grated coconut for the ground mixture. I only added it while preparing the seasoning/tempering. Please feel free to add more if you like the flavor.

2. Don’t limit your use of veggies to those I have mentioned in the recipe. You can add whichever vegetables are available in your refrigerator.

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