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Lentil and Vegetable Soup (Sambhar)

Pigeon peas (arhar dhal, toor dhal) is the preferred legume for this sour and spicy soup, but split peas or red lentils may be substituted.

Serves 6.


200 g/7 oz/1 cup toor dhal
1.5 litres/3 pints/6 cups water
walnut-sized piece dried tamarind
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
375 g/12 oz mixed diced vegetables in season
(pumpkin, eggplants, aubergines, beans, potatoes)
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
2 fresh chillies
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 small onion, finely sliced
1/4 teaspoon ground asafoetida


Pick over the dhal thoroughly for any foreign seeds or impurities. Wash in several changes of water, then soak in cold water to cover overnight or for 3 hours. Drain, put into a saucepan with the measured water and simmer, covered, until soft. Meanwhile, put tamarind pulp in a bowl and pour over it 1 cup of hot water. Leave until cool enough to handle, then knead and squeeze the pulp to dissolve. Strain through a nylon or stainless steel sieve. If there is still pulp left on the seeds, add an extra 1/2 cup of water and repeat the procedure. Discard all seeds and fibres.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in another saucepan and fry ground spices for a minute, stirring. Add lentils and tamarind and bring to the boil. Add vegetables, tomatoes, chillies and salt and simmer until vegetables are very tender.

In a small pan heat remaining tablespoon of oil and fry the mustard seeds and sliced onion until seeds pop and onion is deep brown. Add asafoetida and immediately pour a ladle of the soup into the pan. Pour back into the soup, simmer a few minutes longer and serve with rice or lentil pancakes.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)

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