Monday, January 28, 2008

Mullangi Sambar (Radish Sambar)

Sambar is a dish which took me quite some time to get right - either the tamarind was too much, or the dal was in excess making it thicker than we liked, or the sambar powder was overpowering....
But since I liked it so much, it was a matter of time till I finally found the right way.....or rather I found out what I liked.
I like it with onions and a tomato in it, lots of coriander;not too thick but at the same time with enough dal to make it satisfying. Not too sour but the tang should be there.

.........and most of all I love eating the vegetables in it - small onions (shallots/chinna vengayam),drumsticks and radish (mullangi) are the best. In that order.

Most people don't really like radish, let alone in a sambar - but for some reason I love that those white discs take on the flavour of the sambar completely and when you bite into them - they just dissolve in your mouth.

The sambar prepared on festival days? that's awesome too ; the mixed vegetables (usually an odd number- 5 or 7) gives this a whole new flavour.

Idlis in our house are almost never made without sambar to accompany them. There's something about the rice and protein mix I think which just completes this meal for us and makes it so satisfying.

I make mini idlis sometimes and it's pure heaven to drown them in the sambar and then eat them.

I know people who mash the idlis into sambar - enuff said!

And I remember people who would walk into Anand Bhavan in Mumbai on a Sunday morning with tiffin carriers and pack 3-4 huge dabbas of "samburr" for about 4 plates of idlis.

Well, I'm sure they still do the sambar haters ;). So let's agree to disagree and try to figure out it's origins.

I have been trying for sometime now, to find out how this has become such a staple of South Indian food (in all its myriad forms, be it Pulungari, Huli, Pulusu or Pitlai). There don't seem to be many explanations for it (atleast in the limited research I have done).

The basic premise is that sambar in it's present day form is a recent addition to Tamil cuisine - maybe about the 19th century. Chillies and tomatoes came to India quite late in the day, and the original cuisine in Southern India used pepper and curd/mango in their preparations. Tur dal was not a South Indian pulse, it was moong dal (green gram) which was predominantly used.

I found this article by Dr Padmini Natarajan - The Story of Sambar - which speaks of the Maratha king Sambhoji who ruled over Thanjavur (Tanjore). Like a true son of the soil, he liked his amti, a lentil based dish which uses kokum - a fruit, the pulp of which is used as a souring agent in Maharashtrian and Konkani cuisine. However, there was no kokum available one day and since he used to like cooking, he substituted it with tamarind pulp. That when paired with the tur dal created a new dish - named Sambar after him.

Though it sounds like an urban legend, she goes on with a fascinating (to nerds like me atleast) discussion on the various versions it takes in the four Southern states and how it has evolved.

Well, its present day avatar is certainly something we can be proud of....

Mullangi Sambar (Radish Sambar)


Tuvar Dal (Arhar,tuvaram paruppu,split pigeon pea lentil) - 3/4 cup or 150gm - cooked with 4 cups water and 1/4 tsp of turmeric, in the pressure cooker till mushy, about 3 whistles and 5 minutes on a low flame.

Tamarind extract - about 1 cup from a lime sized ball soaked in warm water for half an hour

Radish - 1 medium, cut into thin discs and cooked separately, till just tender

Sambar powder - 2 heaped tsps
Chilli powder - 1 tsp (optional - the sambar powder I am currently using isn't too spicy since it has more dal in it than store bought ones)
Coriander(dhania)powder - 1 tsp

Onions - 1 medium sliced
Tomato - 1 medium chopped into 4-6 pieces
Coriander leaves - 1/4 cup chopped

Talimpu or tempering:
Mustard seeds (rai/kadugu) - 1 tsp
Urad dal - 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida powder (hing)- pinch
Curry leaves - 2 tbsp washed
Oil - 1 tbsp

Salt to taste


1. Heat oil in a wok or kadai, add the mustard and wait till it splutters, then add the urad dal, the hing and when the urad turns brown, add the curry leaves.
2. Add the onions and saute till soft - 2-3 minutes, then add the tamarind extract diluted with 250 -300ml water, bring to boil and let simmer covered for about 15 minutes.The raw smell of tamarind should have disappeared.
3. Add the tomatoes, cooked radish, sambar powder, chilli powder, coriander powder and salt and let simmer for another 8-10 minutes.
4. In the meanwhile, whisk the cooked tur dal till smooth; add to the simmering sambar and bring to boil. Simmer for another 5 minutes till the flavours come together, add the chopped coriander and remove from flame.

