If you go to an Indian vegetarian restaurant, chances are you will be served a small bowl of this vegetable and lentil soup with whatever you order – steamed lentil dumplings, crisp lentil pancakes or simply with rice and vegetable curries. You don’t ask for it- it appears, magically, on your banana leaf platter or metal tray.
- 1 cup split peas or red lentils
- 1.5 litres (3 pints/6 cups) water
- 1 tablespoon tamarind pulp or instant tamarind
- 250 ml (8 fl oz/1 cup) hot water
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- a pinch of chilli powder
- ¼ teaspoon asafoetida
- 3 cups mixed diced vegetables
- 2 fresh green chillies, seeded and sliced
- 2 teaspoons salt or to taste
- ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 small onion, finely sliced
Wash the lentils and soak overnight or for at least 2 hours. Drain and cook with the measured water, simmering until soft. Put the tamarind pulp in a bowl, pour over the hot water and leave for 10 minutes to soften. Squeeze to dissolve the pulp in the water, strain and discard the seeds and fibers. If using tamarind pure or instant tamarind, stir into 250 ml (8 fl oz/1 cup) hot water to dissolve. Add the tamarind liquid to the lentils.
In another pan large enough to hold all the lentils, heat 1 tablespoon oil and fry the ground spices and asafoetida on low heat, stirring, for 1Ð2 minutes. Pour the lentil mixture into this pan, add the vegetables and chillies and simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Season with salt. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a small saucepan and fry the mustard seeds and onions until the seeds pop and the onion is brown. Add to the soup, simmer a few minutes longer and serve. Sambar should be fairly thick, with a pronounced sour and hot flavor.