Sambhar powder contains "warming" spices and toasted, ground toovar dal (split dried pigeon peas).
1 heaping tbsp. tamarind pulp
1 cup toovar dal, washed and picked over
1⁄2 tsp. turmeric
2 tbsp. raw sesame oil or vegetable oil
1⁄2 lb. small Asian shallots, trimmed and
left whole, or European shallots, cut into
3–4 green cayenne chiles, finely chopped
10–12 fresh or frozen curry leaves
Generous 1 cup finely diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. sambhar powder
1 tsp. salt
1⁄2 cup coriander [cilantro] leaves
1. Coarsely chop the tamarind, then place in a bowl and add 1 cup hot water. Mash with a spoon or fork to help the pulp dissolve in water. Set aside to let soak for 10 minutes.
2. Place the dal in a large pot with 6 cups water, add the turmeric, and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a strong simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the dal is starting to break down, 45–60 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, place a sieve over a bowl. Pour in the tamarind mixture and use the back of a wooden spoon to press it against the mesh of the sieve. Discard pulp and set the tamarind liquid aside.
4. When the dal is cooked, pulverize and mash it with a potato masher or heavy whisk so that it has the consistency of split pea soup, then set it over very low heat to keep warm.
5. Place medium heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and, when it is hot, add shallots, chiles, and curry leaves. Cook for 1 minute, then add the tomatoes. Cook for 2–3 minutes, until tomatoes start to break down, then stir in sambhar powder and salt. Add the reserved tamarind liquid and mix again. Bring to a boil, then add mixture to the dal.
6. Bring dal to a boil, reduce heat to low, and let cook at a gentle simmer for 10–15 minutes, until the shallots are very soft. Adjust the consistency of the dal with more water, if you wish. Mix in the coriander leaves; serve hot. [Serve with rice, if you like.]