October 5, 2008

Varatharaitcha Vendakkai Sambhar (Okra in a Spiced Lentil and Coconut Gravy)

ambhar is one of those very well known south Indian preparations that has crossed all state boundaries. Idlis or dosas are never quite complete without the Sambhar.
I’m sure there are very few Indians who haven’t heard of or tasted Sambhar. For those of us to whom this is something new, a Sambhar is a “curry” made of one or more vegetables cooked in tamarind water to which cooked yellow lentils and a spicy coconut paste are added.

Vegetables (one or a combination of two or more) typically used to make sambhar are okra (ladies’ finger/ vendakkai), drumsticks (murungakkai), eggplant (katthirikkai), pumpkin (mathan), ash gourd (elavan), shallots (chinna vengayam), tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, to name some. While the rest of the method of preparation remains the same, the tatse of the Sambhar would vary with the vegetables used to make it.

I usually use a single type of vegetable to make this particular type of Sambhar, at any given time, as we prefer it this way. If you can find drumsticks, chop one up into 1 1/2" long pieces and cook it with the okra. Drumsticks give sambhar unbelievably awesome flavour extra.
I do sometimes add tomatoes as well for added taste. If using tomatoes, add them to the sambhar right at the end, just before adding the coconut paste. Otherwise they will cook too long and turn mushy.

Sambhar is frequently prepared and served in Palakkad Iyer homes. It is usually eaten mixed with rice, along with a dry vegetable preparation on the side, as the first part of the main meal. Of course, it also accompanies idli,dosai and sometimes vadai (deep-fried savoury black gram lentil snacks).

The “Varatha” in the first word of this post title means “fried” and Araitcha” means “ground to a paste”. This refers to the spices and coconut, which are fried/ roasted in very little oil and ground to a paste that is added while making this Sambhar.

Broadly speaking, we make two types of sambhars. One is the subject of today’s post and the other one is Podi Potta Sambhar, which is made using Sambhar powder (or podi).
In some homes, the coconut for this sambhar is not fried/ roasted before grinding it to a paste with the spices. My version does.
Varatharaitcha Vendakkai Sambhar (Okra in a Spiced Lentil and Coconut Gravy)


200gm okra (ladies’ finger/ vendakkai)

2 meduim tomatoes, quartered (optional)

3/4 cup cooked and mushy yellow lentils (tuvar dal)

tamarind, the size of a big marble

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 big sprig of curry leaves

1 tsp powdered jaggery (optional)

salt to taste

2 tsp oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 1/2 tsp (urad dal)

For the paste:

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 1/2 tsp Bengal gram (chana dal)

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

3 dried red chillies (adjust to your desired levels of spice)

1/4 tsp asafetida powder

3/4 cup fresh grated coconut

1 tsp oil


Soak the tamarind in one and half cups of warm water for about 15 minutes. Using your fingers, squeeze out and strain the tamarind pulp and keep aside.

Then prepare the paste.
For this, heat the 1 tsp oil, turn down the heat to medium, and then add the coriander seeds and Bengal gram. Roast them for about a minute or till the Bengal gram turns golden. Remove this onto a plate.

Now add the fenugreek seeds (take care as these brown very quickly) and the red chillies to whatever oil is remaining. Stir once or twice and as the fenugreek seeds start turning brown, add the asafetida powder, stir once and remove to onto the plate.

Put the coconut into the same pan and roast, stirring constantly, till it turns golden to reddish brown, taking care not to burn it. Remove and allow to cool slightly.
Grind the coconut and the roasted spices into a fine paste, adding as much water as is necessary. Keep aside.


Cut the top and tail off the okra and cut them into 1 1/2 “ long pieces. In a deep pan, heat 1 tsp of the oil and add the okra pieces to it. Stir fry the okra, over medium heat, for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tamarind pulp/ water, salt, curry leaves and turmeric powder. Bring to a boil, and then simmer till the okra is cooked. Then add the tomatoes and let them cook for about 5 minutes or so.

Now slightly mash the cooked lentils with a spoon and add to the above mixture. Mix well and allow to boil for a couple of minutes. Add the coconut-spice paste and the jaggery if using. Many people do not add the jaggery, but I remember my maternal grandmother adding a little bit of jaggery to all preparations made with tamarind. I find this practice adds to the flavour of the preparation without giving it a sweet taste.

