For many of us, family moments trigger memories of food and dinner tables. That’s certainly the case with me, with absolutely no indifference.
I can always tell when my mother has cooked food in the family kitchen or has it been someone else stirring the cauldron. It is the smell of ghee roasted broken wheat for a lapsi, or peanuts for the sabudana(sago) khichadi or coconut and onions for her secret spice mix for curries. The scent alone delivers a rush of childhood memories for me.
Food has always been an important part of my family. But since dad was diagnosed with cancer few years ago, food had taken on an especially central and complicated role in our lives. The saltiness, spice levels were all heavily controlled. His incredible doctors had been in charge of deciding his food patterns along with his medications. But my mother, always ended up making specials for each one of us, not extending her favouritism or attention to either family members.
My mother was born and brought up in the heart of Mumbai adjoining one of the largest vending zones of Dadar. Her neighbourhood was a huge melting pot of cultures and food dynamics. She learnt many food items from them. Her best friend and then neighbour, was a Mangalorean. Her mother rubbed off a lot of her cooking traits on my mother,then.
My mother did not start to cook until she was 25. In the beginning, it was very difficult for her and cooked very minimalistic and had a very peculiar style of Gujrati cooking, considering her background. Therefore, she had to take cooking classes to prepare meals for my father, who had great liking for good, wholesome and spicy food. After, discussing recipes with friends, office colleagues and her new found tutor, she developed a liking and soon started formulating her own recipes.
I owe my basic kitchen know how to my mother, who taught me literally how to hold a knife while I was all of 8 .Today, I am determined to preserve one of my favorite things in life – my mother’s recipes and the many childhood memories that go with it. One such memory is that of a ‘Sambar’. I hated it because that is one thing that she made the best. So then, why did I so hate it? Because, when she started professionally training herself under the guidance of a home cook, this is something she made four times a week, out of sheer desire of being appreciated for something so tasty and tantalizing. Initially the home would smell like a authentic restaurant kitchen, but over weeks and then months she almost drove me mad with the smell in our home. But today, I crave for that the most.
Years later I got married and moved into our new home a few miles away from my mother’s home. Today whenever, we meet for lunches at her home, we request for the same mum-cooked meals that filled our home, then, with so many memories.
Extracting this recipe out of her was the easiest, as she loves sharing her recipes. What was difficult was reaching the levels of her tasty, well balanced and pronounced ‘Sambar’!
Drumstick – 1 no.
Shallot – 10 small
Tomatoes – 1
Hot green chili – 2
Salt – as required
Pigeon pea – 200 grams
Tamarind – 1 small lemon
Coriander leaves – a handful
Ghee- 1 tsp
Coconut oil – 2 tbsp
Mustard seed – 1 tsp
Cumin seed – 1 tsp
dry red chili – 1 nos
Fenugreek seed – ¼ tsp
Garlic – 3 cloves
Curry leaves – 5 nos
Asafetida- 1/8th tsp
Cook the Pigeon pea by adding water until they soften.
Cut drum stick into inch and half long pieces.
Make 1 cup of tamarind juice with water.
Now in pan heat oil, add mustard seed, cumin seed, hot dry chili, fenugreek seed, curry leaves, asafoetida, until the mustard seed splatter.
Now add the sambhar powder and salt and cook for 2 min. Now add a cup of water and cook for a while say 3-4 min.
Now add the cooked dal and chopped tomatoes and coriander, cook till the uncooked smell of masalas goes away. This is the only step which is an acquired sensory. As a rough estimate, lower the flame and let the sambhar simmer for 12-15 minutes. Jaggery has been deliberately omitted but a spoonful can be added, depending on your balance of taste.
Now, the question is where is the secret? The secret lies in not using store-bought sambhar masala but grinding one’s own and freezing it for its longetivity.
Coriander seeds- 1 cup full
Mustard seeds- 1 tsp
Cumin seeds- 1 ½ tsp
Fenugreek seeds- 2 tsp
Bedgi chillies dry- 12 nos
A handful of grated and roasted dry coconut
Curry leaves- a handful
Asafoetida- 3/4th tsp
Turmeric powder- ½ tsp
Well, today the secret is out of the box and I assure the same scent that still has me smiling and asking for more!
One more piece of advice from her, “Make it a day before you intend to serve it and experience the flavour development, yourself”.
Now this can only come from an expert!
Thank you Mummy for everything you do in your ways ! Truly indebted for a lifetime ! You are the best mother and an awesome grand mother. And you know I mean every word I speak.
Love you always !