In February, I used the last of my mom’s homemade sambar powder to make a pot of sambar, which is my all-time favorite Indian dish. (Sorry Spicy Fried Beef, Mild Fish Curry, and Chicken Stew!) For those of you who have never tasted it, sambar is a heavily spiced stew made with lentils and vegetables. It takes center stage when idlis (sourdough buns) or dosas (sourdough crepes) are served. I love to eat it with a plate of steaming hot rice and crispy pappadam.
Within a week of running out of the powder, my mom sent me another bottleful. I measured out a tablespoon to make another batch of sambar. Surprisingly, it turned out to be hotter that I had expected. When I mentioned the difference to my mom, she told me that she had finally started purchasing pre-made sambar powder from an international grocery store. Clearly, it was time for me to take on the task of producing the potent mixture!
As it turns out, the process requires more patience than skill. There’s a lot of roasting (and stirring) of spices and some grinding, of course. But if you ask me, it’s well worth the effort!
Makes 1/2 cup
1/2 cup coriander 1/4 cup channa dhal 10 dried red chilies 1½ tablespoons fenugreek 1 teaspoon asafetida ½ teaspoon turmeric
Heat a heavy-bottomed steel or cast iron skillet on medium low heat. Pour the coriander seeds into the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until a seed easily crumbles when pressed between your fingers (about 10 to 15 minutes).
Pour the coriander seeds into a medium sized bowl to cool.
Add the channa dhal to the skillet. Cook, constantly stirring, until the dhal become crunchy when you pop a few into your mouth (about 10 minutes).
Pour the dhal into the bowl to cool.
Add the fenugreek seeds to the skillet. Cook, constantly stirring, until the seeds turn one shade darker (about 10 minutes).
Pour the fenugreek seeds into the bowl to cool.
Place the dried red peppers into the skillet. Cook, constantly stirring, until the peppers release a pumpkin-like aroma (5 to 7 minutes).
Pour the cooked peppers into the bowl to cool.
Once the roasted spices have cooled, transfer them to a blender.
Add the asafetida and turmeric. Grind the ingredients until they become powdered.
Transfer 1/3 of the mixture to a spice grinder and process until it becomes a fine powder.
Susan developed a passion for flavorful food as a child. Under her mother's wing, she learned to prepare everyday Kerala dishes.
In her twenties, Susan moved to Tokyo in search of adventure where she embraced Japanese culinary traditions. There she learned to value individual ingredients and tapped into the power of plating.
Once back in the U.S., Susan earned a Masters Degree in Public Policy. The hypnotic rhythms of the kitchen (mincing, chopping, mixing) drew her to Kendall College in 2005 where she trained as a chef. After a foray in the food industry, she started Cardamom Kitchen. Her mission is to promote all the benefits of home cooking. Susan leads cooking classes, and has taught at Whole Foods Market, the Fearless Food Kitchen, Gilda's Club, Common Threads, Swedish Covenant, farmer's markets and provides private instruction for children and adults. She also hosts a Culinary Tour of Devon Avenue, Chicago's Little India. Susan created and managed the "Kitchen Basics" column for Whole Foods Market.