This is getting to be a repetitive sort of beginning to my posts, but I’ll say it anyway – beetroot was not among my favourite vegetables, growing up. I don’t remember if my dad was fond of this vegetable, but I’m pretty certain that my sister and brother would not have countenanced it, same as me. We were – regrettably - very alike in food preferences as children, in the process probably depriving my mother of produce that she liked but couldn’t eat at home – because let’s face it, when you have to cook, day in and day out for an entire family, it’s easier to go with the majority flow than deal with the said family’s collective groans and moans when faced with unpopular vegetables.
In her place I would probably have cooked my favourite items and let everyone else fuss unnoticed in the background – or even in the foreground. But my mother was (and is) much more in touch with her selfless side and she mostly avoided the things that the rest of us wouldn’t eat. Coordinating everybody’s likes and dislikes every single day, at least twice a day, must have been a painful, thankless job, one I would have hated doing. Even now, when I actually like being in the kitchen.
Anyway... where was I? Oh yes, beetroot. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve ventured out of my comfort food zone and tried things that I had disliked for the most part of my life. Pickled beets, beetroot dry curry, beetroot halwa even... I can and do eat all those now. I even cook beetroot at home, braving bright red-stained hands and red-stained cutting mats and sometimes utensils – and the occasional permanently-red-stained article of clothing (and, also, the shock during ablutions the next morning. There have been a few times that I’ve nearly called for an ambulance, only just remembering the previous day’s beetroot ingestion in time to save myself the embarrassment of public stupidity.)
So, a friendly reminder to the occasional beet eaters – remember, you are not bleeding to death from the inside, it’s just the beets doing their thing. (I shall abstain from further elaboration on this point to protect the delicate sensibilities of any readers... but if you eat beets, you will know what I mean!)
Back to what I made with beets this time – sambar! It was surprisingly tasty... vaguely sweet from the beetroot, tangy from the tamarind and spicy because of the red chilli powder with which I boosted the heat quotient, because I was afraid the sambar would otherwise end up actually sweet (ugh).
The jewel-like magenta hue of the sambar was an added bonus for my colour-lovin’ soul.
I ate the sambar over rice (well, what else) paired with spicy bittergourd curry, which added yet another dimension to the taste explosion. All’s to love here, that’s what I say.
Recipe for: Beetroot sambar
3/4 cup tuvar/tur dal
2 medium beetroots, peeled
1 medium onion, minced
2 generous tbsp sambar powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp tamarind paste
2 tsp oil
1 tsp grated ginger root
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp rice flour
3 cups water
6-7 fresh curry leaves (optional)
Salt to taste
Coriander leaves for garnish
1. Pressure-cook the beetroots and the tuvar dal (in separate containers!). Mash the cooked tuvar dal and reserve. Cut the beetroots into 1/2-cm cubes and reserve.
2. Dissolve the tamarind paste and the rice flour in 3 cups water and set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds, curry leaves, asafoetida powder and turmeric powder. Cover and let the seeds pop.
4. Add the chopped onion to the pan and and fry it till it begins to turn soft,
then add the sambar powder and red chilli powder and saute on medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring often. Do not let it burn.
5. Now add the cooked cubed beetroot and stir it well into the masala
then add the tamarind water.
6. Let this come to a boil, then simmer it for 10 minutes or so to let the tamarind blend with the masala.
7. Add 1/4 cup hot water to the cooked tuvar dal and whisk it in to remove any lumps, then add it to the liquid in the pan. Add salt to taste, then stir it all till well blended again.
8. Let the sambar simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let it sit for covered for 15-30 minutes. Just before serving, heat the sambar thoroughly and sprinkle coriander leaves.
Serve hot with steamed rice and any dry curry, with poppadoms or crisps on the side (optional).