An Indian Spice Mix, Sambhar Masala, for All Seasons

Cooking teacher Raghavan Iyer shares a simple spice mix to bring the flavors of Indian cuisine to American cooks.

Comments: 20

  1. This is a first, haven't seen sambhar powder/masala with poppy seeds before!
    The versatile sambhar masala can be easily used in recipes, to replace the packaged "curry powder".

  2. How do people screw this up? Overcooking? Undercooking?

  3. Usually by undercooking. The masala needs to be cooked in broth for long enough so that the aroma transforms. You shouldn't be able to smell the raw spices at all. In my experience, it's pretty hard to overcook the masala (though you can of course overcook your veggies that are in the broth).

  4. After having moved to Forsyth County GA which is north of Atlanta, I discovered a lot of Indian restaurants and food stores in southern Forsyth County. Turns out there is a large Indian population there and they are trying to create their own town where they will control the government.

    Having traveled extensively, Indian cuisine is my favorite and with all those Indian stores, finding the appropriate spices is very easy. These stores have masalas which they grind and mix themselves so visiting these stores is a treat. Most also have a small restaurant nearby so you can taste dishes already prepared and on occasion they do have small stalls set up outside which reminds me of the Chandi Chalk in Delhi.

  5. Cinnamon and poppy seeds in sambhar masala? No. It is not authentic. Go ask anyone in Tanjavur district, the home of sambhar. The dish sambhar was developed during the time of the Maratha kings' rule in Tanjavur. Next time i see, someone will add oregano, marjoram or thyme and call it sambhar masala. No, please. Mr. Iyer, I want to talk to your mother in law.

  6. Cinnamon is used in sambhar's in Karnataka, especially in bisi bele huli anna (delicious vegetable dal sambhar and rice preparation).

  7. Kudos to Mr Iyer for demystifying South Indian cooking! There is additional nutritional value to all the eight spices and is easy on your GI tract. You can drink Sambhar as soup, eat with rice or Roti. My wife can make at least 6 different types of Sambhar from South Indian states with a distinct flavor and taste!

    Cheers to Sambhar!

  8. Re: "Grind the seed and then roast it, and it changes yet again.".

    Cumin is roasted, and then ground.

    And a foil-lined tray in a toaster oven at 400 Degrees is the way to effortlessly roast the cumin!

  9. A recipe for sambar (i.e., the dish for which the masala was originally intended) would have been nice ;)

    And yes, put cinnamon, cardamom, or bacon bits in your spice mix if you want, but please don't call it a sambar masala! Nobody puts those things in a sambar.

  10. Agreed, but you have to excuse him. He's a Bombay Iyer after all :) and he's probably styling it for American audiences and bacon is big here.

    Comparing a traditional Sambar from a Iyer household in Tamilnadu to one with bacon bits is like comparing a Taco Bell taco to a mostly authentic article from a Mexican restaurant in San Diego, LA and SF. More power to him.

  11. To those doubting cinnamon and sesame seeds:
    Remember that Sambar has regional variations. Tamil Nadu sambar, Andhra sambar, Karnataka sambar, and Kerala sambar have subtle variations in the flavors.
    Adding a small amount of cinnamon and sesame seeds (and maybe even a little Marathi Moggu) is very characteristic of sambar in Karnataka.

    Karnataka sambar has a less fiery, slightly sweeter, more complex, flavor profile compared to the sambars of the other three South Indian states. Often a very light dash of jaggery is added to the sambar, to give it a very subtle sweet undertone.

    The kind of sambar masala described in this recipe would be very typical of that used to make bisi-bele-bhaath, for example, another typical Karnataka origin dish, which is rich, filling, and great comfort food for colder weather.

  12. I deeply wish the article ended with "There are as many masalas as there are indian households."

  13. Decades ago I traveled in India and recently my nephew married into an Indian family; the wedding food was mostly Indian and reminded me how much I had enjoyed the wide range of foods that varied so much from region to region within the subcontinent. There is really no such thing as "Indian" food; would you ask someone if he or she likes European food or African food?

    After the wedding I took up Indian cooking and quickly amassed several drawers and shelves full of Indian ingredients, the hardest of which to find other than in large US cities is fresh curry leaves. Even when I drive 50 to 100 miles to the nearest city with an Indian grocery I have often been disappointed to find the "fresh" curry leaves wilted or blighted. Mail-ordering fresh curry is a crapshoot; the odds of actually receiving fresh curry in good condition are low. Dried curry leaves are available but in cooking they are nothing like the real thing. Bottom line: if you don't have access to fresh curry leaves in good condition, pick a recipe that doesn't call for them.

    By the way, it is silly, not to mention just too politically correct, for the author to bring up cultural appropriation; for thousands of years people have been adopting and adapting others' cooking techniques and ingredients without regard to intranational or international borders. In this article the author demonstrates his own politically incorrect sexism by suggesting that cooking is the sole province of Indian women (housewives).

  14. You can grow the curry leaves in a planter at home. You can move it in or out in the open depending on the weather/season.

  15. You cannot bring in Kari (Curry) leaves, even dried. U.S. customs will seize and incinerate it. What you get in Indian stores are ones have been through the inspection process. You can probably make pretty good dishes w/o Curry leaves, its only a small ingredient.

  16. something that blew my mind when I happened across it - selling real estate, I visited a tenanted house, the Indian guy was growing commercial quantities of asafoetida leaves in the back yard - I had never seen - he said 'essential for Indian cooking - you just put fresh leaves in the frypan and whoosh !' - he demonstrated and I was amazed - yes stinky/foetid at first (in the name) but as part of an Indian dish - it transforms the dish. Try it to believe it.

  17. Curry leaf is Murraya koneigii. Asofoetida is something totally different. It's a resin or gum from a tree that grows in the Middle East.

  18. There is no substitution for fresh curry leaves, but fortunately the plant can grow in zones 8-11, and indoors if you get hard freezes. It's well worth the effort.

  19. I am fortunate to have several good sources for fresh curry leaves, so I don't have any trouble finding them. For those less fortunate I have read that once you find them, any that you don't use can be laid out on a cookie sheet and frozen and stored in the freezer, ready when you need them.

  20. Raghavan Iyer is a very talented guy. It is nice that the NYT pays him some attention.