(The meanings to the italiced words are given at the end of the post. It would have been blasphemous to replace those words with translations for they would not have done justice to the meanings they convey in Tamil).
Aracchu utta sambar
Though Arachhu rhymes with Machu-Picchu, it is not a place. It is just a musical name for a dish I love, that brings forth a sea of memories and the tastes, smells and flavours of a warm kitchen.
I see my periamma’s face as she grinds the coconut, roasted pulses and aromatic coriander seeds in her aattu-kallu (grinding stone). She gathers the coarse paste with her fingers, pushing them into the central recess of the grinding stone, and runs the obelix shaped stone against the spices, crushing them to bring out the flavour and forming a smooth paste. There is a charm about the movement of the hands, the musical notes from her bangles as they meet one another, the grating and squishing sounds of the stone as it goes round and round over the paste. Sounds that have been taken away by mixers and will always be missed.
Since we were constantly changing places every year my mother hand done away with our small black grinding stone. The taste of her sambar is every sip as tasty as the one that comes from the stone but the images get superimposed ever so often.
I generally prepare the easier version that does not require coconut and is made with ready sambar powder. Whenever a bout of nostalgia hits I make ‘aracchu utta sambar’. The taste must be quite like my Mum’s because my daughter often calls it ‘pati’s sambar’. This Summer when I had been to Bangalore, I got my mother to part with all her mundane, routine recipes and practically irked her. “Wouldn’t you like something more exotic?” she would ask. “No, I just want something that will bring back memories of the aattu-kallu music back,” I replied. She found it ridiculous, but relented.
Recipe: Aracchu utta sambar (A mix of lentils and vegetables in a tangy, soupy gravy)
Yield: 4-5 gluts
Time taken: 30 minutes including the time needed for grinding masala
Prep: Soak a lime sized ball of tamarind for 15 minutes before starting the recipe.
Ingredients and method for the masala:
Coriander seeds / Saboot Dhania – 3tsp.Bengal gram / Chana dal – 1.5 tsp.
Dry red chillies – 5 bedgi chillies (3 if using spicy variety)
Fenugreek seeds / Methi dana – 1/4 tsp. level (Do not increase as it makes the sambar bitter)
Asafoetida / Hing powder – A generous pinch
Oil – 1/8 tsp.
Fresh grated coconut – 3 tbsp.
Preparation of the spices:
Heat a seasoning wok or small pan with the oil. When just hot, roast the dal till pink. Roast all the other ingredients separately till the chillies turn dark, methi turns a shade and the hing exudes its characteristic aroma.
Mix the roasted ingredients with fresh coconut well and grind with very little water to form an almost smooth paste. Set aside and proceed with the next step.
Ingredients for the gravy:
A lime sized ball of tamarind
A cup of diced vegetables. Vegetables are usually diced into slightly big cubes for sambar – about 2sqcm. in size. If using onions, slice thick. Brinjals need to be quartered lengthwise to about 1.5 inches. Drumsticks are cut about 2.5 inches long. You can also use a mix of vegetables like carrots, drumsticks, eggplants and onions.
1 cup cooked tuvar dal or pigeon peas.
A tsp. of sesame oil
A tsp. of mustard seeds
A sprig of curry leaves
2-3 red chillies
Extract the tamarind juice using not more than a cup of water.
Saute the vegetables slightly in a drops of oil to get rid of any sliminess especially when using okra. Cook the vegetables in the tamarind extract alongwith a little salt and turmeric powder till just cooked through.
Tranfer to another vessel. Add the cooked pulses and ground spice paste. Add water to bring to the consistency of soup.
Bring to a boil. Remove. Heat a seasoning wok or small pan with 1/2 tsp. sesame oil. Splutter mustard seeds followed by rest of the seasonings. Pour and watch the sambar sizzle and take in the aroma!
Vegetables generally used for sambar:
Okra (cut 1″ long)
Okra and onion
Potatoes, tomatoes and capsicum
Radish or turnip
Raw podded groundnuts
Colocassia or arbi
Glossary to Tamil words used in this post:
Arachhu utta sambar
Arachchu – Ground, utta – poured, sambar – the name of a dish made with lentils, masala and vegetables.
Periamma – Older sister of a parent, an aunt.
aattu-kallu – grinding stone used in earlier days instead of an electric mixer. It was a larger version of a pestle and mortar. See the picture here.
Pati – grandma
Palaharam – Many South Indians prefer a light tiffin at night rather than a full dinner. This is called palaharam and it is usually had early in the evening by 7:00p.m. I am assuming that in the beginning this meant ‘phala aahaaram’ meaning a meal of only fruits but got distorted in content and meaning with time.