Imagine having a steaming bowl of sambhar (lentil based vegetable stew) along with its accompaniments like idlis (steamed rice pancakes), dosas (pancake made of fermented rice batter) and vadas (deep-fried salted doughnuts of lentils). The mere thought of it would make you salivate if you have ever tried this South Indian food before that taste like heaven. Here goes the story and the various sumptuous versions of this South Indian food which has become one of the most loved delicacies of the nation.
Sambhar is a dish of Tamil Nadu which is so intrinsic to the Indian state that no dish is complete without it. There is a legend behind the original recipe for this dish. It is said that Son of Shivaji (A great Maratha ruler) who was known as Sambhaji tried to make dal (lentil) in the absence of his head chef. Either to make it more savory or just for the sake of experimentation he added tamarind to it. This concoction turned out to be a success and it was named after him.
This may be just a fable but today the popularity of sambhar in Tamil Nadu can be gauged by the fact that over 50 varieties of this dish are available today. While onus of bringing sambhar to the fore goes to Sambhaji, today it is not merely a tamarind soup. Thanjavur Brahmin sambhar which is widely consumed here has no onions and garlic and this dish is not heavy on spices. Also, sambhar of Tamil Nadu differs from that of Karnataka. In the former dry powders are used whereas in the later wet pastes are used.
Not only this, in Tamil Nadu only local vegetables like radish, brinjal and drumstick are used and in preparing sambhar and in the other Indian states like Kerala only the English vegetables which became popular during the rule of British in India like carrots and potatoes are used.
Over the time people keep on experimenting with the dish and besides the whooping 30 varieties, people also started trying the idea of making a concoction using seafood and chicken. This tastes like heaven though it could not turn out to be a hit because a majority of people in Tamil Nadu is not open to the concept of meat or fish in the sambhar.
One of the most unusual dishes that you must have not heard of is “milk sambhar.” It was way back in 1930s that this weird amalgamation of Jain and Maratha traditions tried and brought to the fore. A little known version of Sambhar is ‘Tambda Rassa’ which is made of lamb stock. This was a success because of its rich flavour and appetizing aroma. To suit it for the Jain palate, milk was mixed instead of the lamb stock and the milk sambhar came into being.
This is a sambhar curry with a twist. Brinjal and lady fingers are cooked along with buttermilk and begin to taste 10 times better.
This is an intrinsic part of the Onam festival. This is a concoction of lentils, coconut, tamarind, drumsticks.
Nutritional benefits of corn and the cooling effects of madras onions make this dish worth trying.