When you’re married to a Tamilian as long as I have been, everyone pretty much considers you an honorary member of the club. But when it comes to my in-laws, nothing wins me more Tamil points than cooking up for them a fabulous south Indian meal that leaves them licking their fingers.
Because Tamilians love their food. And by that I mean their food. After years of living outside Tamil Nadu, Desi claims he can barely speak Tamil without stumbling mid-sentence (although he sounds just fine to me!). But, I can assure you, his Tamil tastebuds are quite intact. When I put a plate of sambar, rasam, curry and rice with some crispy poppadums in front of him I can tell he’s doing cartwheels in his head.
One popular Tamil ingredient Desi loves– and one he never fails to point me to when we go shopping at the Indian grocery store– is white pumpkin, or poosanikkai.
White pumpkin has, as the name suggests, stark white flesh and a brilliant green skin that’s inedible– just like your regular orange pumpkin. The flesh is rather bland and takes on the flavor of the masalas you add to your dish. Which makes it perfect for sambar, a south Indian dal flavored by a vibrant melange of spices.
I’ve shared many sambar (kuzhambu) recipes with you over the years, but this one has got to be one of my favorites. The white pumpkin just melts in your mouth and if you haven’t had it before, trust me, you’ll soon be a fan.
Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!
- 1 cup tuvar dal
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp chana dal (bengal gram)
- ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
- 2 dry red chillies (use more if you want a spicier sambar)
- ¼ cup grated coconut or ¼ cup canned coconut milk
- 2 sprigs of curry leaves
- 1 tbsp sambar powder
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste or, if you are using tamarind pods, a 1-inch ball of tamarind soaked in a cup of warm water for at least 30 minutes. Crush the tamarind with your fingers to extract the pulp and discard the stringy solids. Reserve.
- 4 cups of white pumpkin cubes. Trim off the dark green skin and dice the white flesh.
- 1 tbsp grated jaggery
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- A generous pinch of asafetida (hing)
- Pressure cook the dal and turmeric until the dal is soft and mashable. You can also do this on a stovetop. Cover the dal with an inch of water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer until soft, about 45 minutes to an hour. Add water if the dal gets dry.
- Heat 1 tsp oil and add to it the coriander seeds, chana dal, fenugreek seeds, and red chillies. Saute, stirring frequently, until the coriander seeds and dal are a couple of shades darker. Don't let anything burn.
- Remove the coriander seeds mixture to a blender, add the coconut and enough water to make a smooth paste. Blend.
- Place the tamarind extract in a saucepan with 1 cup of water or, if you used the tamarind pods, place the pulp you extracted in a saucepan.
- Add some salt and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the curry leaves.
- Add the pumpkin cubes, return to a boil, cover, lower heat to a simmer, and let the pumpkin cook until it's almost tender, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add the ground masala, increase heat, and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Add the cooked dal and sambar powder and stir well. Add more water if needed.
- When the dal comes to a boil, lower the heat once again and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add water if the sambar gets too dry. You want a fairly fluid texture.
- Heat the remaining 1 tsp of oil and add the mustard seeds and asafetida. When the mustard crackles, pour the oil over the dal and mix well.
- Serve hot with rice.