Sweet, tangy accompaniment

Sweet, tangy accompaniment

Irrespective of the variations, one can never have enough of sambar as it sparks up the palate with its myraid flavours, writes Vivek Phadnis

Talk about variations of any Indian food preparation and sambar probably has one of the most. This tangy and sweet accompaniment adds a punch to the humble idli which would seem rather insipid without it.

There is nothing like starting the day with idli sambar (and chutney for some) and ending it with a hot cup of filter coffee. Most restaurants in fact even offer a choice of preference — dunked or separate? Okay, dunk it shall be! Steaming idli with piping hot sambar is on its way and you just can’t wait. It arrives and it’s really hot, but you hurriedly eat it. And the tongue is in a spot of bother. This dip and eat is more of a Karnataka thing. In many parts of Tamil Nadu, idlis are served on a banana leaf and sambar delicately poured on one side. The hungry soul makes a mish-mash and devours it, enjoying every morsel. Sambar really means a lot to our folk. After all, the fluffiest of idlis are nothing without sambar.  

The slightest variations from what one is used to can be alarming to the palate. If one believes that the hint of sweetness in sambar, that is particular to Karnataka, is the standard, imagine the dismay when the sambar in Tamil Nadu has no jaggery in it but has a sour tinge. Who leaves out jaggery in sambar? It is the same the other way round too. Who adds jaggery to sambar? So, sambar is never the same in two places.  

Even the ‘invention’ of sambar is as colourful and interesting as its taste. Shivaji’s son Sambhaji is supposed to have tried making a dish using tamarind juice and tur dal (instead of moong dal) and is believed to have given us the elixir called sambar. It was eventually named after him. However, some have raised doubts about this and this makes for a broader discussion perhaps over a bowl of idli-sambar!  

It is interesting how the sambar that is served with rice gets a little more complex. As we all know, there are many varieties of sambar, with different vegetables changing its texture and adding to the flavours. Even the way its prepared can alter its taste by leaps and bounds. So you have a variety prepared with dry sambar powder or another with the paste and if you add grated coconut, its taste gets denser. Sambar can also be prepared in a sattvic manner with no onions and garlic or can be the spicy version made in Andhra or just bland, but still worth dying for.   One fact that we cannot ignore is that sambar is a healthy preparation. After all, it is loaded with protein and has the goodness of vegetables and herbs. Though healthy in itself, one is most likely to end up battling the bulge if we over-indulge.  But the fact remains that irrespective of the variations one can never have enough of it.  

(The author takes refuge in food after a tiring day with cars and gadgets.)