Aubergine Sambhar

Meera Sodha's mouth-watering Butternut Squash, Aubergine and Red Lentil Sambhar recipe is a typical South Indian dish packed with fresh and vibrant flavours, and makes a satisfying vegetarian main course.

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Introduction

In the 1960s and ’70s when English curry-house menus were first printed and laminated, South Indian food hardly got a look-in. The strange outcome of this trend has been that many lovers of Indian food have hardly tried classic South Indian dishes such as sambhar, a lentil-based vegetable stew that is eaten daily all the way from Mumbai to Bangalore. Sambhar puts vegetables front and centre and surrounds them with sharp, clean flavours like curry leaves, tamarind, tomatoes and chillies. You’ll only need a little rice or bread with this, and a dollop of yoghurt, and you’re away.

NOTE: As tamarind paste varies from brand to brand, add it gradually until it tastes good to you.

Serves 4 as a main course

Ingredients

200g red lentils
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1½ tsp cumin seeds
¾ tsp mustard seeds
12-15 fresh curry leaves
4 banana shallots, finely sliced
250g butternut squash, chopped into 3cm cubes
1 medium aubergine (300g), chopped into 3cm cubes
4 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
1¾ tsp salt
1½ tsp sugar
2 tsp tamarind paste
1½ tsp chilli powder
200g green beans, trimmed

Essential kit

You will need: a wide lidded frying pan.

Instructions

Wash the lentils with cold water until the water runs clear, then put into a deep saucepan, cover with three times the amount of water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until soft, scooping off any foam.

Meanwhile, put 1 tablespoon of oil into a wide lidded frying pan and add the fenugreek, coriander and cumin seeds. Stir-fry for a minute, then take off the heat and grind to a coarse paste with a pestle and mortar.

Put the remaining oil into the frying pan over a medium to high heat.

When hot, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves, followed closely by the shallots, and cook for around 10 minutes, until the shallots are golden. Then add the diced squash and a couple of tablespoons of water, cover with the lid and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the aubergine and another couple of tablespoons of water, cover and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes, along with the spices you ground earlier, the salt, sugar, tamarind paste and chilli powder. Cover again and leave to cook for a further 5 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down and the squash is tender. Add the lentils to the vegetables (or the other way around, depending on which pan is bigger), then add the green beans and enough water to make a thick, soupy texture, and cook for a final 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt, sugar and tamarind as you wish.

Divide the sambhar into bowls, spoon over some yoghurt, and serve with rice.

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