Eggplant Sambhar – the Perfect Lentil Soup

Sambhar is quintessential to South-Indian cuisine. There are so many different ways to cook it and the taste also varies from state to state. Sambar can eaten with rice, idlis, dosas or utthapams. Or you can have a bowl on its own as a warm comforting soup.

Lentils boiled with vegetables are mixed with little tamarind for the sourness, few red chillies for the heat, made pungent with a pinch of hing,  infused with aroma of fresh  curry leaves, finished with a dash of sweet jaggery to even out the slight bitterness of mustard seeds and fenugreek – an explosion of flavours in your mouth! 

This recipe may not seem authentic, especially to my friends from South India but it is easy for a weeknight dinner, very nutritious and most importantly yummm!!!

I call it Eggplant Sambhar because in this recipe, the dal is boiled with eggplant and it kind of disappears in the curry. I use this trick to make my family eat eggplant without being so obvious as they are not big fans. And also the combination of eggplant with lentils tastes delicious. I am also using two lentils, red Masoor dal and Tuar Dal as opposed to only Tuar Dal used traditionally.

To keep things simple and easy, we are going to use store bought Sambhar powder. People often ask which brand of Sambhar Powder should be used and I answer any. It is not the sambhar powder but the vegetables and spices you add that will bring out the flavours. I generally use ‘Everest’ Sambhar powder.

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 15 min

Cooking time: 45 min

What you will need

  • 1/2 cup Masoor Dal (red lentils)
  • 1/2 cup Tuar Dal (Pigeon Pea)
  • 1-2 lebanese eggplant or any other variety
  • Salt as required
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
  • 5-6 fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp tamarind paste or 1/2 cup tamarind juice
  • 1/4 tsp jaggery
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1-2 whole red chillies (adjust the quantity according to the heat)
  • 1/4 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp Sambhar Powder
  • A handful of chopped green beans (optional)

How to Make it

  1. Peel and chop the eggplant to small cubes.
  2. Wash and mix the dals, eggplant in a pressure cooker with 4-5 cups of water.
  3. Add 1/2 tbsp salt and 1/4 tsp turmeric.
  4. Close the pressure cooker and boil on high heat until the 1st whistle.
  5. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Once the pressure is released, open the cooker and mash with a spoon. I prefer the dal to be boiled enough so that the grains just disappear. This gives a smooth texture to the sambhar.IMG_7114.JPGIMG_7117.JPG

For the tempering

The number of ingredients may seem overwhelming but the trick is to keep everything ready before you start. Then just quickly add things one after another sauteing them lightly and keep the heat to low to avoid burning.

  1. Heat 2-3 tbsp oil in a deep pan.
  2. When hot add 1 tsp mustard seeds.
  3. When they begin to crackle, reduce the heat and add cumin seeds followed by fenugreek seeds and 2 pinches of asafoetida (hing).
  4. As the cumin seeds begin to sizzle, add the whole red chillies and curry leaves.IMG_7115.JPG
  5. Saute for a minute, then add the ginger garlic paste and cook until the raw smell is gone.
  6. Next add the chopped onions and 1/4 tsp turmeric.
  7. Once the onion is transparent, add the beans and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  8. Add the tomatoes and cook until they turn mushy.
  9. Add the red chilli powder, coriander powder and 1 tbsp sambhar powder.
  10. Let the spices cook for 2-3 minutes.IMG_7122.JPG
  11. Add the tamarind paste or juice.
  12. Saute the tamarind paste for few minutes to get the raw flavour out.
  13. Then add 2-3 cups of water and let it come to a boil.
  14. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
  15. Next add the dal and mix well.
  16. Let it simmer for 30-40 minutes until the flavours are well infused and the desired consistency is reached. Please note that sambhar is thinner than dal.
  17. Finish with 1/4 tsp jaggery to even out the tanginess. This is optional but recommended.
  18. Taste the sambhar and adjust the flavours if required.IMG_7124.JPG

How to make Idlis

Idlis can be ready in 15 minutes if you have got the batter ready. Making your own batter takes time as you need to let it ferment but nowadays, ready batter is available easily at the Indian stores. Use whichever you prefer.

  1. Put 4-5 cups of water in a pressure cooker and let it come to a boil.
  2. Add salt to the required amount of batter as required.
  3. Lightly grease the idli pans and pour batter into each. Do not over fill it leaving some room for it to rise.
  4. Place the idli pans into the cooker and close the lid without the whistle(weight).
  5. Once you see the steam coming out, reduce the heat to low.
  6. Cook for another 10-12 minutes.
  7. Remove from the heat and let it rest for 5 minutes before opening the lid.
  8. Remove the idlis carefully using a spoon/knife.IMG_7106.JPG

Serves soft and fluffy idlis with steaming hot sambhar and coconut chutney.

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