Growing up in Delhi, everyday food for us at home was roti-dal-sabzi, followed, of course, by curd-rice, without which any self-respecting south-Indian cannot live. South-Indian food was relegated to the weekend, by virtue of which it became special food.
My mother would pounce upon any typically south-Indian vegetable – podalangai/snake gourd, drumsticks, sambhar onions and the like – when she spotted them at the weekly vegetable market. Banana items like raw banana, banana stem and flowers weren’t adifficult to get since many houses in our colony had banana trees and people would always pass on the goodies to one of the four or five south-Indian and Bengali families that lived in the colony.
So, Sunday lunch would typically include sambhar (usually white radish or small onion sambhar if she got lucky), rasam, some thogayal (chutneys with a more coarse texture, usually mixed with rice), coconut-sprinkled vegetables and fried rice appalams/papads.
After getting married though, south-Indian food became de rigueur while proper north-Indian became weekend cuisine. Over a period of time, of course, by the power of my stubborn will, I got my hubby to appreciate simple north-Indian fare of dal and rotis. These days, it is usually south-Indian for lunch and north-Indian for dinner, which is why the blog features mostly south-Indian dishes (since I usually write my posts during the day. I’m no night bird and am generally snoring before the clock shows 10.30!).
While my mother usually stuck to onion, ladies finger and white radish for sambhar (other vegetables like pumpkin, drumstick etc. being routinely rejected either by me or my brother), my mother-in-law’s repertoire extends to include brinjals, capsicum, drumstick, carrot, spinach etc.
I used to find cooking spinach a chore until recently, when I realised that the result far outweighs the effort that goes into cleaning the vegetable. Incidentally, spinach sambhar, I feel, is one of the easiest sambhars to prepare since it requires less tamarind than the other varieties, thus less cooking time. Another reason being, I like to add a lot of tomatoes to this sambhar, since I love the spinach-tomato combination.
(Quantities mentioned serve two)
Toor dal – ½ cup
Tamarind – A marble sized ball (smaller than a standard lemon)
Tomatoes – 2 (you can decrease the quantity of tamarind and add more tomatoes too)
Any spinach variety – 1 cup
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
Oil – 1 tsp
For the powder:
Red chilies – 3-4
Dry coriander seeds – 2 tsp
Fenugreek seeds – ½ tsp
Chana dal – 1 tsp
Hing – 1 pinch
Turmeric powder – 1 pinch
Oil – ½ tsp
(Alternatively, you can use 2 tsp readymade sambhar powder)
Heat ½ tsp of oil. Add chana dal
When dal starts to change colour (don’t wait till it becomes golden brown though), add coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, red chilies and hing
Take off heat when dal turns golden-brown and the chilies bloat and turn deep red
Cool and grind along with turmeric powder. Keep aside
Heat the tamarind ball in half a cup of water. Cool and squeeze out the pulp
Wash spinach in three changes of water. Dunk clean spinach in a pot of boiling water. Let it stay that way for 10-15 minutes. Then take it out of water and chop roughly. Do not waste this water
Pressure toor dal with ¼ tsp turmeric powder till 4 whistles. It should be soft enough to mash with a ladle
Heat 1 tsp of oil. Splutter mustard seeds
Add tamarind pulp along with readymade sambhar powder, if using. Boil till quantity reduces by half
Add tomatoes, spinach, dal and ground sambhar powder. Add a cupr or so of the drained Spinach water. Cook for 10 minutes
Add salt. Take off heat. Serve
You can add 1-2 tsp of grated coconut while grinding sambhar powder
You can leave out tamarind altogether and use 4-5 tomatoes instead. Reduce dal quantity to 1/3 cup in this case.