I have an overprotective spam filter.
Most of the time, I'm grateful; it insulates me from people who want to enhance (or reduce) my maleness, sell me fake watches or software, or do things in Russian that I'm glad I can't understand.
Sometimes -- like my dad, who used to wait at the door in his bathrobe, hoping to scare away the high school boys who wanted to kiss me goodnight after a date -- my spam filter goes too far.
It almost "protected" me from Venkat Balasubramani and his wonderful sambar powder.
One of the promises I've made for the new year is to learn more about the complexity and rich variety of Indian cooking, so when Venkat, an attorney in Seattle, wrote to offer a free sample of the product he and his mother market, I was eager to try it. First, though, I had to read up about sambar.
Popular in South Indian cooking, sambar is a kind of legume or vegetable stew or soup, and also the name of the spice mix used to season it. Sambar often is served over rice, or with idli. As with garam masala, each family creates its own special spice blend. Lalitha Balasubramani, an accomplished cook, classical musician, and the mother half of Nataraja Spices, combines red chiles, coriander, fenugreek, yellow split peas, chickpeas, asafoetida, turmeric and curry leaves.
Note that the first ingredient listed is chile, which explains the heat that explodes at the back of your tongue when you first taste the sambar powder. No, this is not for the timid palate. Even if you are a heat lover, please go slowly, adding just a bit at a time to your cauliflower, sambar with okra or beets or lentils, or lovely eggs in tamarind sauce.
I'm happy to report that there's more to this spice blend than heat; the depth of flavor kicks up many simple dishes, like a baked potato or scrambled eggs. Or, make a paste with sambar powder, a pinch of salt, and some vegetable oil, rub it on fish (halibut and swordfish work well) or eggplant, and grill or pan-roast.
I'm adding this product to The Perfect Pantry because it's super-spicy (I do love the hot stuff), delicious, addictive, and available online. When you visit the web site (where you also can buy a chili rub that looks quite interesting), you'll find more than a dozen of Lalitha and Venkat's recipes. You'll have the joy of knowing you are supporting a family business rooted in the traditional cooking of South India, and you'll be ready to jump-start your own exploration of Indian cuisine with this ingredient on your spice rack.
Pan-seared ahi with mango
Venkat enclosed this recipe with the sambar powder, and it looked so good that I had to try a version of it right away. No question it is spicy, with the addition of Thai chiles. You can substitute a jalapeño, or omit the fresh chile altogether, for a milder version. I've adapted the recipe ever so slightly. Serves 2.
1/2 tsp sambar powder, or less to taste
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 chopped Thai chiles, optional
8 oz ahi tuna, swordfish, salmon or other steak fish
1 mango, sliced
2 tsp vegetable oil
In a glass bowl or baking dish large enough to hold the fish, mix sambar powder and soy sauce. Stir in the chiles. Add fish and sliced mango to the dish and marinate for at least 3 hours or overnight. When you're ready to cook, heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a frying pan over high heat. Add the fish to the pan, and sear for 2-3 minutes on each side, until browned, but not overcooked. Remove fish to a platter, and add the mangoes to the pan (add another teaspoon of oil if needed). Cook until lightly browned, and add to the fish. Serve over basmati or brown rice.
This just in: Monte Peterson, test kitchen baker at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, VT, hosted a Drop In & Decorate party to benefit a local Rotary Club dinner for area residents who would otherwise be alone at the holidays. King Arthur employees and their families baked, decorated and delivered 500 cookies.
Planning a Drop In & Decorate event? Please let me know (lydia AT ninecooks DOT com) so we can share the fun.
To learn more about Drop In & Decorate Cookies for Donation, including how to host your own party, visit www.ninecooks.com; then stop in at A Veggie Venture, 37 Days, Culinary Types, Nikas Culinaria, Homesick Texan, Food Blogga, The Inadvertent Gardener, Jaden's Steamy Kitchen, La Mia Cucina, One Hot Stove, The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz, French Kitchen in America, Veronica's Test Kitchen, Kelly the Culinarian, shawnkenney.com, Thyme for Cooking: The Blog, Chew on That, Nook & Pantry, Cookthink, Tea & Cookies, Mele Cotte, Cream Puffs in Venice, startcooking.com, Shazam in the Kitchen, The Family Quilt, The Daily Tiffin, Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy, The Budget Bambino, Baking and Books, What's for Lunch, Honey?, The Pink Hobart and Fun and Food.
"I love Drop In & Decorate for the gathering of the community. To see old and new friends gathered around a table of cookies with icing in hand brings a smile to my face every year!" Jennifer, volunteer
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