This post was created in partnership with Amira.
This month we are focusing on recipes that will hopefully be helpful to those wanting to hit the reset button after all the holiday eating and drinking. I wanted a very manageable weekday dinner to be the first in the series, because we haven’t had one up in a while, and because I myself have been on the hunt for some new but trustworthy, quick and wholesome meal ideas. Most of my focus right now is on completing the kitchen renovation, a good part of which my husband and I have been doing ourselves. It’s been dragging on much longer than we expected – a common theme when it comes renovations, as I hear. We are finally down to the small finishing touches, but they somehow seem to be the hardest to complete. Cooking up large batches of un-elaborate, nourishing dishes like this stew to have on hand during the week has been one of my strategies for staying sane throughout this whole process. It’s amazing how helpful a home-cooked meal can be during times of stress.
When looking for inspiration for balanced winter weeknight meals, I often turn to South Indian cuisine for its array of delicious vegetarian dishes and Ayurveda-approved ingredients. This particular stew is based on a recipe for sambar – a mung dal (yellow split mung beans that are protein-rich and affordable) stew that comes in hundreds of variations. The base for sambar is most commonly made up of mung dal that’s been cooked down to a porridge-like consistency and spiced, after which almost anything goes. You can include one or many stew-friendly vegetables in season, as well as other fun add ins like desiccated coconut. I love the versatility of this dish and usually just add in whatever vegetables or greens I have on hand. For this version, I kept things simple and only added chopped butternut squash and dried coconut – it can be as simple or as involved as you’d like.
The ingredient list might seem long, but it’s mostly composed of spices, which play a huge role in building flavor in this otherwise modest stew. Each spice also brings its unique healing properties to the table – fennel helps aid digestion, turmeric is anti-inflammatory, fenugreek helps with blood sugar balance and much, much more.
Like many Indian dishes, sambar is traditionally served over rice, and I’ve been truly enjoying serving it over Amira’s fragrant Thai Jasmine Brown Rice. Amira sent me a few of their premium long grain rice varieties to try, and I was consistently impressed with their quality and how distinctly different each kind tasted. Besides the jasmine brown rice, the variety that stood out to me is their Smoked Basmati Rice, which has a very unique smoked flavor and is really good in salads, and as a base for all kinds of veggie bowls. I’m crazy about smoked foods, so that one really hit the spot. If you see Amira rice in your grocery store, give it a try, I think you’ll really enjoy it!
- 3 cups water
- ½ cup mung dal
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds (optional)
- 3 sprigs fresh curry leaves (optional)
- 1 small yellow onion - chopped
- ½ medium butternut squash - peeled and cubed
- ¼ cup desiccated coconut
- sea salt
- 1 tablespoon red chili powder
- 2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
- ¼ teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
- 1 whole dried red chili - torn in half
- ⅛ teaspoon whole fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
- 1½ cups cooked rice of your choice - for serving
- cilantro - for garnish (optional)
- coconut milk or yogurt - for garnish (optional)
- Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Have a tea kettle or another pot with about 1 more cup of hot water ready, in case you need more water later in the process. Once 3 cups of water in the pot are boiling, add mung dal, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek and curry leaves (if using). Lower heat to establish a steady simmer and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Mix periodically to ensure the mung dahl doesn't stick to the pan. Discard curry sprigs, if using.
- Add onion, squash, desiccated coconut, and salt to the pot. If it seems like there isn't enough liquid in the pot, add a little more hot water from the tea kettle until the vegetables have room to simmer in the water, keeping the dal consistency like a soupy porridge. Continue simmering, covered, for another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through. Stir in chili powder at half time. Mix periodically to prevent any sticking.
- Once the vegetables are around 5 minutes away from being done, warm ghee/oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and let toast for about 30 seconds, tossing all the while. Add the chili and fennel seeds and toast for another 30 seconds or until fennel is toasted in color and fragrant. Add the toasted spices along with the ghee/oil from the pan into the pot with the stew, mix it in and let simmer, covered, for another 5 minutes. Once stew is done cooking, discard the pepper and mix in the lemon/lime juice. Taste and adjust the salt.
- Serve stew over rice, garnished with cilantro and coconut milk/yogurt if desired.
2. Curry leaves are completely optional here, but if you can get your hands on some, add them - their unique flavor works very well in this stew.
3. Traditional sambar calls for hing and tamarind. If you have one or both, add ⅛ teaspoon of hing to the pan with the toasting spices, towards the end and add to the stew with the rest of the toasted spices and ghee/oil. Add 2 teaspoons tamarind paste in place of the lemon/lime juice and simmer stew for another 5 minutes to let the flavor incorporate.