Sambar. A Cooking Lesson

Sambar is not an elephant. It’s soup. A wonderful spicy fresh vegetable soup. The vegetables in India vary from place to place so the soup varies a little but there are always yellow lentils and tamarind in it, lots of spices and herbs. Millions of South Indians love it for breakfast and so do I.

Ross’s allergy to coconut and nuts has actually been a bonus here. Everything on the menus has coconut or cashew in it, so the waiters often ask the chef to come and help us figure out what to eat. You could say that we’ve been talking our way around the kitchens of India. It’s been fun getting to know the staff. The chefs are always proud to prepare something especially to suit us.

Binot, the chef at Windermere Estates near Munnar, invited us to come into his kitchen for a cooking lesson. I wanted to learn how to make Sambar (without nuts). I’ll have to experiment with our vegetables at home but here are a few of the dozens of photos we took that day to help me create a written recipe at home.

Coming soon: Special guest post. A Beach of Two Tales by Ross Hayes


Idli and Dosa

Why do you go to India, people ask. It’s so far away, they say.

I go because so much is new and exotic, especially the mornings. Beautiful birds, I don’t even know their names, sing sweet songs in the garden, just outside my window. The sun creeps over the mountain and shines on the east slopes across the valley, bringing to life tea plantations that go on for as far as I can see. A comforting smell of wood burning to fuel fires for breakfast blends with a faint aroma of simmering curry. It’s time for breakfast. 

I’ve never been a big fan of breakfast at home but reluctantly I down some wholesome cereal or a boiled egg every morning.It’s different here.

Breakfast is a food-lovers delight. I love Indian breakfasts. Dosas, pizza-size, paper- thin rice flour pancakes, are served with sambar, a spicy, thick, yellow lentil and vegetable soup served with chutney, coconut, tomato and/or my favourite, coriander chutney. For variety, instead of dosa I ask for idli, an uncooked-looking feather-light rice dumpling that I dip into the mouth-watering sambar.

“How is everything this morning?” Ali, the chef, asks.

Ross is eating his omlet and toast. He loves his Canadian breakfast that is also served here.

“OOOO I gush. I love this. May I ask you a question? You don’t have to answer, you’re so busy now. But I really need to know how to make it.” I slurp up more sambar. “It’s sooo good.”

“Dosa and sambar are very, very traditional.” Ali says. “Also idli. Have you tried idli yet? People love idli too. We make everything from scratch here. It’s important.”

“First you need to soak the grains. Then you grind them like this” and he rolls his hands together. The dosas look easy to make but to be tasty you must carefully prepare the mixture.

“From scratch.” He says again. “For the sambar also. You must always use fresh curry leaf and coriander.” I’m thinking about some of my spice jars at home that have been sitting in the cupboard for fifteen years. Ali continues, “We never use pre-mixed curry powder here. We mix each special spice for every dish we prepare. And we always use tomato, onion, lentils for the sambar.”

I’m in awe and make a secret vow to reform my cooking practices. But I need to let Ali know that I can make some things well, although maybe not sambar and dosa. “Have you tied Angel Pie I ask? It’s our family’s favourite dessert. You can get it on my blog. In fact if you email me your recipes for dosa and idli I can put them on my blog too.”

Ali is thrilled.

And so, dear friends and family here is Ali’s recipe for idli and dosa.

I’ll make it for you some day.


Boiled Rice

750 gms / 3 cups

Raw Rice

250 gms / 1 cup

Urad Dal

250 gms / 1 cup


To taste


Step 1 : Soak the rice and dal seperately for 2 hours
Step 2 :  Grind seperately, the rice should be coarse in texture and the dal should
be light and fine texture.
Step 3 : Mix together, add salt, blend.
Step 4 : Keep covered, ferment overnight.
Step 5: Next morning boil water in the pan of the idli steamer, place perforated idli
tray lined with muslin cloth on top.
Step 6: Pour idli batter into each cup
Step 7: Steam until done.
Step 8: Check if done by prickling with a fork.
Step 9: To remove idli, turn upside down on a platter, sprinkle water over the muslin
and slowly remove the muslin.
Step 10: Remove idli and keep it warm in a casserole.





Raw rice

125 gms / 1/2 cup

Par boiled rice

625 gms / 2 1/2 cups

Methi seeds

1 tbsp / 12 gm

Urad dal

250 gms / 1 cup


To taste


Step 1 : Soak rice and dal seperately for 4 hours. Grind seperately to a fine batter.
Step 2 : Mix both batter together with salt to taste.
Step 3 : Set aside overnight to ferment.


Step 4 : Next morning, spread dosa mixture thinly on a heated and greased tava.

Pour a teaspoon of oil around dosa. Cook and fold.

Step 5: Serve with sambar and chutney.
Step 6: If masala dosa, keep the potato filling in the centre and

Coming eventually: It is very difficult to write when the warm breezes are blowing and the sun is shining. My posts will continue to be erratic. I want too be outside all the time where my pencil and notepad work but the computer doesn’t. Thank you for your comments. I love them.  As soon as I can I’ll tell you about my cooking lesson with Binot, the chef at Windmere. We made my favourite, Sambar.

Elephants and Tea Plantations

We climbed out of Tamil Nadu, leaving its magnificent ancient stone temples behind and ascending seventeen hairpin turns. I wasn’t prepared for the haunting beauty of the landscape – the 2695 metre granite summit of Anamudi, South India’s highest peak; impeccably cropped tea plantations interspersed with groves of cardomen, banana, coffee and coconut; abundant wildlife and exotic birds. We are in Kerela to spend a few days at Windermere Estate Plantation and Retreat at 1600 metres on a hilltop near the former British Hill station at Munnar.

From where I am writing I can see 260 degrees around me, the rest is blocked by an immense granite outcrop, eucalyptus trees, and poinsettia in full bloom.

On our way back from Eravikulam National Park yesterday, we saw a wild, mature male elephant grazing on the border of a little farm about a ten-minute drive from where we are staying. We watched him for a long time from a comfortable perch on a stonewall about a hundred metres away, closer than I’ve been when watching moose or deer at home in the Rockies. The wild tuskers (as the mature male elephants are known around here) are not usually seen. But Ganesha, known to our wildlife guide Moni, is king of the animals and is afraid of nothing, it seems. He weighs over eight tons and eats about 300 kilos of vegetable product a day, including, we noted, lots of bamboo.

How could we not love this awesome place and the great beast whose performance for us was so stately?