CHENNAI: The story goes that the original recipe for sambar a dish which is so intrinsic to Tamil Nadu cuisine can actually be traced to Maratha ruler Shivaji's son. Legend has it that Shivaji's son Sambhaji, who was one of the Maratha rulers, attempted to make dal for himself when his head chef was away. "He added a little tamarind to the dal that he made an the royal kitchen dared to correct him on the fact that tamarind was not used in dal," says S Suresh, Tamil Nadu state convener of Intach, who gave a lecture on Tanjore Maratha history earlier this week. "He loved his own concoction, which was then referred to as sambar," says Suresh, who adds that the other culinary contribution of the Marathas now very popular in Tamil Nadu is 'poli' (sweet roti).
Although Sambhaji's sambhar is more lore than recipe, and there are more than 50 varieties of sambar today, chefs do admit that the Tanjore sambar is still something to be savoured. "While the Samb haji influenced sambhar was more a tamarind soup, the Thanjavur brahmin sambar recipe is mostly followed today where there is no onion and garlic, and the dish is not heavy on spice," says K Natarajan, corporate chef at Gateway Hotels and Resorts. " But even today, the sambar of Tamil Nadu is very different from you find in the state's neighbour Karnataka," says Vasanthan Sigamany , associate professor of food sociology and anthropology at the Welcom Group Graduate School of Hotel Management, Manipal. "In TN, dry powders are used, while in Karnataka they use wet pastes. In Tamil Nadu, in a traditional vegetarian meal, sambar is served first and then rasam, but it is the opposite in Karnataka," he says.
Sigamany adds that while in Tamil Nadu only local vegetables such as drumstick, radish or brinjal are used in the sambar, in other states like Kerala, `English' vegetables that became popular during the British rule in India such as potato and carrot are used.
Over the years, sambar has seen numerous variations. Chef Damu, who specializes in Tamil Nadu cuisine, for instance, says that apart from the 30 varieties of vegetarian sambar that he prepares, he has also flirted with the idea of seafood sambar and chicken sambar, which weren't big hits in south India. "People are still not open to the concept of chicken in their sambar. But to be honest, it is delicious," he says.
But perhaps the most unusual of the sambars that evolved is the `milk sambar', which food blogger and cooking instructor Roma Patil believes evolved in the 1930s, an unusual blend of Maratha and Jain traditions. "In Kolhapur, the Marathas ate a dish called Tambda Rassa, a kind of sambar made from lamb stock. The Rassa was so flavourful and aromat flavourful and aromatic that Jains there thought of adapting it for the Jain palate.
They used milk in stead of lamb stock and that was how milk sambar was made," says Patil, who now lives in Belgaum.
Marathi sambar, but from Thanjavur
Oct 06 2014
Sambar originated in the kitchen of Shahji Bhonsle (1684 to 1711 CE), son of Ekoji, founder of the Maratha rule of Thanjavur and Chhatrapati Shivaji's step-brother.Shahji's greatest contribution was to architecture and literature, especially in Telugu, but he enjoyed dabbling in cooking too. On one occasion, he wanted to eat amti dhal (Maharashtrian dhal), which has kokum as one of its main ingredients. Kokum is a plant belonging to the mangosteen family from the western ghatscoastline. Its outer cover is dried and powdered and used as a slightly sour spice in Maharashtrian cooking.But kokum was out of supply at that time. We don't know whether it was the cooks or Shahji himself who experimented by substituting it with tamarind, but the combination of lentils, vegetables, spices and tamarind was a great success and was first served when Shahji's cousin Sambha or Sambhaji (1657-1689), son of Chhatrapati Shivaji, visited Thanjavur. It was named “Sambhache ahar“ (Sambha's food) or “sambhar“ and became a royal dish at the Thanjavur palace. Thus it was invented in Thanjavur, not in Maharashtra. This story was narrated to me by Pandit Bhim Rao, the late Marathi pandit of the Sarasvati Mahal Library, who referred to a manuscript written in Modi script in which this was recorded. - Nanditha Krishna | Chennai