My Date with Sambar!
Spoiler alert: This is not for those who have read my daughter’s status on Facebook! J
“Shall I make some dal (lentils) today?” I asked my daughter, Priyanka, who is a true-blue carnivore, quite expecting to be turned down. Chicken curry is more to her taste, after all.
I was pleasantly surprised when she answered, “No, Ma, make sambar instead!” So off I whizzed, all my maternal instincts oozing, as I set out to make a spicy, flavoursome dish for the children. The one thing I had to look out for was the fact that the spices in South Africa often wilted before those in India. So I needed to put double the quantities, and pray to the Almighty while I was about it as well!
Is it Murphy’s Law that warns one that if something has to go wrong, it will? Canny old soul, this Murphy! He certainly knew his business, and that of everyone else, as well, considering the number of times his name gets invoked in a day around the world.
So there I was, humming as I pared potatoes and onions and washed the oily South African lentils. Trust me, I have no idea why they are oily. The potatoes were because my son-in-love, Varun, does not approve of lady’s finger, brinjal, drumstick or any similar veggie in his sambar!
That didn’t really matter because the pressure cooker I used had a mind stronger than mine apparently because it refused to open its mouth and whistle. Must have been one of its blue days, I guess!
By the time I realized that the cooker was not feeling like itself, and opened it in a hurry, the lentils were a soggy mess and the potatoes and the onions had quite disappeared. I fished around desperately for them, but there was no sign of them.
The tamarind, which I had cleverly soaked earlier, was now ready to be added to the lentils, along with all the masalas, including the sambar powder, and I chucked everything in, hoping that they would all find their own niches, and transform my sambar into a delicious cornucopia. After all, appearances weren’t everything!
Moments later, as I pored over the boiling cauldron, I sensed trouble afoot. The lentils had apparently swallowed in the spices and the tamarind, but the colours remained bland and unappetizing. I dared to put in a spoon and taste the mixture, and oh blimey, the whole thing tasted sweet. Obviously the tamarind needed a glucose drip to make it stronger and sourer.
In went lime juice and vinegar, followed by red chilli powder and the sambar powder, as I kept tasting and adding, much akin to the old tale of the monkey and the cats.
Finally the mustard seeds went in, albeit unwillingly, hanging on desperately to the curry leaves and the red chillis. The asafoetida sneezed, the salt blushed and even the dollop of ghee on top refused to make the dish sing! (I had stopped singing by then!)
My poor daughter tasted the so-called sambar and smiled weakly. “Ma, it is a little sweet, but otherwise, it is nice!” (Isn’t ‘nice’ simply the worst word in the English dictionary? It can mean anything from bad to bland, and everything in between.) I didn’t blame her, of course, for she had the decency to add, “This is how the sambar here tastes!”
Varun came in like a lion all prepared to enjoy the sambar, a favourite of his. I stayed away, even as I heard some cupboards being opened and shut. He came out of the kitchen, like a little lamb, quite chastened at the sight of the sambar. When I apologized, he said, “Don’t worry, Mama! It’s nice!!! I added more salt and lemon juice to it!”
That night, as I was clearing away the dishes, and putting things into the refrigerator, I noticed the packet of tamarind on the counter. As I picked it up to put it into the cupboard, my heart sank. For there in bold letters were the words – Pitted Dates! I had actually been idiotic enough to put dates instead of tamarind in my sambar, oh blimey!
As Priyanka and Varun guffawed and little Zoya wondered at the hilarity, the latter had already posted the incident on Facebook as her status. And before I could even blush, around ten people had already read it and added their own reactions! J News does get around fast, doesn’t it, especially if it is of the comic variety!
Later on, when on my couch I lay, as the poet put it, “in vacant or in pensive mood”, my date sambar flashed “upon that inward eye”. A vignette from the movie Sholay came to mind.
“Arrey oh Sambar, kitne dates thhey?”
“Poore adha kilo, Sarkar!”
It was time to call it a night!