Home cooking typically carries the reputation of inviting aromas swirling in the air. However there are exceptions; and the smell of this sambar cooking in your kitchen will knock the socks off any visitor who walks in through the door.

This dish is called Mullangi Sambar. Mullangi is the Telugu (a language spoken in South India) word for Daikon radish. Daikon radish is that long, white, carrot shaped vegetable in the produce section next to most of the vegetables used in Asian cooking. Daikon radish is a variant of the smaller roundish red radishes that are used in salads and eaten raw. Radishes have a peppery, pungent and crisp taste. They are classified in the same family as turnips, horseradish, cabbage, cauliflower, kale etc; and carry the scientific name of Brassicaceae. These vegetables contain a high level of sulphur containing compounds which have a long list of health benefits – an important one is promoting healthy liver function. So try this recipe sometime and treat your liver to some goodness.

The sulphur rich compounds in these food are what cause the stinky and characteristic smell when you cook these vegetables. Thankfully, the taste of this sambar does not match the smell of this sambar – it is quite delicious.

Daikon radishes are milder than most radish varieties and lend themselves well to pickling, soups and stews like this one. In my culinary experiences so far, I’ve seen the most use of Daikon radish in Asian cooking – Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean but not so much in western cooking.

To prepare the daikon for this dish, wash off any dirt, trim the stalk and root ends of the radish and peel it. The traditional way of cutting daikon radish for this sambar is to thinly slice the root but I like to cube my daikon because chunks of radish do a better job of soaking up the goodness of the flavors of the sambar.

Sambars are stews which are rich in lentils and vegetables. There is a specific lentil used for sambars and that is tuvar daal or pigeon peas. Vegetables that go into sambar are diverse – daikon, yellow pumpkin, drumsticks, okra, green beans, baby onions – as long as they keep their shape during the long cooking time. Tomatoes are not a traditional addition, but most cooks use tomatoes in their sambar for the sweet tang that tomatoes impart to the dish. The tuvar daal is cooked separately until very soft, and a pressure cooker does the best job in producing a soft daal. Once the vegetables and daal are combined, the next step is to spice it all up. This is done two ways – either by using a sambar powder or a wet masala paste. The main ingredients in the powder or masala paste are coriander seeds, channa and ural daal, cumin seeds, black mustard, fenugreek seeds, dry red chillies, and dry or fresh coconut. I usually make my own fresh wet masala paste for sambar, as is the case in this recipe. However there are times I use a sambar powder as well. After the sambar is spiced up with the powder or paste, you pour a seasoned oil mixture consisting of black mustard seeds, asafetida and fresh curry leaves on the cooked sambar. A sambar is served hot – traditionally with rice doused with a tsp of fresh ghee. That is a divine combination. Quinoa is the new-age substitute for rice, as I have shown in the picture below the recipe section.

Word of caution – resist the temptation to carry leftover mullangi sambar in your lunch box. You might cause co-workers to view you very suspiciously when you open your lunch box at noon. Just enjoy the next night for dinner.

Serves 4
Cooking time: 45 mins

3/4 cup tuvar dal or pigeon peas, cooked in 2 cups water
2 cups diced daikon radish
1 cup diced tomato
1.5 tsp salt or per taste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp jaggery
3 tbsps tamarind tighly packed 

1.5 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp channa daal
1 tsp urad daal
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek
6-8 curry leaves
2 heaped tbsps grated coconut
1 tsp kashmiri chili powder

Seasoning oil:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 - 1/2 tsp hing or asafetida
6-8 curry leaves

First, soak the tamarind in 1 cup hot water and leave aside for 15 minutes. Next place the tuvar daal and 2 cups water in a pressure cooker and cook per manufacturer's instructions, until the daal is very soft. Mash with the back of a ladle and set aside. While the daal is cooking, combine diced radish, tomatoes, turmeric, salt and jaggery with 2 cups water in a separate pan and set on medium heat. Once the tamarind has soaked for 15 minutes use your fingers to squeeze the pulp out of the tamarind and strain out the tamarind water. Add the tamarind water to the radish mixture while it is still cooking. The radishes will take about 20-25 minutes to get tender. When they are tender, add the mashed daal to the pan. 

To make the masala paste, lightly roast the coriander seeds, channa daal, urad daal, cumin, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, for about 2-4 minutes on low heat. Combine with the  coconut and kashmiri chili powder and blend until very fine with 3/4 cup water. Add this paste to the radish mixture and mix well. Adjust seasonings. You might need to adjust the amount of water added as well. Sambar should have a consistency similar to a pancake or waffle batter; slightly on the thicker side. There should also be a good balance between the sourness that comes from the tamarind and the sweetness from the jaggery. So if you feel that balance needs to be adjusted, do so. 

Simmer the sambar an additional 5 minutes to let the flavors blend. During that time, set a small saucepan on medium heat and add the oil for seasoning to it. Drop in the 1 tsp black mustard seeds when the oil is hot. Watch for popping mustard seeds that are likely to jump on to your face! Once the mustard has popped, add the 1/4 tsp asafetida and fresh curry leaves. 

Serve hot with fresh ghee, rice or quinoa, and an appadam or poppadam on the side.