Keralan Vegetable and Coconut Sambar Recipe

2 Nov

Kerala is right at the top of my list of places I want to visit. It is located on the Malabar coast of south-west India and is known for having some of the best and most delicious vegetarian food in the whole of India. That and its beautiful beaches, backwaters, tropical forests and luxury Ayurvedic retreats and you can see why I am so keen to get there.

Until that day arrives I am happy to continue on my culinary journey around my kitchen and be transported by the flavours and smells unique to that area. Sambar is a typical southern Indian vegetable stew made with lots of vegetables and pigeon peas (or lentils) in a tamarind broth. The sambar is the spice mix or paste which has variations from state to state in the south.

Coconuts grow along the coast in Kerala and most of their signature dishes feature it in some form. This Keralan Sambar powder  is made by toasting coconut along with the spices and grinding it to create a paste that is used to flavour the stew. The sambar is finished or tempered with a garnish of mustard seeds, chilli and spices cooked in coconut oil that is poured over just before serving.

In the original recipe the pigeon peas or lentils are cooked separately with some turmeric and chilli powder until soft and mushy. They are then added to the vegetables cooked in the tamarind & stock to thicken the stew towards the end. I used dried quick cooking yellow lentils that cook in the same amount of time as the vegetables so I cooked it all together. Less washing up too.

The vegetables I used are just what I had in the fridge. You could use pumpkin, carrots, potatoes, aubergine, courgettes, okra…..

Keralan Vegetable & Coconut Sambar Recipe

Serves 4 with rice. Vegan, gluten-free. Adapted from The Mistress of Spices & Sankeerthanam

  • 75-100 g dried yellow lentils
  • 300 g sweet potato, scrubbed & cut into 2 cm chunks
  • 300 g cauliflower florets
  • 300 g (1 very large) tomato, chopped
  • 200 g green beans, trimmed & halved
  • 1 litre veg stock
  • 1 or 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • salt
  • about 1 tsp jaggery/brown sugar or honey

For the tempering:

  •  2 tsp  coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 dried red chilli whole (I used fresh)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • curry leaves (if you can get them)

Put the veg stock and tamarind in large pot with the turmeric, chilli flakes, lentils, sweet potato and cauliflower. Bring to the boil, season with salt then lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes & lentils are cooked. Meanwhile make the sambar paste.

For the sambar paste

  • 4 Tbsp grated coconut
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
  • 1 dry red chilli (I used fresh)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • salt

Toast everything in a dry frying pan until fragrant and toasty. The onions wont be cooked. Blend to a paste adding some salt and water as necessary.

Stir the sambar paste into the vegetable pot then add the softer vegetables, the beans and tomatoes. Bring to the boil again, lower the heat, cover and simmer for another 10 minutes or longer, until the lentils have broken down and you have a thicker stew consistency.  Add the jaggery/sugar or honey and taste for seasoning. Does it need more salt or sugar?

When ready to serve, heat the coconut oil in pan over a medium high heat and add the tempering spices, chilli and curry leaves (if using). When the seeds start to splutter tip the contents of the pan over the stew and serve with rice or flatbreads.

Things That Made Me Smile Today….

The oranges are coming. They are turning from green to a yellowy orange. Getting more orange every day. Which means it’s not long till Christmas.

Which means I need to get busy making Grandad’s Pickled Onions if I want them to be ready in time for Christmas. They need at least a month to mature into the spicy perfect beasts that everyone adores.

What Christmas treats are you planning to make this year?

Have a great weekend!


8 Responses to “Keralan Vegetable and Coconut Sambar Recipe”

  1. Conor Bofin November 3, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    More vegetarian awesomeness, beautifully photographed.

  2. Tammy November 3, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Ohhhhh. that is right up my culinary taste! Lovely recipe Natalie.

  3. Chica Andaluza November 3, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    What a wonderful curry Natalie. I have a friend who went to Kerala and she says it was amazing! Thanks too for the remidner re the pickled onions – will have to see if I can make some here while I am in the UK!

    • tony ward November 3, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      A culinary treat for sure. The few different ingredients than a ‘normal’ curry are crying out to be experienced guapa. Went to Maharaja last evening for great meal also tooooo much in the fridge to ignore (take away) will try this next week.

  4. Allison November 3, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    Oo, I love sambar! This looks soooo good.

  5. kellie@foodtoglow November 3, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    Yum to the max! Oh I want to make this right now! I love simple Indian recipes like this, and I have been playing around a lot lately with south Indian food, as well as the Med-East cuisines (and believe it or not Georgian – the country not the US state). I love how you almost always give us a complete meal, not just the main event. Always a sauce/sambal/dip to lift what will already be a fab recipe into a must make. I will try and fit this in next week. Orange lentils at the ready…

  6. Joanna November 4, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    That sounds wonderful – I have never made something quite like that but you inspire me to try!

  7. Three Well Beings November 6, 2012 at 6:59 am #

    This makes my mouth water, Natalie! It really sounds like it has just the right amount of heat for me, and the addition of coconut is excellent! I also love lentils–I may start calling them pigeon peas. I definitely look forward to this dish. And our oranges are just starting to come in, too. I’m looking forward to the farmer’s markets having the large bags again soon!

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