Sambhar is a South Indian staple - a savoury stew made with tamarind, lentils, veggies and spiced with a special blend called Sambhar powder. It is hearty, wholesome and full of flavour and is a regular feature on our Sunday Lunch menu. Blood red beets in this version of the dish make it a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Traditional Sambhars are made with juicy shallots or a mixture of diced potato, radish and pumpkin. But it's such a versatile dish that you can throw in any vegetable you like! We've tried it with Brussells sprouts, red peppers , butternut squash, mangetout and carrots. You can savour this warming comforting stew by the bowlful or ladle over nutty quinoa or brown rice to soak up all the juices.
Sambhar powder is a mix of several spices including ground cumin, coriander, fenugreek, red chilli and tumeric. The exact recipe differs in different parts of South India and its often passed down in families by word of mouth! We use our Grandmother’s recipe to make ours but you can usually find pre-packaged Sambhar powder in Asian Stores.
Sambhar is usually an earthy golden colour with the lentils and turmeric but this beetroot infused variation is a striking contrast. We're not quite sure who invented it, but we do know that it's a firm family favourite. Trying to think of a parallel in western cuisine, the only one we could come up with is Borscht, the traditional Eastern European Beetroot soup!
This beetroot sambhar is one of those recipes that we've not really had to alter to make healthy, because it already is! It's high in protein from the lentils and is packed with iron, calcium and vitamins A & C from the beetroot.
To make it super quick, we've used vacuum packed beets that you can get in most supermarkets like Sainsbury’s or Tesco. Make sure you add in all the extra beet juice in the pack too to deepen and enrich the colour.
Cooking with beets can be a little messy. But just go with it, embrace the artistic pink tinge it gives your skin and enjoy the stunning results of your cooking endeavours!
N & N
Time: (1 hour for lentils + 30 mins for everything else)
1/2 cup yellow lentils (Toor Dal also known as Pigeon Peas)
3 cups water (for tamarind) + 1 & 1/4 cup (for lentils)
3 beetroots (preferably raw beets. If using cooked/ packaged beets add them at the end)
1 tbsp oil
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida (you can find this in an Indian/ Sri Lankan store)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sambhar powder (you can find this in an Indian/ Sri Lankan store)
6 curry leaves (you can find this in an Indian/ Sri Lankan store)
1/4 cup tamarind pulp (fresh tamarind or puree)
5 cups water
Cook the lentils and turmeric with 1 & 1/4 cup water in a pressure cooker or in a saucepan until soft. This should take around 1 hour in a pan or 30 mins in a pressure cooker.
Boil 3 cups water and add to the tamarind pulp. Leave to soak for 5 mins. Get your hands in and break up the pulp in the water.
If using raw beetroot, slice it into medium thick slices and then into half moons. If using cooked beets, slice them up the same way, skip step 5 and add at step 7.
Heat the oil in a small saucepan and add in the mustard seeds. When they start to splutter, add in the curry leaves and asafoetida.
Toss in the beets and sauté on a high heat for a few mins. If using cooked beets, skip this step.
Over a sieve, strain the tamarind mixture into your saucepan, squeezing the pulp to get all of the juices and flavour out.
Add the sambhar powder to the pot and mix. Let it bubble away for 10 mins with the lid on to let the flavours infuse and intensify. (If using cooked beets, add at this stage - we want to warm them up, but not overcook them so that they disintegrate.)
When the lentils are cooked, mash them with a fork and then pour into the beet and tamarind mixture. Stir and leave on a low heat for 5 mins.
Add salt to taste and you're done!
This Sambhar tastes just delicious warmed up the next day.