I’ve been on a major Indian food kick lately. It has definitely been inspired by my new CSA which has arrived with some new and exciting ingredients that are mostly used in Indian or Southeast Asian cooking. I went out and got some of the special spices to make a couple curry dishes and my exploration of Indian cuisine has continued to blossom from there. I originally made this dish with Moringa pods and leaves and it was a huge hit! I could not get enough of it and my dinner guests were also pretty delighted. I decided to do a more basic version with chopped spinach because I had spinach.
So this is not actually a traditional Sambar. I used the “wrong” lentils because that’s all they had at the store and I also used the wrong spice mix because I was lazy and didn’t feel like milling all the spices to make the Sambar spice mix. I had another curry powder mix that had almost the same spice composition so I figured it would be close enough. This is a “close enough” Sambar.
I’ve been wanting to make more Indian food because it is one of the few cuisines that I don’t feel very comfortable with. So for the past few weeks I’ve been reading lots of recipes on Indian food blogs and cooking almost exclusively Indian food.
A lot of Indian recipes, such as this one, call for tamarind. This is also used in a lot of Central American and Mexican food so it’s not super hard to find in Los Angeles but they didn’t have it a the 365 by Whole Foods which is walking distance from my house. So I went to the internet to find a decent substitute and came up with this: rice vinegar and brown sugar. Equal parts. Boom. I will eventually get my hands on some real tamarind and use that but for now I’m loving the tangy, sweetness that this particular combo adds to dishes.
Now that I’ve cooked a few Indian dishes I have started to notice a pattern in the recipes and one of the things that always seems to happen is spices are either dry roasted or fried in oil. Frying the spices in oil is referred to as tempering the oil. Mustard seeds always seem to go in first and the rest of the spices go in after they have begun to pop and crack. I’m thinking that a recipe grid for Indian curries is going to happen here on the blog sooner or later.
You could really throw any kind of green in this soup and I think it would be great. I also think you could do other veggies too like carrots, green beans, cauliflower and whatever else. That’s another think I’m learning about Indian cooking. It’s super versatile. Once you have the base recipe figured out you can mix and match and swap out whatever veggies you want. I am in love!
Because this is new cuisine territory for me, I have been relying heavily on other blogs for instruction. I got this recipe from Veg Recipes of India. It’s a husband and wife team in India and they have a focus on using local and organic fruits and veggies whenever they can. People after my own heart! They have tons of great recipes and I’m looking forward to exploring more of them and adding my own shortcuts and twists along the way.
Adapted from Veg Recipes of India
- 1 cup red lentils
- 5-8 cups of water
- 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1/8 teaspoon of asafoetida powder
- 1 Tablespoon Sambar powder (or other Indian curry powder mix)
- 1/4 cup of rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup of brown sugar
- 1 large bunch of fresh spinach, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 Tablespoon sunflower/canola/grapeseed/veggie oil
- 3 small dried chilis
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon asofoetida
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 12 curry leaves
- In a large pot or dutch oven, boil the lentils in 3 cups of water. The lentils should swell and absorb the water. Keep 2 cups of water next to the pot in case your lentils are extra thirsty and you need to add some more water to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.
- Once the lentils are the consistency of oatmeal, add the turmeric, red chili powder, asafoetida and two cups of water. Bring to a boil.
- After the lentils have boiled for a few minutes and have broken down further, add spinach, sambar or curry powder, vinegar and brown sugar to the lentils. Add more water if needed and then let the lentils come back up to a boil.
- In a frying pan heat the sesame and veggie oil with the mustard seeds over medium high heat until the mustard seeds start to pop, then add the dry chilis, garlic, asafoetida, fenugreek seeds and curry leaves. Fry the spices and garlic until the garlic is golden brown on both sides. You may have to turn the heat down so that the spices and the garlic don’t burn.
- CAREFULLY pour the oil and spices into the lentil soup. Mix to incorporate and then let it simmer for a minute or so to let the flavors meld.
- Serve hot!