Again, mix well till everything is well blended. If the Sambhar is too thick, add a little water to adjust the consistency. Sambhar should be the consistency of a slightly thick gravy. Allow to come to a boil and take it off the heat simmering for a couple of minutes.
In a small pan, heat the remaining 1 tsp oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, add the black gram dal. Stir till it starts turning golden. Pour this into the Sambhar. This is the tempering.
Stir only when ready to serve. Serve hot. This recipe should comfortably serve 4.

On a different note:

Nags of Edible Garden had announced a movie theme based event on her blog in last month. The first ten submissions to her event were to win two free tickets to the Hindi movie, Saas, Bahu Aur Sensex.
It so happened that I had sent in an Olan and actually made it somewhere (in the blog world) early! I am a bit particular about punctuality in real life, though. And I won two tickets to watch the movie.
Thanks, Nags.

I got a mail on a Friday afternoon telling me that I had two tickets to watch the movie at 2.00pm the next afternoon! They were not willing to let me postpone watching the movie to Sunday afternoon. So after quite a bit of juggling, as Saturdays are half days at work and school in Goa, we managed to make it to the theatre with 5 minutes to spare.

Now we had heard rather sad reviews about the movie, but we did have “free” tickets and we hoped that with Faroque Sheikh (who was excellent, by the way) acting in it, the movie would be watchable.
Frankly, it was not worth it. The theatre with a seating capacity of 300 had about 15 of us watching it! So I guess I needn’t say anything more. And it was sad to see the few very good actors who were in it totally wasted on the movie. I thought Warner Brothers would have better sense than to invest in something like this, let alone choose this to be their vehicle into Bollywood.

My blog was given two more awards by fellow bloggers, Ivy of Kopiaste passed on a Brilliant Weblog and Preeti of My Kitchen Stories gave me a Good Job Award. They are displayed on my page for badges. I’m sorry I took a little while to acknowledge them and thanks to both of you.


Sig said...

I am not a big fan of the regular sambar, but I love this version with the roasted coconut...

Curry Leaf said...

Thanks for the review Aparna,avoid such movies in future.I feel this sambhar is better than other version.Anyway I am not a big fan of Sambhar.

Cynthia said...

You know I am yet to try making a sambar. I like the fact that this one has okra in it which I absolutely love.

sra said...

It looks more interesting than the usual sambar! Sad that those actors were wasted in the movie - well, at least, it's one movie less for me to regret not seeing.

jayasree said...

I follow the no-fry coconut version. Though sometimes I add the coconut last to the frying pan just before removing from fire.

Sangeeth said...

luv the sambhar aparna!Oakra adds a spl touch to it

Bhawana said...

wow okra with the curry. thats looks good :). I wud like to have it with rice.... lovely.

Divya Vikram said...

different sambhar recipe!

Suma Rajesh said...

different sambhar curry..looks really tempting

Shreya said...

hi Aparna, really nice Sambar. Congrats on the awards and the win. Our tastes differ, at least in movies. I liked the movie a lot, especially Farooq Shaikh. I agree movie-wise it could have been a lot better direction and editing wise, but the story is so real.

PG said...

a very yummy recipe! Have bookmarked it.
and you are most welcome! you deserve it! :)

Rosie said...

Sambhar sounds & looks really lovely!

Rosie x

Usha said...

I make mine similarly minus the coconut...yours looks delicious...too bad about the movie...thanks for sharing the info though will keep away from that one :-)

Bharti said...

That looks like a lovely recipe. I've made the sambhar a few times using podi in the past. Never had a recipe of this kind, will try it out..thanks.

indosungod said...

Aparna, thanks for stopping by and I am glad I discovered yours. This sambhar with the ground spices is simply the best. Looks really good. We hardly ever get fresh okra and so I hesitate to add them to sambhar.

Sunshinemom said...

I love arachha utta sambar (as we call it) too! Yours looks tasty! I have been trying to get a good photo of sambar but it is so difficult to get the veggies and the gravy to show up nicely!!

Aparna said...

Sambhar is a favourite with most people and each household that makes it uses their own combination and amounts of the spices making each one unique in taste.

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for this amazing sambar recipe. I have made this several times since i saw this recipe and itz a hit everytime. After i started to follow this recipe, when i make the podi sambar during emergencies, it "bombs" at the "homeoffice". Thanks once again for such a wonderful recipe!!

Aparna said...

Anon, happy to see you love it so. :)