Saturday, 5 October 2013

Sambaar Stories



The Udupi restaurant outings of our childhood were very exciting but predictable. 

The excitement came from our fixed fare of a wada-sambaar, masala dosa, followed by a slab of ice cream. I surely must have exclaimed each time that I would love to eat this everyday. The waiters busily and expertly carrying several plates at a time, rarely spilling the sambaar, must have fascinated me. My eyes surely must have followed them, guessing which was our order, lighting up as I recognised our order coming up.

No wonder then, that I got teased. And that was the other thrilling factor - the ritual teasing – when the family would invariably and mercilessly tease me about marrying one of the waiters.

And did I love being teased! First of all, I thought it was a darned good idea to marry someone who worked in this exciting aromatic environment, daily serving dosas and wadas. 

My little mind could not have worked out the logistics of how I would have unlimited access to this stuff, or if the speculative husband would be able to actually cook this stuff. All I thought was - What fun!

Secondly, these prospective beaus my family teased me about (I was all of 6 or 7 years old) were invariably the good-looking Udupi waiters in their smart white uniforms and caps. What a bonus, I would think as I broke off a piece of the crispy dosa and shovelled some of the creamy potato masala onto it.

Years later, this scene was recreated in our favourite haunt, the Venus Udupi Restaurant in Muscat. We all had our favourite sequences of order; the only change ever would be if we ordered the thali. But not for our four year old, who was single-minded in her choice. One would have thought a little child would go for fried or sweet stuff. Or not go in for cooked food at all, like many of my friends’ fussy eater kids.

My youngest would invariably ask only for ‘sambaar-bhaat’. Now there was no such order option on the menu, and the first time on, just as we considered ordering a whole thali for her, our friendly waiter returned with a small plate of rice and a bowl of steaming sambaar. He had quickly gleaned her preference from our discussion and indulged with a smile.

When we got chatting, he told us in a hushed voice of how he and other young men of his ilk from that part of Karnataka made their way to the cities all over India to be employed in restaurants run by enterprising men of their community. If they were lucky, they would get to go overseas – the savings would be better, but their conditions of employment and even visa status would be even more suspect. The men left their families behind, so they could support them with almost all their earnings. After all they had really no expenses, they got their meals at the restaurant and got shoes and a pair of uniforms every year…

It was a revelation; not a very happy one.

But seeing the manner in which this particular person developed a bond with our little one over ‘sambaar-bhaat’ in the course of numerous subsequent visits, giving her that extra drizzle of melted ghee with a generous flourish, brought a lot of happy satisfaction.

The same sort of heartwarming satisfaction that hot ‘sambaar-bhaat’ brings in the tummy.

Sambaar/Huli Pudi (powder)

The sambaar/huli that my mother-in-law makes is exactly like the one that was served in this restaurant.

Happy to present her recipe for sambaar/huli pudi (powder).


¾ cup coriander seeds
1 tbsp chana dal (optional). You can use toor dal as well, but it gives a different flavour.
1 tbsp urad dal (optional)
1/2 tsp methi
1 inch long cinnamon stick
5-6 dried red chillies (or more)
A generous pinch of hing
½ cup desiccated coconut (optional)
1 tbsp oil


Some families don’t use these two daals and some others don’t use desiccated coconut in the masala, preferring to use fresh grated coconut at the time of making the huli dish.

Heat a kadhai and add the oil. Add the coriander seeds, chana dal and urad dal, methi seeds and dried red chillies one after the other and roast until they turn golden brown and give out that savoury aroma. Add the hing and the desiccated coconut and switch off the heat, but keep roasting the masala. The heat is sufficient to toast the coconut a delicate brown. Cool the mixture and then grind it into a slightly coarse powder. Store in an airtight container.

My Huli or Sambaar


1 cup toor dal
2 cups vegetables chopped into largish pieces – I used green beans, bhindi (okra), carrots, pumpkin, potato and mooli (daikon). I didn’t have drumsticks, but they are also a must!
1 small / 2" piece of capsicum (this gives the huli a distinctive taste of the sambaar from Venus restaurant)
1 medium onion- chopped
1 large tomato –chopped
½ teaspoon tamarind concentrate (or more)
1 teaspoon jaggery
2 tablespoons grated coconut
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
7-8 curry leaves
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon ghee
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2-3  dry red chillies, preferably the little round milagai chillies
A large pinch asafoetida
½ teaspoon turmeric
1½ tablespoon huli powder (see recipe above)
Salt to taste


Cook toor dal in a pressure cooker with 2 ½ cups water until soft. Mash the dal well. 

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and add the onions and sauté them for a minute. Add the turmeric. Add all the vegetables, curry leaves and the huli powder and sauté for a few minutes so that the masala gets roasted in the oil along with the vegetables. Now add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are soft and saucy. Add a cup of water, and let the mixture come to a boil. Now add the cooked dal, tamarind, jaggery, coconut and salt and adjust all tastes. Add more water to adjust the consistency you want, allowing for a bit of reduction after boiling.

When the huli/sambaar reaches a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked and stewed and the surface is frothy. Add a teaspoon of ghee, chopped coriander. 

Finish with a mustard seeds-hing, dry red chillies tempering (tadka) made with two tablespoons of oil. 

Serve hot with idly, wada, dosa, upma, uthappa  - and don’t forget – it’s the best with steamed rice and a drizzle of melted ghee.


  1. Shruti, is this the recipe for Udupi style sambar?

    1. Mohit, this is the recipe for a sambaar that tastes almost exactly like the one served at Venus Udupi Restaurant! I haven't tasted the temple sambaar of Udupi - without onions, so I really wouldn't know what the generic udupi sambaar is! :)

  2. Lovely looking Sambar Shruti. I will try it soon. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Anshie! Do let me know how it turns out... :)

  3. Wonderful write up as usual! And lovely recipe :)


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