Arachuvitta sambar: Savour the flavours of Tamil Nadu

Sambar and coconut chutney arranged on black bowls on a wooden background. Photo: iStock/Jelina Preethi

Arachuvitta sambar is a classic Tamil Nadu dish made with lentils and freshly ground spices.

Arachuvitta sambar and Kerala sambar are both popular South Indian dishes, but they have some differences in their preparation and flavone profiles.

In Tamil Nadu, arachuvitta sambar is typically made using a freshly ground spice paste called "arachuvitta masala." "Arachuvitta" literally translates to "ground" in Tamil, indicating the method of preparing the sambar by grinding fresh spices and coconut to create a flavourful masala paste. This spice paste usually consists of ingredients like grated coconut, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, fenugreek seeds, dried red chillies, and lentils, roasted and ground to a smooth paste. However, a classic Kerala sadya sambar does not contain coconut. Although a roasted coconut paste is used in some variants of sambar being cooked at northern districts of Kerala. Arachuvitta sambar's preparation is more similar to 'varutharacha sambar'(roasted coconut paste sambar) from Kerala.

Here is how to prepare it.

For sambar masala:
2 tbsp grated coconut
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
2 dried red chilies
1 tbsp chana dal (split chickpeas)
1 tbsp urad dal (split black gram)
1 tsp oil
For sambar:
1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas), cooked until soft
1 cup mixed vegetables (such as drumsticks, carrots, potatoes, brinjal), chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2-3 green chillies, slit lengthwise
Tamarind pulp extracted from a lemon-sized ball of tamarind
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
A pinch of asafoetida (hing)
2 tbsp oil
Salt to taste

Heat a one teaspoon oil in a pan
Add coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, fenugreek seeds, dried red chilies, chana dal, and urad dal
Roast until the dals turn golden brown
Add grated coconut and roast for another minute
Allow the mixture to cool, then grind it into a fine paste with a little water to make the sambar masala
In a large pot, combine the cooked toor dal and mixed vegetables
Add chopped onion, tomatoes, slit green chillies, and tamarind pulp
Add enough water to cover the vegetables
Bring it to a boil and let it simmer until the vegetables are cooked through
Once the vegetables are cooked, add the ground sambar masala paste to the pot
Stir well to combine and let the sambar simmer for a few more minutes to allow the flavours to meld together
Adjust the consistency by adding more water if needed
In a small pan, heat oil for tempering
Add mustard seeds and let them splutter
Add curry leaves and a pinch of asafoetida
our the tempering over the sambar and mix well
Check for seasoning and add salt as needed
Allow the sambar to simmer for a couple more minutes
Serve hot with steamed rice or idli/dosa for a delicious and authentic Tamil Nadu meal.

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