How To Make Sambhar: 4 Ways To Reimagine This South Indian Staple
Image Credit: From eggplant to buttermilk sambhar, this South Indian dish can be spruced in a variety of ways.

Last night’s dinner was a fabulous spread. Since it was a no-cook Sunday evening, we ordered in some rava idlis, vegetable uttapam, vadas and a masala dosa. Along with it came loads of freshly-made coconut chutney and a watery dish. Any guesses what it could be? Yes, it was sambhar. As North Indians, we associate sambhar as an integral part of South Indian cuisine, with any meal being incomplete without the dish. A piping hot bowl of sambhar was brought to me and as I dipped my idli into it, it enhanced the flavours of the entire dish. That’s how major a role sambhar plays in South Indian cuisine.  

Generally, the sambhar I’ve tasted consists of a couple of vegetables, including tomatoes, onions and beans, along with curry leaves, tamarind pulp and mustard seeds. Little did I know that the magic of tamarind wasn’t always the secret to a tangy sambhar. This watery and slurpy dish has its roots in the Marathas. Oh yes, it is true. The dish that we have been crediting and associating to South India for ages isn’t really their own. Legend has it that Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji was very tempted to eat amti, a Maharashtrian dal preparation. However, his cooks were on leave so he decided to bless the kitchen with his presence. Taking what was available, he replaced moong dal with toor and the souring agent became tamarind due to lack of kokum in Tamil Nadu.  

The dish turned out to be so tasty and was so loved by the people at the court that it became a regular part of the menu and as they say, the rest is history. Well, we’re definitely glad this experiment happened and we got our much-loved sambhar of today. However, there are a variety of ways to make it.  

Here are some interesting variations of sambhar that you might want to try:  

1.   Mutton Sambhar  

Who said that sambhar always has to be loaded with veggies? You can always opt for a meaty sambhar like this one. Doused with the flavours of coconut, tamarind juice and a host of spices, the mutton adds its own aroma and meaty touch to the dish. It is a rich, dark brown sambhar with chunks of mutton dunked into it.  

2.   Eggplant Tomato Sambhar  

With the goodness of a variety of vegetables, the sambhar is not only tasty but a nutrient-rich dish too. You can add tomatoes and eggplants to the moong dal and urad dal, along with lemon juice, curry leaves and mustard seeds. This bright red sambhar will have chunks of eggplants in it and it makes the dish very filling. 

3.   Methi Sambhar  

Usually, sambhar has an orangish hue but this methi sambhar is yellow in colour. The methi leaves are added to the sambhar mix and tamarind paste is added for sourness. The toor dal is then spruced up with a tadka which enhances the flavour of the dish.  

4.   Buttermilk Sambhar  

Quite similar to the Punjabi kadhi, this buttermilk version of sambhar is tangy and creamy. The tartness of the buttermilk pairs well with coconut, curry leaves and red chillies. Dunk it all in and enjoy it with some steamed rice.