link rel = "image_src” href=”preview-image-here.jpg” / expr:content='data:blog.metaDescription' link rel = "image_src” href=”preview-image-here.jpg” / expr:content='data:blog.metaDescription' Sukanya's musings: SAMBHAR - Story of the South Indian curry

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Friday, July 1, 2005

SAMBHAR - Story of the South Indian curry

About South Indian Cuisine
South Indian cuisine according to me is the healthiest of all Indian Cuisines, since it is less in spices andvery light on the stomach.Rice is the staple food down south. Rice forms a majorpart of the meals. The meal is consumed by using the right hand fingers. A traditional full meal is served on a fresh banana leaf comprising of; Rice, followed by paruppu(lentils), servings of ghee which melt in the hot rice giving it that additional flavour and aroma. and with curries Sambhar, Rasam, Kulambu, Rasam - which also at times is consumed straight as anappetizer.3 types of vegetables i.e. a vegetable with gravy(kootu, aviyal, molaghutal, molaghusheyam etc), acurry (Mezhukku varatti, podutuval, poriyal, etc as itcalled by different names) and a patchadi (vegetablesin yogurt); Pickles (spicy and sweet, puli inji(tamrind ginger pickle)) and Pappadam (or Appalam),Paruppu vadai, also combined with sweets or chips orand a banana. After the curries (Sambhar, Rasam,Kulambu) are served, the Payasam (a sweet dessert madeof milk and rice/ vermicelli/lentils) is served beforethe yogurt. Payasam is also served in the beginning(it is believed that every meal should begin with a sweet, indicating sweet beginnings.)
Lastly, is the coolant which finishes the meal that is; the Yogurt or Thair. This is mixed with rice andeaten, all this is washed down with a glass of buttermilk (moru) All this makes a grand meal. A grand meal is never complete without the sweet dessert. Payasam is served at the beginning, before the yogurt is served and again in the end. People consume it according to their choice or at all times.
After the meal, paan or betel leaf & betelnut (vetelai & paku), which freshens the mouth and aids in digestion.

Hats off to the person who invented dosais, idlis, vadas and uttapams, Rice is combined with lentils to make these dishes. After soaking and grinding this into a fine paste, it is fermented; the fermentation process makes it easily digestible.
Chutneys are carefully prepared by grating coconut(only the white portion or tenga poo is grated, stop grating when it nears the cherattai or shell), this part of the coconut need not be wasted, it can be grated and stored in a dabba and used for grinding for cootu or aviyal. The recipe also contains tamarind, curry leaves, green chillies and coriander leaves and salt according to taste
Variations :- Peanuts (variation used for thickness and taste enhancer), Chana ka daali (pottu kadalai, (variation used forthickness and taste enhancer)).
Tip :- The tenga poo must be ground until it releases the coconut milk. Only then will the chutney taste very good.

The South Indian food is a brilliant blend of flavors, colours, seasoning, nutritional balance, fragrance, taste, and visual appeal. Did you know that?South Indian dals and curries are more soupy than North Indian dals and curries. Sambhars are prepared by blending lentils with tamarind, coconut and spices, garnished with coriander and curry leaves.

