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Pumpkin Sambar

Pinky Gandhi from India

Serves
4
Preparation
20 minutes
Cooks in
30 minutes
Country of origin
India

At about 16 years of age I moved to a large city in Southern India from a very small town of Eastern India. It was a whole different world. Everything from the culture, to language, to food was different. I was being introduced to new tastes, flavors & a beautiful culture of generosity around food.
One of my first travels without family was a 3-day college trip. We travelled in a ramshackle bus with barely enough seats for everyone, traveling through the night and visiting various spots during the day. It was a unique experience where a cook travelled with us along with a stove, utensils & all cooking ingredients. At meal times we would find a clean spot around the route & he would cook right there.
One of the spots we visited during this trip was an ancient Hindu temple. Located in a beautiful hilly region, this temple is dedicated to a Hindu goddess, ‘Annapoorneshwari – one who fulfills all food needs’. Free meals are provided to all the visitors. This is common in many other temples of the region as I was to discover from there on.
Our group decided to have lunch at the temple. We stood in a huge queue, moving at an impressive speed & after a bit of wait; we were let into a large dining hall. We were seated on floor as is the old Indian dining tradition & a banana leaf was laid out for each one of us. Then started a trail of people carrying food in large containers, the rice being carted out in a wheelbarrow! We were being served with a beautiful array of traditional south Indian food, rice accompanied with sambar, rasam, vegetable curry, pickle, chutney, kosambari, appalam, buttermilk, payasam & a banana to finish it off. Amazing aromas, flavors & tastes assailed my senses, creating one of the most wonderful & memorable food experiences. That was the beginning of my love affair with all aspects of food.
In a dilemma as to which of these recipes to feature, I chose ‘sambar’, simply because it seemed to be the central dish that brought the whole meal together.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup pigeon peas
  • 250-300 g pumpkin cut into large chunks/ dices (about 1 inch squares)
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
  • Lemon sized ball of tamarind – pulp extracted (you can use 1-2 tablespoon of tamarind paste, depending on taste & concentration, if fresh tamarind is not available)
  • 1 teaspoon jaggery / sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
  • For masala:
  • 1 tablespoon split bengal gram
  • 3 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • A small stick of cinnamon (about ¼ inch)
  • 8 – 12 dried red chillies (adjust it to suit your spice tolerance)
  • ½ cup grated raw coconut
  • For tempering:
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil / any oil of your preference
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon asafoetida
  • A sprig of curry leaves
  • Couple of dried red chillies

Method

  • Wash and cook the pigeon peas in a pressure cooker (you can do it in an open pan but it would take a much longer time) along with turmeric and some salt till they are completely mushy. Churn the pigeon peas into an even mixture and set aside.
  • In a thick-bottomed pan dry roast the split bengal gram, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, cinnamon and dried red chillies till fragrant. Ideally put in the ingredients in the order mentioned above one after another saving chillies till the last. Roast the rest of the ingredients and put in chillies just before switching off the heat since chillies tend to burn quickly altering the taste and causing a lot of irritable smoke to erupt. Once off the heat let the roasted ingredients cool down. Post cooling down, grind them into a fine paste along with the grated coconut and set aside. Add some water if required to enable smooth grinding.
  • In a large pot/ pan place the peeled and cut pumpkin pieces along with enough water to cover all the pieces. Boil them till just cooked.
  • Add the ground masala and tamarind extract to the boiling pumpkin. Add some salt and jaggery. Mix well and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in the cooked pigeon pea mixture and bring it to a boil. Mix well and do a taste test. Adjust the seasoning and flavours if required. Add chilli powder if desired. Adjust the consistency if required by adding water. Boil it for further 5-7 minutes.
  • For tempering heat the oil in a small pan and add mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds splutter add in asafoetida, broken dried red chillies and curry leaves. Turn off the heat and pour in the hot tempered oil into the mixture cooking above. Mix well and take it off the heat. Sprinkle in the chopped coriander leaves. The sambar is ready! Serve it hot with hot steamed rice!

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