Step by step making of Arachhu utta sambar OR Fresh Sambar – Lentils & vegetables in tamarind, coconut sauce

Sambar made with green brinjals

(The meanings to the italiced words are given at the end of the post. It would have been blasphemous to replace those words with translations for they would not have done justice to the meanings they convey in the original language – Tamil!). Sorry for the inconvenience caused to readers!

Aracchu utta sambar – The name is so musical it sounds like poetry rather than gibberish even if one does not know the language, doesn’t it? (The first word is similar in sound to Picchu as in Machu-Picchu!) I like mouthing it and listening to the words as they form on my lips and in my mind, because it brings back a sea of memories and the taste, smell and flavor of a warm kitchen.

I see my periamma’s face as she grinds the coconut, roasted pulses and aromatic coriander seeds in her aattu-kallu(grinding stone). She would rhythmically gather the coarse paste with her fingers, pushing them further into the center of the rolling stone and run the obelix shaped stone hard against the spices, crushing them to bring out the flavor and form a smooth paste. There is a charm about the movement of the hands, the grating sounds of the stone as it goes round and round that one cannot describe or enjoy while grinding in a mixer. I will always miss these sounds that have got lost with the advent of machines though I do love the way they make my life easier!

Since we were constantly changing places every year my mother soon did away with our small black grinding stone. The taste of her sambar is every sip as tasty as the one that comes from the stone but the images get superimposed ever so often!

I generally prepare the easier version that does not require coconut and is made with ready sambar powder. Whenever a bout of nostalgia hits I make ‘aracchu utta sambar’. The taste must be quite like my Mum’s because my daughter often calls it ‘pati’s sambar’. This Summer when I had been to Bangalore, I got my mother to part with all her mundane, routine recipes and practically irked her! “Wouldn’t you like something more exotic?” she would ask. “No, I just want something that will bring back memories of the aattu-kallu music to everybody else,” I would reply. She found it ridiculous but relented as she always does! To me mundane stuff with lovely visuals is more exotic than exotic food with no visuals!

Come, let’s visualise the making of a simple sambar. I hope you see the hands that push the stone, that fed the family with love and that….. rocked the cradle! (Just to end it with something nice!)

Name of the dish: Aracchu utta sambar (A mix of lentils and vegetables in a tangy, soupy gravy)
Yield: 4-5 gluts
Time taken:30minutes including the time needed for grinding masala
Source: My mother

First soak a lime sized ball of tamarind before proceeding to the next step.

Ingredients and method for the masala:

Arachhu utta sambar whole spices
Masala for sambar

Coriander seeds / Saboot Dhania – 3tsp.
Bengal gram / Chana dal – 1.5tsp.
Dry red chillies – 5 bedgi chillies (3 if using spicy variety)
Fenugreek seeds / Methi dana – 1/4tsp. level (Do not increase as it makes the sambar bitter)
Asafoetida / Hing powder – A generous pinch
Oil – 1/8tsp.
Fresh grated coconut – 3tbsp.

Ingredients for the gravy:
A lime sized ball of tamarind
A cup of diced vegetables. Vegetables are usually diced into slightly big cubes for sambar – about 2sqcm. in size. If using onions, slice thick. Brinjals need to be quartered lengthwise to about 1.5 inches.
1 cup cooked tuvar dal or pigeon peas.

A tsp. of sesame oil
A tsp. of mustard seeds
A sprig of curry leaves
2-3 red chillies

Preparation of the spices:
Heat a seasoning wok or small pan with the oil. When just hot, roast the dal till pink. Roast all the other ingredients separately till the chillies turn dark, methi turns a shade and the hing exudes its characteristic aroma.

Arachhu utta sambar masala
The ground paste

Mix the roasted ingredients with fresh coconut well and grind with very little water to form an almost smooth paste. Set aside and proceed with the next step.

Extract the tamarind juice using not more than a cup of water.

Saute the vegetables slightly in a drops of oil to get rid of any sliminess especially when using okra. Cook the vegetables in the tamarind extract alongwith a little salt and turmeric powder till just cooked through.

