Sambhar: South Indian daal (lentil soup) with vegetables
by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
The word dal (also spelled daal or dahl) means a soup-like preparation of split peas, beans, or lentils, which are staples in Indian cuisine. The consistency of a daal can vary according to its intended use. A thinner daal may be served as a first course, and a thicker version, such as this sambhar, may be served as an entrée. My sambhar recipe has a California touch – with lots of seasonal vegetables. In short, this soup is substantial enough to be a meal in itself!!
In addition to the use of pungent spices, a step in the preparation of dal that sets it apart from other soups is called vaghar (loosely translated as “tempering”). It is vaghar that gives the daal its characteristically deep and unique flavor.
8 cups water
1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained thoroughly
1 teaspoon salt
1 fresh hot green chili pepper, such as jalapeño, minced after core and seeds are removed
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, grated
½ teaspoon each coriander and turmeric powder
1 tablespoon safflower, canola, or olive oil
¼ cup onion, finely chopped
¼ cup bell pepper (any colors), chopped finely
1 cup cauliflower or broccoli, florets only, cut small
1 cup each: carrot, eggplant, celery, zucchini, and tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch chunks
1 tablespoon shredded dried coconut
3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
A few tablespoons of fresh cilantro, chopped
For the vaghar:
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 – 3 whole dried red, hot chilies
a pinch of hing (asafetida), available at Indian markets or health food stores (optional)
Rinse red lentils thoroughly in hot water and drain them completely. In a large soup pot, bring the water to a boil and add the drained lentils. Simmer lentils briskly uncovered for 15 minutes. Add salt, green chili, ginger, coriander and turmeric. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes more over a moderate heat.
While the lentils are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and sauté the onions and bell peppers for a few minutes. Add the chopped and cubed vegetables and stir fry them for five minutes. Next, add the shredded coconut and sautee for 3 minutes. Add this vegetable mixture to the pot of simmering dal. Add the lime or lemon juice and honey or sugar. Turn down the heat. Cover and cook the sambhar over a low heat for 15 minutes.
For the last flavoring step, make the vaghar: Heat the oil in a small saucepan or a metal measuring cup. Add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the cumin seeds and dry red chilies. Then, moving quickly, add the optional hing, and pour all of this smoky oil mixture into sambhar, and immediately cover the pot. Turn off the heat, and keep the pot covered for five minutes or longer to settle the vaghar flavor. Next, uncover, remove the whole dry red chiles and discard them. Correct the seasoning Top sambhar with chopped cilantro and serve with rice or bread.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
Recipe modified from Shanta’s cookbook, “Cooking Together: A Vegetarian Co-op Cookbook” which we sell at Other Avenues. Recipe Copyright2017@Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff