The 5 minutes Sambar


Being a south Indian, sambar is our staple curry. I can make a pot of sambar , serve with rice for lunch and then serve with idlis or dosas for dinner, or serve with vadas for appetizers ,or as lentil soup, it is truly multi-purpose. Made with lentils and vegetables , it ranks high on nutritional value too. To make sambar in traditional way is not at all complicated, cook your lentils, cook your vegetables, add tamarind and sambar powder, add your favorite seasoning, temper with some ghee…..and that is all there is to it. But the lentils do take some time to cook, so it is not something you can make when you are trying to fix a meal in 10 minutes.

This quick sambar recipe replaces dal (lentils) with powdered split chickpeas (pottukadalai / roasted gram). Pottukadalai (fried gram) is the split and roasted chickpeas. Roasting is not done with oil, but done by applying high pressure (similar to how puffed rice is made). It is the most easily digestible form of chickpeas, porridge made out of this form of chick peas is a popular baby food. I encourage my kids to eat this roasted gram as such, a good source of protein yet mild on their stomachs.

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Ok, now to make this quick sambar, you will need :

  1. Pearl Onions – 7 or 8 (quartered)
  2. Tomatoes – 1 large or 2 medium
  3. Green chilli – 1 (slit)
  4. Cilantro – a good bunch
  5. Curry leaves – few
  6. Pottukadalai (Roasted gram) – 1 tbsp
  7. Tamarind water – 2 tbsp (diluted)
  8. Turmeric – 1 tsp
  9. Sambar powder – 2 to 3 tsp
  10. Salt to taste
  11. Vellam / Jaggery / Brown sugar – 1 tsp
  12. Mustard seeds, urad dal and ghee – 1/2 tsp each (to temper)

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  • Powder the roasted gram, this will only take a few seconds and it becomes a fine powder very quickly.

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  • Now dilute this 1 tbsp of powder with about half a cup of water.

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  • In a pot, heat a spoon of oil and saute the onions, tomatoes, green chillies, curry leaves and cilantro.

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  • When the onions and tomatoes soften add the tamarind water, turmeric, sambar powder, brown sugar and salt. Tamarind is optional, you can just add more tomatoes instead. Also if you don’t have sambar powder , use chilli powder and coriander powder.

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  • Add about half a cup of water and bring the curry to boil, and then mix in the diluted gram powder solution.

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  • You will see the sambar thickening within seconds. Bring the sambar to a good boil. Check for seasoning, add salt if needed.

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  • In a separate pan, heat 1/2 tsp of ghee and fry the mustard seed and urad dal and add it to the sambar.

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  • Remove from heat and serve. The neat thing is you can make this sambar while your idlis are steaming .  You might have already tasted this sambar, because it is a popular restaurant trick 🙂 (why wouldn’t they ? it is both cost effective and time effective). I still make my sambar the traditional way with dal (lentils), but this quick sambar recipe is good to have in your arsenal for one of those crazy busy days !

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P.S. – While you can use besan (garbanzo flour) instead of the roasted gram powder, I prefer the latter.

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Apple Chutney (Apple thokku)


Is it raining apples in your place ?? It is….in mine 🙂 Though I love apples in any form, shape and color, be it red delicious, gala, fuji, empire…I am a die-hard granny smither 🙂 The perfectly tart , mildly sweet, crunchy party in my mouth. A sprinkle of salt and red chilli powder on the slices of  a granny smith can take me back to my school days, when breaks were about devouring the green mango wedges generously rubbed with salt and chilli powder.  So, I was thinking , why not make the traditional “Manga thokku” using green apples. Few years back I learned to make Green Mango thokku from a friend’s mother-in-law. I extended that recipe to the green apples now and it turned out awesome… !

Thokku is usually served with yogurt rice or dal rice. The spicy and tart thokku compensates for the mild rice. However, it can also be used as a spread for breads and wraps. I made mine super spicy and super tart, if you would prefer a milder version, reduce the spices and use a less tart apple.

  • I used two granny smith apples and an 1 inch piece of ginger.

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  •  Peel and grate the apples. Also grate the ginger.

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  • To season, you’ll need :
  1. Turmeric – 2 tsp.
  2. Red chilli powder – 3 or 4 tsp.
  3. Garam Masala – 2 tsp (Pumpkin pie spice mix can be used otherwise)
  4. Ground black pepper – 1tsp.
  5. Brown Sugar (vellam) – 1 tbsp.
  6. Grated ginger – 2tsp.
  7. Salt to taste

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  • Heat 2 tbsp. of oil in a pot and fry the grated ginger.

