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Sambhar (curried lentils) In Munnar

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Munnar is justly famous for it's tea gardens and tea estates which stretch out invitingly over hills and valleys. One of our favourite pastimes was to go on long drives on narrow roads that cut through neatly manicured rows of tea bushes and wind through the undulating countryside.

Every now and then, the scenery would give way to a glimpse of a breathtaking waterfall, or a serene lake with paddle boats drifting across or a man made dam that was beautiful enough to warrant a stop for pictures.

Fresh green coconut water is a tasty way to hydrate and cool off during these long drives. Coconut vendors with pushcarts piled high with green coconuts were everywhere. We would often pull over for a refreshing pit stop while the vendor hacked at our coconuts with a huge dangerous looking machete!

Sambhar is a delicious, soupy, healthy melange of soft cooked dal (lentils), assorted vegetables, spices and shredded coconut. I love dunking idlis (steamed rice cakes) in it at breakfast time. What better way to wake up your taste buds in the morning?!

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You can also make sambhar with red lentils, if you don't have any Arhar dal on hand. In Kerala, sambhar is usually served with rice or idlis (steamed rice cakes) or dosas (pan fried lentil crepes). Serve along with First Class Railway Mutton Curry or Pepper Roast Chicken for non vegetarian options. Kerala Fish Fry makes a great appetizer for this meal!

Sambhar (curried lentils)

1/2 cup Arhar (Tur) dal

1 tsp turmeric

Salt to taste

Small walnut sized piece of seedless tamarind

2 cups finely chopped assorted vegetables such as okra, eggplant, zucchini, radish, cauliflower

40 fresh curry leaves, divided

2 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped

1 tbsp Sambhar powder

1/4 cup frozen shredded coconut, thawed

2 tbsp ghee or coconut oil

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

2 dried red chilies

A pinch of asafoetida (hing), optional

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small cooking onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

Wash dal, cover with water and soak for 1/2 an hour. Drain, transfer to a heavy bottomed saucepan and add 3 cups of water, turmeric and salt. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until dal is soft, about 1 hour. Mash lightly with stirring spoon.

Meanwhile, combine tamarind and 1 cup of water in microwave safe bowl. Cook uncovered for 2 min, mash tamarind with fork and let stand 15 min to soften. Strain through a fine sieve and reserve extract, discarding solids left behind in the sieve, if any.

Add tamarind extract, vegetables, half the curry leaves, tomatoes, shredded coconut and sambhar powder to cooked dal. Cover and cook on medium low heat for 1 hour or until dal and vegetables are very tender and almost mushy.

Meanwhile, warm ghee or coconut oil in deep skillet. Add mustard seeds, remaining curry leaves, red chilies, asafoetida (if using), onions and garlic to skillet. Saute, stirring, until onions are lightly browned and softened, about 5-7 min.

Pour cooked dal with vegetables into skillet, mix well with sauteed onions and bring to a quick boil. Remove from heat, mix in the fresh coriander and serve.

Serves four

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