Cooking with Stella

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One of the great South Indian dishes, a richly flavoured, very flexible, spicy lentil ("dal") stew. Recipes vary widely from household to restaurant. Traditionally made with toovar dal, which takes an hour to cook through, sambhar can also be made with quicker cooking red lentils (widely available in many grocery stores) or mung dal, as suggested below. Serve to accompany dosas or rice.


In medium heavy-bottomed pot, combine dal and water and bring to a vigorous boil. Skim off foam and discard. Lower the heat to medium and add garlic, turmeric, and onion, then cook until tender, about 20 minutes (or one hour for the toovar dal).

Meantime, coarsely chop the tamarind then place in a small bowl and add the boiling water. Set aside to soak for 10 to 15 minutes, then strain the liquid through a sieve, pressing on the solids with a wooden spoon to extract as much flavour as possible. Reserve the liquid and discard the pulp.

When the dal is tender, stir in the reserved tamarind liquid and 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside over low heat.

Place a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the mustard seeds. Once they pop, add the curry leaves, then the sambhar powder or substituted spices, and the whole chiles. Toss in whichever vegetable you are using, and stir to coat the vegetable with flavoured oil. Let cook, stirring occasionally, for about two minutes, then transfer the contents of the skillet or wok into the hot dal. Simmer until the vegetables are tender.

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