Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Udipi Sambar

After nearly 2 decades of writing this blog, the archives sometimes feel like an archeological site. There are long forgotten gems hidden in here. I remembered one such recipe recently. 

The Southern Indian staples of idli and dosa are recipes that I've standardized for myself after years or trial and error. I cautiously feel like I now have them nailed down.  However, their standard accompaniment sambar- the spicy lentil and vegetable stew- has not been a recipe I've felt like I've nailed down. 

There are so many regional variations of sambar. Growing up in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, the source of most of our idlis and dosas were local Udipi restaurants where the sambar is laced with coconut and slightly sweet with a tinge of jaggery. The other version I'm familiar with is the Tamil sambar which is decidedly NOT sweet. The latter is what I normally make. Only last month I remembered, wait, I think I've made a very good Udipi sambar at some point and then completely forgotten about it. Sure enough, I found this post from a decade ago. 

I made the sambar and ate it blissfully. THIS is now my go-to sambar recipe and I won't forget it in a hurry. Step 2 in the recipe below, when you start frying the ingredients for the masala paste, is when the unmistakable savory aroma will hit you and make you feel like you're sitting in your favorite Udipi restaurant. Grinding a fresh masala is a bit more work than using a sambar powder like I usually do, but it is well worth the trouble. 

I buy fresh frozen coconut- it comes as an icy sheet. When I bring it home from the store, I thaw it slightly, enough to break it into chunks and then portion the chunks into smaller containers or bags. That way I can pull out a portion and use it without defrosting and refreezing the entire package. Coconut is an important ingredient in my kitchen but I use it judiciously and in modest quantities. 

Udipi Sambar

 1. Pressure cook 1/2 cup toor dal. Mash it well and set aside.

2. Heat a little oil in small pan. Add the following ingredients in this order and fry them, then cool and grind to a thick paste. 
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 2 tsp. urad dal
  • 2 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • Few curry leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh/frozen coconut
3. You're ready to make sambar. In a large pan, heat 2 tsp. oil. Temper it with
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds 
  • 1 tsp. urad dal
  • Pinch of asafetida
  • Sprig of curry leaves
4. Add vegetables- I used chunks of red onion this time. Batons of drumsticks, carrot, baby onions, cubes of eggplant, pumpkin all work well. Stir fry for a few minutes. Add saltred chili powderturmeric, tamarind paste and jaggery to taste. Add a cup of water, cover and cook for a few minutes until veggies are just tender.

5. Now stir in the masala paste and toor dal from step 1 and 2. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavors and consistency before serving.

Idlis dunked in sambar

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Dill Pickles, and Jalapeño Achar, and Cowboy Candy

Condiments are the home cook's not so secret weapon. Jars and bottles lined up in my pantry and fridge door are nodding in agreement. Added to a meal or served with a meal, pickles and sauces transform everyday food, uninspiring leftovers and plain ingredients into something you can eagerly dig into. In the traditional Maharashtrian taat (thali or platter), two condiments are a must- a chutney and a pickle. Along with a small mound of salt and a half-wedge of lemon, so you can doctor up the meal to suit your tastes. 

Today in my kitchen in the US South, two types of pickles coexist in harmony- American pickles of cucumbers and other vegetables soaked in sweet/sour/salty/garlicky brine, and Indian-style pickles (achaar or lonche) which come in a breathtaking variety. Of the latter, mango pickles, mustardy green chili pickles, sweet grated mango chhunda, lemon pickles are typical favorites and I'll always have one or two store-bought varieties open in the pantry. 

Pickled cucumbers are popular everywhere in the US, often served as the default side to a sandwich. In the US South, pickles are A THING. Restaurants will often serve small plates of pickled vegetables as an appetizer- not just cucumbers but carrots, okra, onions and other veggies. My daughter has been a pickle lover all her life; when she was just two years old, her breakfast every morning for several months was a fried egg with a pickled okra on the side. 

When we drafted a summer bucket list in May, one of the items was "Make pickles". We weren't about to take on anything as challenging as canning, but refrigerator pickles could not be easier. The hardest part, honestly, was finding pickling cucumbers, which are seasonally available. (Pickling varieties of cucumber are less watery and more dense than salad cukes.)

We used this recipe and it worked beautifully. In fact, my daughter did all of the work of chopping cucumbers and garlic cloves and arranging them in clean jars with sprigs of fresh dill. Then we made a brine by boiling water and vinegar with some salt and a touch of sugar, and pouring cooled brine into the jars. Pop into the fridge and enjoy pickles over the next few days and weeks! We would have made this recipe again and again, but I haven't been able to find pickling cucumbers in the store. 

My former coworker and good friend T came to dinner one evening and brought along a bag of home-grown jalapeños- 24 beautiful specimens, plump and jewel-like. (I love the color of jalapeños so much that I chose this exact shade of dark green when we painted an accent wall in my living room last month.) I decided to make small batches of two different pickles with this haul. 

The first is the sweet kind amusingly called cowboy candy. I adapted this recipe and boiled some vinegar (a combo of apple cider vinegar and white vinegar) with sugar and spices like mustard seeds, turmeric, red chili powder, cumin-coriander. Into the syrup went slices of peppers to be cooked for a few minutes- they turn wrinkly and dull green. That's it- cool and refrigerate. The sweet-spicy peppers are a great addition to many dishes like sandwiches and tacos.

Cowboy candy- jalapeno slices added
to pickling syrup to be boiled

Cowboy candy atop deviled eggs

The rest of the peppers went into an Indian-style pickle or achar. I used this recipe and it worked beautifully, using ingredients that I already had on hand. Here the peppers aren't cooked at all, just tossed in spices, salt, lemon+vinegar for acidity and some oil. The resulting pickle is crunchy and perfectly balanced. I enjoyed it in countless meals of dal and rice, and in wraps and more. 

Jalapeño Achar 

(makes one jar)

1. Wash 12 fresh jalapeño peppers and set them on a dishcloth to dry thoroughly.

2. Make the pickling spice mix by toasting together the following for a few seconds: 
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds (saunf)
  • 1/2 tsp. carom seeds (ajwain)
Let the toasted spices cool down, then grind them into a powder.

3. Heat 1/4 cup cooking oil. Add a large pinch of asafeotida and set the oil aside to cool. 

4. Juice 1 lemon, and add 2 tbsp. white vinegar to the lemon juice. Set aside. 

5. Assemble the pickle:
  • Slice the jalapeño peppers and place them in a large bowl
  • Add the pickling spice mix, 1 tsp. turmeric, 1/2-1 tbsp. salt (to taste) and mix together
  • Add the lemon-vinegar mix and cooled oil and toss everything together
  • Spoon into a clean jar
  • Let it sit at room temperature for several hours, then refrigerate and enjoy over the next month
My second batch of achar made just this afternoon-
about twice the quantity in the recipe

In my two previous posts on making versus buying, pickles fall more on the "buy" side than the "make" side, although I'll make them every now and then, like this quick carrot pickle. However, now I'm wondering why I don't make pickles more often! They are easy and fun to make and so good.

Are you a pickle lover? Have you made pickles at home?