My Appa, has this habit of filing Newspaper cut outs. If an article seems interesting to him, or if he thinks it could be of useful to others, he files them. So, he usually keeps all cooking related cut outs for me. It can be recipes, eating habits or write ups about various food culture etc;
Nowadays, it has become one of my holiday rituals to go through these cut outs. Apart from the foodie articles, he also keeps the cut outs of new boutiques in and around Cochin, for me ;)
Sometime ago when I talked to him, he said reading an article about sambar. That's when he asked me, what all veggies I add while making sambar. I started the list with carrot and he immediately interrupted me by saying, “you don’t add carrot in sambar!”. His explanation was carrot is not a traditional Kerala vegetable, so it's not added. He went on and on about using only traditional Kerala vegetables in sambar.
He continued to give me a lecture about how “people like you” are adding all those “foreign vegetables” to sambar these days and taking away the traditional taste of sambar and all those things. Whenever I talk to Appa, after 5-10 minutes of our usual small talk and what’s going on, we manage to get into an argument.
That has become our normal way of talking these days ;) He will somehow bring up a topic that will get me all fired up, sometimes I take his bait and sometimes if I don’t have the energy, I tell him that we will discuss it later on.
Dont get me wrong, even if we tend to get in heated arguments, every now and then, we end our arguments by hugging out each other. The thing is Appa loves to argue, have you heard about the book called “Argumentative Indian” by Amartya Sen? When I saw that book, I just bought it even without turning a page to see what it is about, I had to buy it for Appa, because that title fits him perfectly ;)
Ok, back to what happened that day after our discussion on veggies in Sambar, I ended my case saying, “it's my sambar and I add the veggies I feel like eating and you are always free to make your own version”.
He also got all fired up and said he could make his own sambar!
Later on, whenever I called him, the first thing I asked was whether he made his “indigenous” sambar. It went on for sometime. After a month or so, when I was on my usual call home, Amma told me ” di, our sambar expert had a wonderful sambar today from a wedding”. I was like, not this sambar business again and that's when she told me what happened.
Here’s what happened – they went for this wedding and was having a sadhya. Appa liked the sambar so much, he kept on having it and telling Amma, this is how you make sambar!
Suddenly he bit into something crunchy and sadly his ideal sambar was no longer ideal. Yep. He actually bit into a dried shrimp! My Appa being pure vegetarian was shocked to see dried shrimp in sambar and called the caterers immediately to check with them. Looks like the caterers were kinda surprised to see Appa's reaction, because they were like “yeah we add dried shrimp powder in all the curries to enhance the flavour, we add it to Aviyal also” !!!
Anyways, by the time Appa took the phone to talk to me, he was kinda recovered from the shock and was finding it really difficult not to laugh. Sheepishly, he knew it was my golden chance to strike back about sambar and yes – I made good use of the opportunity ;) But honestly, I felt bad for him. I think one should respect other's choice when serving food. What do you think?
But let me tell you one thing, I've observed that people are very selective when it comes to Sambar, especially vegetarians. I think how vegetarians feel about Sambar and Aviyal is very similar to how non vegetarians feel about their Chicken Biriyani. Everybody has their own favourite version. So, are you also particular like my Appa, about the veggies that you use in Sambar?
Coming to this recipe… I've followed my old sambar recipe and instead of adding ready made Sambar powder, I've used roasted coconut with spices. I was a bit skeptical whether the roasted coconut taste will stand out and Sambar will end up as Theeyal, but it worked out well. There was only a mild hint of the roasted coconut and wasnt overpowering at all. Though it's a bit time consuming compared to the other Sambar recipe, it's well worth effort and the flavour is really good. Also, if you are looking for a Sambar recipe which doesn't use ready made Sambar powder, this is a good option. I think this Sambar is more common in Northern Kerala.