Sambar, a staple in southern India is a type of vegetable stew, almost a lentil (dal) chowder. It's eaten at any meals of the day. We like to make this tamarind and dal broth chock full of chunky vegetables. If you've ever had the typically more watered-down version at restaurant buffets the homemade version is nearly a whole other dish.
Which vegetables you use can vary with taste, season and availability. We really like to make sure we have okra and drumsticks however. They infuse it with flavor and add to the thickening power. (Fun note on the drumstickes, you split them open and scrape the flesh off with your teeth similar to eating artichokes.)
In my desire to share this truly wondrous dish I decided to proceed with this post despite the lack of quality photos. As I've mentioned before my kitchen has poor lighting for photographs but when Mr. PieKnits offered to make up this dish I quickly agreed and grabbed the camera. (I never pass up Sambar. I could eat every day, and indeed in India I nearly did.)
So bear with the initially intimidating ingredient list (it's really not!) and the dark photos and consider making this very tasting and filling dish.
In a pressure cooker, cook dal and 1 1/2 cups water for 10 min. on high. Reduce to medium for another 5 minutes or so until whistle blows 3 times. Remove from heat and let steam die down before opening. Using a potato masher, mash the dal until creamy. (You may need to add a little water.)
Place tamarind piece in small bowl and cover with water. Let steep while preparing next steps.
Heat oil in a large pot and fry the curry leaves and tiragamata for 2 minutes. Add onions and fry until almost golden.
Add chilies, cook few minutes, add potatoes and cook another 5 minutes. Next add the remaining vegetables other than the tomatoes and cook for 2-3 min. Then add tomatoes and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Discard tamarind piece and add tamarind water to the pot along with 4-5 cups of plain water, bring to boil.
Add the mashed dal. Add all spices and cook until potatoes are fork tender, approx. another 10 min. Add salt to taste.
Serve with basmati rice. Typically the rice is served along side the sambar (Never pre-mixed in like Jambalya!). But we often cheat and just fill the bottom of a bowl with rice and then poor the sambar over top. Make plenty of extra rice and you can make my rice pudding for dessert!
We also fry up vadiyam, a kind of mini-papadum to eat along with it (scooping up the sambar). I'll admit sometimes these are harder to find but there are many similar varieties. We lucked out in that my MIL brought a treasure trove with her from India on her last visit. If making vadiyam - fry in small batches in hot oil until puffed up (approx. 30 sec- 1 min) and set aside.
Vadiyam all fried up.