History of the SAMBHAR
environment.The genesis of this dish has an interesting tale linked to it.The Marathas were ruling Tanjore. Sambhoji was a great cook (male members please note this) and very fond of his amti with a handful of the kokum thrown in. The kokum is native to the western coastal regions ofsouthern India and is rarely seen beyond this area. Even in India it is used only in theEach state in the South prepares it with a typical variation, adapted to its taste and regional cuisinesof Gujarat and Maharashtra and several southern states where large glasses of kokum sherbet are downed during parched summer months. In this region the sweltering heat demands refrigerant (cooling) ingredients in food and drink. Kokum is well known to counteract the heat.Kokum is dark purple to black, sticky and with curled edges. The fruit is often halved and dried, so that the dried seeds are visible in their chambers like a citrus fruit. It is usually available as a dried rind, resembling a thick plum skin. When added to food it imparts a pink to purple colour and sweet/sour taste, a slightly sweet and sour aroma, a refreshing sour taste, slightly astringent. Anyways, coming back to our story, In a particular season the kokum that was imported from the Maratha homeland did not reach the bare larder of the king's kitchen. Sambhoji was cooking and the minions were shivering in their dhothis to tell him that his favourite dish could not be made that day. A smart Vidushak, who had been elected sous chef for the day, decided to solve the problem. He whispered in the king's ears that the locals used very little tamarind pulp to gain a better sourness to the curry and that Sambhoji should experiment with this variation. Voila, the dish with the tuvar dal, vegetables, spices and the tamarind pulp was cooked and served by the king to his coterie. The court declared the dish an outstanding preparation (they had no choice with the king as Chef) and thus was born sambhoji's amti that in time became sambhar.
The divide between the Tanjorians and the Pattars of Kerala was not more sharply delienated than in the making of the staple sambhar. The tanjorians were fearfully called easterners by the Kerala Iyers - they would not give their daughters in marriage to a Tanjore family for fear of ill treatment of their daughters but welcomed the Tanjore daughter-in-law as she could be depended upon to run the family with smartness and acumen - make the vettal kuzhambu(sambhar without paruppu (dal)) more frequently. The price of dal was prohibitive for an ordinary family making its living by rituals and temple largesse. So a spoonful of dal, the paruppu at the corner of your banana leaf was served, labelled auspicious, and the rice was eaten mixed with the tamarind pulp, spices and rice-powder-thickened kuzhambu. The tanjore maatponnu would not use much coconut as well. The kerala sambhar is usually garnished with slightly roasted coconut (tenga poo). Kerala cuisine is rich and a lot of nuts (grown abundantly in Kerala ) are used as a garnish for sweets and in their food as well.
The pitlai, another adaptation from the Maratha kitchen, was the festive dish as was the puli kuthinakoottu - the tamarind pulp added thick stew made with the ubiquitous white pumpkin, karela, yam, raw banana,avaraikka and pudalangai from the backyards of the village homes. The recipe was basically the same with sauteed chana dal, whole red chillies, dhania seeds, heeng and curry leaves with dessicated, roasted coconut ground on the stone and added to the vegetables. The variation was in the raw coconut or roasted coconut and choice of chana dal or urad dal that was ground to a paste and a few grains of til added. In this category the rasavangi (again the Maratha influence, vangi meaning brinjal in that language) also featured with the same basic spices but with the addition of soaked grams like kondai kadalai- the brown chana - or the karamani or chowri -black-eyed beans.
The non brahmins in Tanjore used a ready powder made from the same basic ingredients for their curries. They had one called malli powder which is a mix of red chilli and dhania seeds. The masala added powders were for their meat dishes. The canny Brahmins decided to adopt the powder concept especially when their scions and daughters migrated to Babu jobs in Chennaipattinam, Bombay and Pune and then further north to Delhi. They would make the masala powders and pack them for their children moving to greener pastures for better opportunities, the daughters-in-law were very young, in their early teens and wouldn’t know how to prepare the powder. The sambhar powder came into existence due to the lack of fresh coconut-remember again the Marathis and Gujratis used only Copra and not fresh coconut traditionally until our Nair landed with his excess baggage of coconuts. The Keralites cannot cook without a wee bit ofcoconut, be it sweet, savoury, curry, chutney, dry or wet veggies, tiffin or meals. So the sambhar moved to Kerala. It was taken by the migrant Pattars from Tanjore to Kerala.When the Travancore Maharaja invited the learned pundits to come to the Cheranaadu temples and live off the rice donations. The ground spice paste with coconut, roasted dhania seeds, chana dal, red chillies till today the base for sambhar in a Kerala home. The inclusion of the coconut milk in their cooking was an adapted taste from the local Namboodiris.

Karnataka : The Karnataka people have a unique concept. They make one dish with the coarsely ground paste of pepper,dhania and jeera seeds, red chilli, dal and coconut or copra and made into a vegetable stew. The curry is made quite watery and allowed to sit after cooking. The liquid that floats is ladled out and used as rasamandi the thick bottom portion of the curry is eaten as sambhar. I know that there may be strong objections to this tale but it is typical of the Mandayam and HebbarIyengars. The sambhar that they cook otherwise has a dash of cinnamon and clove added that gives it the special flavour-it is used in their famous Bisi Bela Huli baath. Authentic Bisi bela has only tuvar dal, rice, puli, spices and onions. The addition of vegetables is a later development.

Udipi /Manglorean : Udipi although a part of Karnataka has its own recipe for the sambhar. Can we ever forget the Udipi style sambhar? The taste of which most of the mumbaites are familiar with. The Shetty’s from Udipi and nearby Mangalore landed in their dhotis in commercial Mumbai started hotels(restaurants, cafes) and soon one restaurant branched into many restaurants and has donned the Mumbai landscape. You could give them some credit for making south Indian cuisine so famous and creating a taste for it among people of other communities also migrants in Mumbai, here to try their luck.
The Udipi style (Manglorean) style sambhar has aslightly sweet taste, sugar or jaggery is added to the usual sambhar recipe.

Andhra : The sambhar in Andhra is a Chennai export. They have a penchant for various dry and wet chutneys and powders followed by saaru or rasam. The pappu saaru (Sambhar) is their main curry which is made with either tuvar or moong dal, onions, tamarind pulp, red chilli and dhania powder, heeng and a seasoning of mustard and methi seeds and curry leaves. The curry is thick and after tomatoes entered the Indian culinary list some families add it to the basic saaru. Andhra is famous for its Guntur chillies, supposed tobe very very hot. Andhra sambhar is very spicy and sois their rasam. A lot of ghee is added to the rice tobeat the spice in the food. The sambhar powder has become extremely popular in many homes in Andhra Pradesh as well. As Shakespeare once said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.", same goes for the sambhar as well.
Whatever avatar it dons in the different states, nothing can beat the taste of sambhar. No matter how much of Tandoori / Punjabi or Chinese food we indulge in during the weekends, nothing can beat the hot rasam and beans curry our supermoms dish out on a hungry afternoon. Hope you’ll enjoyed the journey of sambhar, some parts are excerpts from an article which tells the story of sambhar.
I invite more stories from members so that we all can read and enjoy the different stories of how the sambhar evolved.
Hoping to enthuse you’ll with more culinary stories like this.

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