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  • Then add the grated apples and saute.

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  • Saute for a minute and when the juices come out add all the spices.

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  • Mix well and continue to cook until the raw smell of the masalas go away and the chutney thickens and becomes glossy.

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This is a flavor packed multi-purpose chutney, just one drop is sure to awaken all your taste buds.

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Guacamole


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There are countless Indian movies with story lines in which boy meets girl, girl hates boy, boy tries to woo the girl over and over and finally the girl falls head over heels for the boy and they live happily ever after 🙂 . Happened in my life too, except that the boy was the sexy green avocado. Long long ago, so long ago after listening to so many stories about the awesomeness of guacamole, finally came the day when I could actually taste it.  “Disappointment” doesn’t begin to describe how I felt that day. All I tasted was the avocado baby food, completely mashed with no identifiable flavors, I kept searching for some acid to cut the creaminess but in vain. I couldn’t help but wonder if there is something wrong with my taste buds as I was unable to appreciate this widely popular dip. I was cautiously staying away from it for a long time. But luckily it was one of those “first day, worst day” kind of deals. Since then, every guacamole I tasted has been better than its previous version. Over time I figured out the DNA for a good guacamole : chunky texture, lots of acid, spicy kicks and crunchy onions , and most of all, keeping it pure and not contaminating with sour cream and similar stuff.

I am always looking for new guacamole recipes and the latest one I tried was Alton Brown’s recipe. The cumin made me curious, I tried it , loved it and here it is 🙂

  • To add to the avocados , you’ll need :
  1. Red onions – 1 medium, finely chopped
  2. Plum tomatoes – 2 medium
  3. green chillies – 2, finely chopped
  4. Jalapeno – 1 , cut thin
  5. Lime – 1 (more if you like more acid)
  6. minced garlic – 2 tsp
  7. chopped cilantro

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  • The above quantities are for two ripe avocados. Scoop out the flesh of two ripe avocados.  Add the juice of 1 lime. Crush 2 tsp of black pepper and 1/2 tsp of cumin and 1/2 tsp of fennel (fennel is my two cents 🙂 ) and add to the avocados and also add salt.

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  • Gently mash the avocados with a fork (no baby food 🙂 ) and add the other ingredients to the avocados. Gently mix and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

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Thus, the guacamole I couldn’t stand once became my favorite dip for chips. I find tomato salsa to be too acidic , while guacamole offers the perfect balance of acid and creaminess.

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Wondering how you can use the familiar guacamole in a novel way ??  Check out MyFoodTapestry’s yummy guacamole sandwiches 🙂 .

Puli Molaga (Hot chillies in tamarind sauce)


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These beautiful red chillies came from my neighbor’s garden (She generously supplies her garden veggies throughout summer).  So gorgeous….so hot 🙂 I love adding them in all my cooking from upma to fried rice.  A few days back my neighbor’s son walked in with the handful of these and said ” I want you to have this, they are special because these are the last chillies in the plant”. Thank God for these beautiful children filled up with so much love 🙂 I promised him I will make something special with his special chillies.

Puli Molaga is a simple side made by cooking the chillies in  tamarind sauce. You can think of it as the south Indian salsa and it is a multi purpose side that can be served with rice, rotis, idli/dosa or as a spread for breads and wraps.

  • You will need a cup of pearl onions. If they are smaller in size , you can add them as whole. The pearl onions I had were bigger in size, so I quartered them. Cut the chillies in half inch pieces. You will also need some curry leaves.

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  • For seasoning , you will need :
  1. Mustard seeds
  2. Urad dal
  3. fenugreek seeds
  4. turmeric powder
  5. jaggery / vellam / brown sugar
  6. Asafoetida / hing

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  • Soak tamarind in water. The longer you soak , the more you can get out of the tamarind. Ideally, you soak it for a couple of hours before you need it. I almost always forget to do that, so I just soak the tamarind in water and heat in the microwave for 45 seconds. This softens the tamarind and makes it easier to get the juice out.

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  • Dilute the tamarind juice with water. It is hard to correctly predict how much “puli” (tamarind) you will need. I always try to make more than enough and store the rest in the fridge and try to use it within a couple of days.

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  • Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan.  Fry the mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add the urad dal. When the dal turns to golden brown, add the fenugreek. Then fry the curry leaves and the chillies.

