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Sambhar powder is a spice blend used throughout India, especially the southern states. As the name suggests it is used to make Sambhar, a broth made with vegetables and cooked lentils flavoured with tamarind pulp and sambhar powder. It is eaten with rice or snacks like dosa, idli and vada.
Each state in the South prepares it with a typical variation, adapted to its taste and environment. Likewise, every family has its own sambhar powder recipe, with ingredients proportioned according to the level of spiciness preferred by them. However, these days the availability of ready to use sambhar powder has made sambhar preparation easier and faster.
Some common ingredients in sambhar powder are toor dal, red chillies, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorn, fenugreek seeds, turmeric and dry curry leaves. The ingredients are either sun-dried for a few days or dry-roasted (individually) till aromatic, and then ground in a mixer-grinder or from a professional miller.
How to select
• While sambhar powder is readily available in stores these days, it can also be prepared at home.
• Several brands like MTR and Everest sell sambhar powder.
• If buying readymade powder, feel the pack for lumps (a sign of moisture), check the seal of the package, as well as the manufacturing and expiry dates to ensure freshness.
• If preparing at home, buy good quality spices and sort them to remove contaminants before proceeding with the process of drying/ roasting and grinding them.
• Sambhar powder is used to prepare a south Indian delicacy called sambhar.
• In order to make sambhar, first the vegetables are cooked in water along with tamarind pulp, sambhar powder, turmeric powder, salt and asafoetida. Once the vegetables turn soft, cooked and mashed dal (and optionally a paste of coconut) is added to the mixture and cooked together for a few minutes. Finally, a tempering of mustard seeds, red chillies and fenugreek seeds in coconut oil is added to the sambhar, which is garnished with finely chopped curry and coriander leaves before serving.
• A wide variety of vegetables may be added to sambhar. Typical vegetables include okra, carrot, radish, pumpkin, potatoes, tomatoes, brinjal, and whole or halved shallots or onions.
• Sambhar powder can also be added to curries, vegetable dishes, soups or stews toward the end of cooking to impart a typical south Indian flavour to the dish.
How to store
• Store sambhar powder in an airtight container and keep it in a cool dark place.
• If you have prepared in bulk, avoid opening the main container every day. Keep a smaller quantity separately for everyday use and keep refilling as it gets used up. This will help retain the aroma for longer.
• Since the sambhar powder is added only in small quantities, it does not have substantial health benefits.
• However, the use of peppercorns, cumin and coriander are known to improve digestion and immune functions.