Authentic Sambar or what I call 'Sambar From Scratch' is also known as "Arachuvitta Sambar" which literally means sambar with freshly ground spices. As one can probably imagine, there is no substitute for freshly ground flavor. I grew up eating this kind of sambar since the 'simple sambar' using sambar powder was unheard of in those days. Most people make the simple sambar nowadays only because it is quicker to make when one is on a tight schedule. It really does not take too much extra time to prepare the freshly ground spices - absolutely worth the extra effort - to quote Paji: "now this is the real thing"!
Traditionally Toor dal, a skinless yellow split bean, is used to make sambar; but any kind of split and skinless legumes such as yellow split peas, masoor dal (red lentils), and the yellow, split Mung dal may be used. Moringa pods, regular or pearl (small) onions, summer and winter squashes (gourds and pumpkins), regular or sweet potatoes, taro root (arbi - Colocasia esculenta), eggplant, green beans, radishes, etc may be used alone or in any combination to make a delicious sambar.
1/2 cup Toor Dal
2 cups vegetable chunks
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Salt or to taste
Freshly ground spices:
1 tsp oil
2 Tbsp Chana dal
1 tsp Fenugreek seeds
1 Tbsp Coriander seeds
1 or 2 Dry Red hot chilies
1/4 tsp Whole Black Peppercorns
1 pea-sized lump Asafoetida or 1 or 2 pinches powdered asafoetida
2 Tbsp grated Coconut, fresh, frozen, or dry (Optional)
1" diameter ball of Dry Tamarind pulp or 1 Tbsp Tamarind Concentrate
2 tsp Ghee or oil
1/2 tsp Brown Mustard Seeds
1 or 2 dry red chilies
1 sprig Fresh curry leaves
Fresh coriander/cilantro for garnish, about 1/4 cup
Sort, wash, and cook the toor dal in water to cover until very soft and creamy.
Check tamarind pulp (if using) for seeds and pieces of shell and discard them; soak in 1/2 cup of hot water.
While the dal is cooking, roast the spices: in a small pan heat the oil. Add the chana dal, the seeds, chilies, pepper, and the lump of asafoetida if using. Stir and cook until the dal is golden. Remove from heat and stir in the powdered asafoetida if you are not using the lump type. Cool.
Grind the roasted spices with the tamarind and the coconut into a smooth puree using a blender. Set aside.
Prepare vegetables of your choice into 1" chunks; cook them with the turmeric and salt until tender.
Mix the ground spice mix into the vegetables and bring to a boil.
Stir in the cooked dal and bring to a boil again stirring often. Remove from heat.
Prepare the thalippu: Heat the ghee/oil with the mustard seeds and chili. When the mustard seeds pop, remove from heat and add the crushed curry leaves carefully. Stir for a few seconds and pour the whole thing into the sambar.
Garnish with coarsely chopped fresh cilantro/coriander leaves.
Serve hot with hot steamed rice or roti and veggie side dishes such as Cabbage Thoran, Raita, etc and/or fried or toasted papadoms.