I was really interested in this onion sambar from holy cow!. Onions are always the supporting character, and here they were as the protagonist. That said... I wasn't crazy about this dish. There is so much coriander seed in it that I felt like that was all I could taste. Also, I couldn't find the special pearl onions that Vaishali says have a different flavor.
Onion Sambar or Vengaya Sambar
(from holy cow!)
1 cup tuvar dal or split pigeon peas
1 tbsp of tamarind extract mixed with 1 cup of water
½ tsp turmeric
3 tsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 dry red chillies
1 tbsp chana dal or bengal gram dal
¼ tsp dry fenugreek seeds (methi)
2 cups red pearl onions, ends trimmed and papery skins peeled. Tamil cooks sometimes soak the onions overnight which makes it easier to slip the skins off.
1 sprig of curry leaves (about 12 individual leaves)
1 tsp mustard seeds
A generous pinch of hing or asafetida
Salt to taste
- Mix the lentils and turmeric, add water and cook until tender in a pressure cooker. Or cover the peas with an inch of water in a pot and bring to a boil, then slap on a lid, lower to simmer, and boil for 30-45 minutes or until the peas are tender enough to mash. Add more water if needed as they cook.
- Prepare the ground masala by heating 1 tsp of oil. Add to it the coriander seeds, chana dal, fenugreek seeds and chillies and saute until the coriander seeds and dal turn a few shades darker and are lightly golden-brown. Remove to a blender, add enough water to keep the blades moving, and process to a smooth paste.
- Heat 1 tsp of the oil, add the pearl onions and stir-fry until the start to turn golden. Add the tamarind extract and let the mixture cook about 8 minutes.
- Add the ground masala and stir well to mix. Add the cooked tuvar dal and bring everything to a boil.
- Lower the heat to a simmer, add salt to taste, and let the sambar cook for 10 minutes so all the flavors have a chance to meld together.
- To temper the sambar– an important flavor-building step– heat the last teaspoon of oil in a small saucepan and add the mustard seeds. When they crackle, add the asafetida and curry leaves. Fry for a few seconds, turn off the heat, and pour over the sambar. Mix well. Serves 8.