Sambar masala, or sambar podi, is a spice mix used to flavour thick soups. These soups, sambar, are made with vegetables and lentils flavoured with tamarind pulp and sambar masala. The soup is eaten with rice or dosa, idli or vada. Sambar is served as the first course in a traditional south Indian meal.
Sambar masala varies by region and household, as do all the masala recipes discussed in this book. This sambar masala is typical of south Indian preparations and is likely from Kerala.
A masala is a mix of spices. You could make it from scratch every time you make the dish, but many Indian households will prepare their various masala mixes in advance. It is important not to make too much, or it will be tasteless by the time you get to use it all. One interesting thing you may notice after making this is that it looks and smells remarkably like curry powder. I believe, but cannot prove, that most curry powders today have their heritage from this masala mix.
And yes, as I have said before, it can be bought from a good Indian grocer (or even a bad Indian grocer), but it just doesn’t taste as good. Nor is it as much fun, particularly when you see people enjoying your food.
In our kitchen we make this and other masalas, such as chaat masala in batches to have it readily available.
Once made, it keeps for a month or so in an airtight container. Any longer and will lose its flavour and end up tasting just like the one you bought.
- Heat a pan over a medium heat and add coriander, cumin, fenugreek and peppercorns and roast for two minutes until they change colour and become aromatic. Remove from heat and spread onto on a plate to cool.
- Add dry red chilies to pan and roast for about three minutes, stirring until they change color and they get a pungent smoky aroma. Remove from heat and set aside on the plate.
- Add channa dal to pan to the pan. Keep stirring while roasting for about four minutes. Channa dal takes longer to cook than the spices and when roasted the dal should look browned or golden. Remove from heat and set aside on the plate.
- Add urad dal to the pan. Keep stirring while roasting for about three minutes, or until they become golden and you a get the aroma of the roasted dal. Remove from heat and set aside on the plate.
- Add the curry leaves to the pan and roast until they become crisp. Remove from heat and set aside on the plate.
- Add mustard seeds to the pan and when they start to pop, quickly remove from heat and set aside on the plate.
- Turn off the flame and add the asafoetida to the pan. Keep stirring until it changes colour and becomes aromatic - this should be less than one minute. Quickly remove from heat and set aside on the plate.
- Allow the roasted spices to cool to room temperature.
- Add the turmeric to the cooled whole spices. Use a grinder or mortar and pestle to grind into a fine powder.
- Store in an airtight jar.
- This spice powder will keep for several weeks in a small airtight jar before losing its flavour.