Sambar – South India’s Comfort Food

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Everywhere in the world has particular dishes that are considered comfort foods. These are the kind of dishes that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And different foods will evoke different feelings in whoever is eating that particular dish; it might be an apple pie that conjures up memories of your mum’s home-cooked puds, bangers and mash that remind you of happy times in your life or chicken soup, a comfort food that spans the globe.

The main criteria for a dish to have‘comfort food’ status (aside from the sentimental feelings) are that it is fairly easy to make and is heavy on the carbs.South India’s answer to food for the soul comes in the form of sambar.

Sambar is essentially a stew and is usually made from toor dal. Other ingredients include onion, tomatoes and carrots, but many other vegetables can be added. Okra, potatoes, shallots, green beans and pumpkin can all make a welcomed appearance – whatever ingredients are to hand. Spices are an important part of the dish and include chillies, mustard seeds, curry leaves and sambar powder.

Many attribute the particular blend of spices to the appeal of the dish. Sambar powder can be bought pre-ground, but making your own gives the dish that personal touch. To make it yourself might not require much skill but it does require plenty of patience. The key ingredients are coriander, channa dal, dried red chillies, fenugreek, asafoetida and turmeric – just be prepared to roast, stir and grind.

It is thought that sambar originated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Across all the southern states of India there are plenty of lentil-based dishes that are variations on one another – but each with its own unique qualities. Variations on the basic sambar sees the addition of coconut (particularly prevalent in the southern states) replacing sambar powder. In Tamil Nadu there is also a version of sambar that doesn’t include lentils (replacing them with vegetables or fish) called kuzhambu.

Sambar has a special place in the hearts of many Indians living in the south of the country. Families here love nothing more thansharing a meal. The star of the showis the big pot of thick, fibre-rich sambar, dished out with a ladle. It is served with a bowl of steaming rice and a vegetable side dish. It is eaten most days of the week in south Indian households, but will also make a star appearance at special occasions and celebrations. Suffice to say, as dishes go, this one is an all-rounder.

If you are keen to try comfort foods that span India’s many states then a trip to one of London’s popular Indian brasseries should be on your agenda. Sambar is just one of India’s many dishes that people turn to when they fancy a bit of a pick-me-up. Whether it is a tasty thali, hearty curry or delectable dessert, these Indian brasseries will give you an authentic taste of India – and leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.