I love idli and sambar with green coconut chutney. I’ve been more than slightly obsessed with learning how to make it. It is so tasty! Healthy, tangy, only slightly spicy. The idli are soft rice dumplings made from fermented rice and lentil batter. And coconut chutney. Yum. Hands down the most perfect Indian meal.
The sambar is easy. The ingredients and instructions are below. I’m still learning idli and coconut chutney, and I have a few other dishes that I’m working on making presentable for the blog. But for now, sambar.
Toor dahl, or, if you can’t find that, yellow split peas
Red chili powder
Sambar masala powder
Bottle gourd, or yellow summer squash, or any other vegetables that you like
Preparation: put ½ to 1 cup of lentils in a pot or pressure cooker with enough water to cover them by an inch. Use ½ cup if you like a thinner sambar, 1 if you like a thicker sambar. Add a pinch of turmeric, about a half teaspoon of salt and chopped chilies (optional, to taste). Boil/pressure cook until the lentils are mushy. Set aside.
In a separate pot, boil 1-2 cups of vegetables of your choice. Drain and set aside.
Prepare the ingredients: in one bowl, collect chopped chilies (optional to taste), minced garlic (to taste), and a small handful of curry leaves. In another small bowl, collect a teaspoon of mustard seeds, a teaspoon of jira seeds, a pinch of hing, and one medium chopped onion. In a third bowl collect one medium chopped tomato, a teaspoon of salt, red chili powder (to taste) and a half teaspoon of turmeric. In a fourth bowl have ready two tablespoons of tamarind paste; or, boil one tamarind (lemon-size) and save the water, wringing and straining the tamarind juice/ pulp back into the water.
Now you have everything ready.
In a large pot, heat a few tablespoons of oil or ghee. Toss the ingredients in the first bowl into the pot (chilies, garlic and curry leaves). After a few moments, toss the ingredients from the second bowl into the pot (mustard seeds, jira, hing and the onion).
Fry until the mix has a nice reddish, carmelized color. Now, toss in the contents of the third bowl (tomato, salt, chili powder and turmeric). Turn the heat down a bit, and let this cook until the onions and tomatoes are very soft. You should be able to mush them with a spoon, almost into a paste.
Now, add the lentil mixture and the 2 teaspoons (or to taste) of the sambar masala. Fix salt according to taste. If you wish you can add a bit more turmeric or red chili powder for flavor and for color. Add your boiled vegetables and the tamarind juice or paste. Mix, and let the sambar simmer for 10-15 minutes.
The vegetables should mostly melt. You should see that there are some vegetables in there, but the sambar has a rich body, not watery and not too thick. Adjust the water if necessary. The sambar should stay suspended and not separate as it sits.
If you don’t have the ingredients or materials to make idli, serve the sambar as a soup with fresh sourdough bread. You can dip the bread or break it in pieces into a bowl and ladle the sambar over it. It you don’t have sourdough bread, just eat it plain, or add some cooked chickpeas or rice for a hearty meal.