Serve with idlis,dosais or rice.


Jayashree said...

I used to be a radish-hater once but not any I too think radish sambar rocks!!!

Lakshmi said...

Sambar looks yumm and with idlis it must have tasted good. I make mullangi sambar and we like it.

bee said...

oh no ...

Dhivya said...

Sambar and idlis look nice.It would have tasted nice:)

remya said...

idli n!!! my hubby 's raddish in sambar...

Meera said...

I absolutely love sambar. and my jaw dropped to read that it was named after "Sambhaji?" Interesting!! I too meant to blog about kolumbo which is konkani sambar from a long time. hopefully sometime soon.
your sambar and idlis look sooo nice. I wish I can eat them right now!!:-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting Miri - to know the origins of Sambar!
We love Mulangi Sambar at home!

Cynthia said...

I just want to take a spoon and start eating the sambar just as it is :)

Laavanya said...

I love mullangi sambar too and with idlis is just perfect!! :)

zlamushka said...

Lovely Sambar. never heard of the variety with radish. Sounds delicious. Would kohlrabi work instead?

Miri said...

I'm not sure Zlamushka, havent tasted kohlrabi before. I do know it belongs to the cabbage and cauliflower family....but I think if it manages to hold its shape when cooked but at the same time is soft enough to absorb the flavours of the sambar - well it just might taste good!

Ramki said...

Hi ,

Am blogging your Sambar as a model recipe in the 1001 Tamilnadu Curries cookbook at

Thanks for the recipe.

Anonymous said...

Hi.I dont think that it is possible to make sambar in raddish .its sooooooooo yummmmmy with idly.waw done a great job.keep going on.can anyone tell me what is the side dish of this sambar other than appalam and vadakam?

Miri said...

Thanks Anonymous - did you mean that you didn't think that it was possible to make sambar with radish? well now you know! :)

Its nice to have raw banana fry (walakai varuval) or cabbage porial.

Venkat said...

Thank you very much. I've made a better sambar than before.....

Miri said...

You're welcome Venkat! Thanks!

Pelicano said...

I love radish sambar! I agree about that gorgeous, buttery texture melting in the mouth... so yum! But, of course, when I made it I was not using your sambar pdr, and now I am curious to know how yours will taste.

One quick question: if I substitute drumstick for radish (just an idea) :-D do I retain that extra teaspoon of coriander pdr?

Miri said...

Yes Pel - the coriander powder balances the lentils with the spices (IMO) and would not change depending on the vegetable you use.

Pelicano said...

Ah! I get it now... raw coriander pdr and leaves form the top-notes- very intriguing- I've never seen that before! I'll try it soon-

Giridhar said...

I am a 50 year old man blissfully married since the past 20 years - which also means I was barred from the kitchen for an equal number of years. Last weekend, my wife and son had been away for a few days. Normally, I would have picked up something from the nearest darshini, but this time, I just could not get myself to eat that stuff.

Having checked out the vegetables available in the fridge, I started my research in the internet on 'Radish'. The first site I landed up was peppermill and your blog of about 3 years ago. It was just great and the process so very clearly explained, it made cooking the 'Mullangi Sambhar' so easy.

And surprisingly (to me - that is), the Sambhar came out great. For a guy trying this thing after 20 years, it was a great feat. And it was so delicious.

Of course, there was some drama during this act though - like..

"which one is chilli powder and which one is sambhar powder"..
"does 'let simmer' mean cook in SIM or put off the fire and let it cool??? etc

Thanks anyways, for this great blog.

Now I will recommend to my wife to visit this blog regularly.

Miri said...

Giridhar- kudos on taking the plunge and getting into the kitchen - obviously you are a natural and I hope you experiment some more. It took me several months to get my sambar right and you got it the first time!

Let me know if you or your wife try any other recipes. These are the stories which inspire me to blog! And yes simmer means to cook on a low flame!