A south Indian meal is said to be incomplete without a bowl of Sambar. Whether it is to Dip your Dosa, Dunk your Idli or pour over steamed rice, Sambar is really versatile. While it is considered to be a South Indian dish, it actually originated in Maharashtra!
The creation of the heavenly stew can be traced back to the late 17th century. The Marathas ruled a large chunk of the Indian subcontinent back then.
The story begins when Sambhaji Maharaj's head chef went on leave one day. Sambhaji who was Shivaji Maharaj's son decided that he would cook dal for himself. He entered the royal kitchen and started looking for ingredients that he would need to make 'Amti.' Amti is basically a dal that is a little watery and has a tangy taste.
Instead of using Toor Dal, Sambhaji decided to experiment with Toor Dal instead of Moong Dal. To add the tangy flavour, instead of using 'Kokum' Sambhaji added tamarind despite the other chefs telling him that tamarind is never added to Dal. Sambhaji laughed it off saying that he is just experimenting.
The dish was then served to the people in the court who loved the dish so much that they named it Sambar in Sambhaji's order. It is said that the dish slowly made its way into kitchens across the state and eventually made its way to south India where it became a staple dish.
There are many ways to eat sambar. It's a dish that can be paired with anything from Dosas to bread. But I personally like having Sambar with warm rice and achaar on the side. And my procedure is quite elaborate! First I clean my hands all the way up to my wrists because I know there is some sloppy eating that's going to follow.
Now there is a perfect Sambar to Rice I am OCD about. I take about two and a half cups of rice and one cup of Sambar. I also make sure that I serve myself the red chilly that is used for the Tadka. Carefully mix the Sambar with the rice and then squeeze the spicy oil out of the chilly all over the rice which just takes the taste to another level. (Try this and thank me later)
In today's time, there are over 20 different varieties of Sambar in India. I guess most dishes in India are like languages. They change every few kilometres! The base ingredients for Sambar remain the same but a few additions and subtractions are done to alter the dish in different areas. While the Maharashtrian Sambar was a simple concoction, variants in the south have grated coconut and vegetables. Some places add potatoes, eggplants and drumsticks to their Sambar! Since it is served prominently along with almost every mainstream South Indian dish, people believe that it originated from there.
That's the beauty of Indian food. A dish gets invented in a particular state and becomes a staple dish in other states!