My first home away from home. The company issue flat I shared my first years in Chandigarh with other singles not yet ready to set up a complete home. People transferred away from families. Transient couples who stayed a few days, or months.
It was the interlude between leaving home and starting a real life. My actual "growing up" years. My first brush with compassion, and conceit.
It was also the first time I realized that not everyone, everywhere eats paranthas for breakfast.
Tons of cultural nuances I picked up from other roomies stay with me even now. So do some recipes, new for me then, cherished ever since. This sambar is one of them. Made without any vegetables, even without curry leaves, this is a sambar of a bachelor kitchen. Of a house where everyone routinely forgot to shop for groceries, and the sad looking onion in the corner was the only concession to the sabziwala who stopped by last week.
First you boil 1/3 cup of arhar dal with 2 cups of water, salt and turmeric. You need it turned to a mush so be a bit generous with your cooking time. In the meantime, soak a golf ball sized piece of tamarind in a cup of warm water, and strain to get a thin pulp a few minutes later. Thinly slice the onion. Root into the cupboard for spices, manage to find some cumin seeds and black mustard seeds. Give up on everything else the recipe called for. Thank God that no one stole the MDH sambar powder sitting in that secret compartment in the fridge.
Heat a tbsp of oil. Add cumin and mustard seeds, about a tsp each, and let them splutter. Add onions and let them brown on a medium heat. Now add a tbsp of sambar powder, mix well and then add the tamarind water. Let it come to a boil and then simmer for 5-7 minutes. Add the dal, mashed into the water it was cooked in. Let everything simmer for a few minutes for the flavors to meld, then test for seasonings and add more salt if you need to.