Wednesday, March 29, 2006
what is a good sambar?
I love sambar. Hello, it is not a deer. Sambar is a curry, a gravy with lots of lentils and vegetables, slightly sour and oh so aromatic. Yumyum…….. But which is the original sambar? Anyone know anything about the history of sambar? I have eaten many types of sambar from the time I was a kid. I thought my Periamah’s sambar was so aromatic. She would grind the fennel, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in the ‘ammi’ or grinding stone and incorporate these into the boiling dhall. She used a firewood stove; the pot will be so black on the outside and the inside is where one of the most delicious sambar would be boiling. My mother used to make her sambar quite thick, with lots of tur dhall; she would sometimes add a handful of mung dhall to thicken it as she said. We, Singaporean Indians hardly rely on the pressure cooker. The advantage of boiling dhall in a pot is that you get this aroma of the dhall and garlic wafting from the kitchen and permeating into every room of the house and the outside. The hunger will start about 1 hour before the sambar is made. An aunt used to add a bit of coconut milk to her sambar to ‘sweeten’ it as she said; another Malaysian Indian friend of mind would fry some pounded dried prawns and add to her keerai sambar……..very delicious.
Then of course the vengaya (shallots) sambar of Saravana Bhavan in India is drinkable.
Nowadays, I see more of the restaurants using pumpkin pieces in their sambar, I guess it is to sweeten the gravy naturally instead of using jaggery like some would do. I do hate the MTR kind of sambar, unless of course the person grinds the masala herself/himself instead of relying on the plastic bag.
The sambar I once had at a railway station in Kerala is very memorable too. Someone told me that it must be the Palagat brahmin’s style of sambar. I could smell lots of asafetida (perungayam) but it was so sumptious. Another friend of mine said he had a good sambar in Coimbatore. He said the sambar was of blackish green (very unappetizing to look at it it seems) but he also said that it was the best sambar he has ever had in his entire life. Apparently, a lot of ground coriander leaves and grilled onions were ground and added to the sambar. Sambar with radish and drumsticks ….mmmmmm mind blowing.
I love my sambar with lots of potatoes. When eating, I will mash the potatoes lightly on my plate and pour the sambar over it, add a teaspoon of good ghee or butter and just eat. No need for rice! Or have a meal of hot sambar, fried dried fish and a vegetable poriyal.
My husband says a good sambar must be runny; I like it thick and so the argument about the best sambar never end as you may have something to say too.