Tranfer to another vessel. Add the cooked pulses and ground spice paste. Add water to bring to the consistency of soup.

Bring to a boil. Remove. Heat a seasoning wok or small pan with 1/2 tsp. sesame oil. Splutter mustard seeds followed by rest of the seasonings. Pour and watch the sambar sizzle and take in the aroma!

Drumsticks and onion sambar
Drumsticks and onion sambar

Vegetables generally used for sambar:

How to cut drumsticks
Cutting drumsticks for sambar

Okra (Cut into 1 inch cylinders)
Small onions (shallots in whole but peeled!)
Okra and onions together

Arachhu utta sambar with onions and drumsticks chopped

Potatoes, tomatoes and capsicum together.
Radish or turnips make a very delicious sambar by imparting characteristic tang
Raw podded groundnuts (not a favourite with me!)
Drumstick leaves (considered a delicacy)
Colocassia or arbi. I love this one!

Arachhu utta sambar with rice
Sambar with rice

Glossary to Tamil words used in this post:

Arachhu utta sambar
Arachchu – Ground, utta – poured, sambar – the name of a dish made with lentils, masala and vegetables.

Periamma – Older sister of a parent, an aunt.

aattu-kallu – grinding stone used in earlier days instead of an electric mixer. It was a larger version of a pestle and mortar. See the picture here.

Pati – grandma

Palaharam – Many South Indians prefer a light tiffin at night rather than a full dinner. This is called palaharam and it is usually had early in the evening by 7:00p.m.


The spicy sambar goes to Sia for MLLA-15 started by Susan.

—————————————————-Some similar delights in this blog:
Bisi belebath | Dal Tadka | Ginger Lemon Soopa (Vegan spicy soup)
Thakkali Rasam / Tomato Rasam
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Have your say

  1. Pavithra Kodical

    Hmmmm flavorful sambar.Looks delicious.I read about MLLA 15 in Sia's blog today,and i see you have already posted a recipe for the event 🙂

  2. very nice, pics are amazing, i love arachhu utta sambar what you said about ammi kallu is amazing, according to me, i still pester my mom to prepare the paste using it, i always feel it gives a different taste than the mixies, the ambodes are great when you make it from that kallu, looks yummy…

  3. Have been busy with so many things, its been a while since I visited my regular blogs.

    We call this "varatharaitcha sambhar" ! 🙂
    My daughter got to see an ammi kallu and aatu kallu when we were in Cochin! Those days are now the stuff of stories.

  4. Hi Sunshinemom, nice, unusual presentation of the sambar, first time I've actually seen it in a cup or an uruli, is that what's called an uruli, the bronze vessel? I have a small pestle and mortar at home, I am trying to use it to grind ginger and garlic nowadays.

  5. Hi Sunshine Mom,

    First time on your blog here – you have a wonderful space! keep it up!

    The Arachiutta sambar looks wonderful!

    Now – on to explore your other posts!

  6. I am so glad to have found your blog through foodshots. I love Indian food but just can't seem to master it. Will have to give your recipes a go – thanks!

  7. Thanks everyone for visiting and leaving your lovely comments!

    Mrignayani, welcome! What a beautiful name:)

    HOH, Welcome:)

  8. wow! wonderful recipes1 And i couldn't agree more about the mundane being sometimes better than the exotic, as nothign can be better than the memories of the childhood 'mundane'. I'm the happiest person when i can just eat daal and rice. 🙂

  9. so Palaharam basically means supper, atleast that is what it means here (Abendbrot) – a light meal had by 6 or 7 PM. 🙂

  10. Hi: your photos are amazing. Curious: We also make araitha vitta sambar at home but we add puli (tamarind, not tigers): but where's the puli in yours? Which varieties of sambar do you add tamarind to? Thanks

  11. Hey anonymous, thanks for your complement. I too added puli – tamarind and not tigers in the right places:). Do look up the post again!

  12. I noticed today when I had to visit this post that your query was left unanswered by me! Very sorry! I add tamarind to all varieties except when I make it with tomatoes.

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