Cut pumpkin and eggplants into smaller cubes and okra into 1-2 inch long pieces.
Slice onion and dice tomato. Slit open green chili pepper.
1 Onion, 1 Tomato, 1-3 piece Green Chili
To cook your sambar
Heat up a deep pan like the Indian Kadai (cooking pot or wok will do too) over a medium to high heat setting and pour in oil. Wait for the oil to get hot but don't allow it to smoke.
2 Tablespoon Mustard Oil or Vegetable Oil
Throw in mustard seeds, curry leaves, whole red chili peppers and asafoetida. Temper (stir cook over high heat) for less than a minute or until you can smell the spices unfolding.
1 Teaspoon Brown Mustard Seeds, 12 piece Curry Leaves, 1-3 piece dried red Chilli, ½ Teaspoon Asafoetida
Reduce the heat a bit and add the sliced onion. Mix and cook onions tender.
Stir in ginger and garlic paste. Stir cook for a minute or so.
½ Tablespoon Ginger and Garlic Paste
Season with red chili pepper powder and ground coriander seed powder. Mix and cook over a higher heat setting.
1 Tablespoon Red Chili Pepper, 1 Tablespoon Coriander Seeds ground
Add your vegetables, pumpkin, eggplant, and okra. Stir cook over high heat until they get a bit soft and they are coated with spices.
Make some space in your pan and add the diced tomatoes. Season with salt.
Cover your pan and cook the veggies soft for 5-10 minutes or a medium heat setting.
Uncover and mix up your vegetables.
Stir in your cooked lentils. Mix well and keep the heat over medium to high.
Pour in the water and prepared tamarind water. Season with sambar masala powder. Combine the ingredients.
Cook your sambar uncovered for at least 20 more minutes. You can leave it to simmer over a slow heat setting and a longer period of time too (the flavors would develope better).
We used split moong dal lentils in the video. Most commonly sambar is prepared with dried split pigeon peas but you can of course mix lentils or switch them. You can also add split chana dal (split chickpeas. Dal means lentils in Hindi.
The lentils need to be soaked or else they will take longer to cook through. But you can speed up the process by skipping soaking and cooking the lentils in a pressure cooker until they are cooked through and soft.
Turmeric is added to the boiling process to bring out the flavors and to make the colors pop.
Tamarind paste or pulp can be used. It's easier to use pulp because it's already clear from fibers.
We choose pumpkin, eggplant, and okra for this sambar recipe because these vegetables are easily available anywhere but you can also add drumstick pods (moringa pod) if you can get it. Carrots can be added too or other vegetables such as turnips, kohlrabi, tender pigeon pea pods.
Okra normally gets a bit slimy when cut open, which is normal, but due to the addition of an acid (in this case tamarind), the slime will get dissolved.
We use a large purple onion but if you can get small tender white onions to use that. In Tamil Nadu they use small madras onion (yep that's how they are called).
Adding green chilis is optional. It adds little heat to the dish.
Mustard oil adds a nice nutty tangy flavor to your sambar. If you don't get that, you can use regular vegetable oil too, or sunflower or canola oil.
The spices are tempered which means they are fried in the oil to bring out all the flavors. This is a quick process, so don't over temper them because spices like mustard seeds can turn bitter if you temper them for more than say a minute.
Don't skip on the spices in this recipe. Each has a purpose and combined they make a sambar great. Asafoetida is a resin spice, it's unique and can't be substituted. Dried red chilis can be skipped but I recommend you use something like Kashmiri chilis, which are not that spicy hot. Thai dry red chilis are hotter than Kashmiri chili. Curry leaves should be used fresh only, but I know how hard it is to get them fresh outside India, so dry ones can be used to.
Ginger and Garlic paste can be substituted with finely chopped or grated ginger and garlic. The ratio is 2:1 Garlic:Ginger.
Sambar powder is a blend of ground spices, an Indian masala. It's essential in this recipe. Buy or make it from scratch.
Reheated sambar curry always tastes better, making this a great meal if you have leftovers.