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  • Saute the pearl onions.  You can use shallots instead of pearl onions too.

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  • When the onions soften , pour in the tamarind juice.

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  • Add salt, turmeric, asafoetida and jaggery (brown sugar) to the curry. Adjust salt and brown sugar accordingly so that there is a perfect balance of heat, sweet, sour and salt.

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  • Allow the curry to boil and reduce. Do not cover with lid. Any time you need to boil tamarind solution (for any recipe) you should not cover the pan with lid.

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  • Cook until the curry thickens and the oil separates.

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As I mentioned earlier, this can be served with steamed rice, breads, rotis and wraps. My favorite part of this dish is the onions, soft and juicy soaked in all the spices…..I just keep digging for them 🙂

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Green Pasta


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No, its not halloween and this is not one of Dr.Seuss’s recipes 🙂 Its just pasta with some stir fried green veggies and a simple green chutney.

  • I am using angel hair pasta. Any pasta , noodles or vermicelli will do. Cook the pasta according to box instructions. Image
  • To make the green chutney you will need a bunch of mint leaves and a bunch of cilantro. If you get cilantro with thin stems, use the stems too as they are packed with flavor.

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  • You will also need green chillies and ginger.

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  • Heat oil in a pan  and saute the green chillies and ginger and then saute the mint and cilantro.

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  • Allow them to cool for a couple of minutes and then grind them to a chutney. Add little water if needed.

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  • For the stir fry I am using green peppers and green peas. I also have one jalapeno, seeds removed and thinly sliced.

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  • Heat oil in the pan and saute the veggies.

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  • Add the pasta to the pan for a quick saute.

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  • Add the green chutney and mix well.

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  • Keep mixing until every angel hair has its good share of the chutney.

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Sprinkle some parmesan if you wish. (This is a very simple recipe with the basic green chutney. The chutney is multi purpose, it can be used in sandwiches, wraps or even as salad dressing.)

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Tomato Chutney


Two ingredients. Two steps….. A chutney that is too good.

  • Red chillies, Campari tomatoes cut in half. (Any thin skinned tomatoes will work)

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  • In a wok, heat 3 tsp. of oil and roast the red chilles.

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  • Keep the roasted chillies aside and in the same wok, place the tomatoes in a single layer, with the cut side facing up. Roast for 3-4 minutes.

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  • Turn the tomato halves and roast for another 5 minutes.

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  • Flip one more time if needed and roast thouroughly.

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  • Grind the roasted red chillies and the roasted tomatoes with salt to a paste. Serve the chutney with dosas or idlis or puris. You can also spread the chutney on bread and toast it.

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Idli podi (or molaga podi or chammandhi podi or..)


Call it any name , the taste never fails. I’ve always loved the combination of idli and podi(who doesn’t), this particular recipe is from my mom’s mom. This is more intense, more flavorful and more salivating 🙂 There are a few brands of podi available in stores (in NJ that is, I am sure there are more options in India), but I usually find them to be either very mild or they look very reddish as if the red chillies are raw. This recipe is very simple, so I always make it at home.
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If you just want a basic podi…these are the only ingredients you need.
Urad dhal – 1 cup (you can use urad dhal without the peel too)
Channa dhal – 1 cup
dry red chillies – 2cups (loosely packed)
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These are just embellishments that add more layers of flavor. You don’t have to add these for a simple podi. If you are adding sesame seeds, the shelf life is less.Sesame seeds (black, brown or white) – 1 cup ; Garlic cloves – a few
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Heat a pan and dry toast the lentils (urad dhal and channa dhal). Do not add oil, just toast them dry for a few minutes, until you get the flavor and the urad dhal becomes slightly pinkish.(Make sure to keep stirring to avoid burnt lentils).Image
Set the toasted lentils aside. Heat 1 tsp of oil and toast the chillies until they slightly change in color (again no burning).
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Toast the sesame seeds in a tsp of oil.
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Roast the garlic in a tsp of oil.
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Let everything cool down for atleast 30 minutes. Then dry grind it to a coarse powder.
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Add salt only after grinding. The right texture should be like beach sand, if you add salt while grinding, it will add moisture.
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Hot idlis, podi, sesame oil and a cup of good Madras coffee…..mmmm….what a wonderful life !!
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You can also add podi to spice up the idli upma.
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Make “crispy idli fingers” (cut the idlis into finger shaped pieces and coat them with the podi and oil mix and shallow fry them. You won’t believe how crisp they come out.)Image