When I told my hubby Desi, who is Tamil, that I was planning to cook Ezhukari Kuzhambu, he first corrected my pronunciation: something he loves to do.
The next thing he told me was that he had never heard of this dish. When I explained that it was a sambar made with seven vegetables, or ezhu kari in Tamil, his face cleared and he said, not a little smugly: "Oh, that's just kadamba sambar."
Now kadamba sambar (which translates to mixed-vegetable sambar, so, well, I guess it is like Ezhukari kuzhambu) is absolutely delicious, and Desi's little revelation didn't quite put me off making this dish. I found the recipe in one of Tamil cuisine's classic cookbooks, Samaithu Paar (Cook and See) by Meenakshi Ammal. The first edition of this book was printed way back in 1968, according to my copy.
I did tweak it quite a bit, though, not least because among the ingredients were 15-18 red chilies (gasp!) and more oil than I like to use. I also used canned coconut milk although feel free to substitute with fresh coconut if you have it.
If you happen to have fewer than seven veggies, don't worry - this dish will still taste wonderful because of the rich flavor of the ground spices. Also, you could use other vegetables like snake gourd or colocasia.
Remember to cut the veggies into similar-sized pieces, which always makes for even cooking and better presentation.
One way in which Ezukari seemed to differ from the sambar I make for kadamba sadam was the over-generous use of coriander seeds (1/4 cup) in the ground masala, which I didn't mind at all because I happen to love these flavorful seeds. I also added some sambar powder to the dish because I right now have a stash of absolutely delicious homemade sambar powder that my sis-in-law, Paddu, gave me when she visited recently. It's so good, I've been adding it to everything it can possibly go into.
So here's my version of Ezukari Kuzhambu, or Kadamba Sambar. Regardless of what we called it, Desi and I were unanimous about this: it tasted great.
4-5 small eggplants, diced, or 1/2 large one, diced
1 cup of red pumpkin, diced
1 medium potato, diced
1 sweet potato, diced
1 plantain, diced
3/4 cup okra, cut into 1-cm rings (I used frozen)
3/4 cup green beans, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large lemon-sized ball of tamarind, soaked in 1 cup of water for a few minutes. Extract the juice by crushing the tamarind between your fingers, and discard the solids.
1 tbsp sambar powder
1 cup masoor dal or pink lentils, cooked until tender (you can substitute with tuvar dal)
For the ground masala:
1 tsp canola oil (or any other vegetable oil except olive)
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1/8 cup chana dal or bengal gram
3 red chilies (use more if you like more heat in your kuzhambu)
1 cup coconut milk (I used canned)
Fry the coriander seds, chana dal and red chilies in the oil until lightly golden and then grind into a fairly smooth paste with the coconut milk, adding a little water if necessary.
Cook all the vegetables until they are almost tender (I zapped them in the microwave with about a cupful of water for about 8 minutes)
Put the vegetables into a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the tamarind water and cook another 2-3 minutes
Now add the cooked dal, sambar powder, and the ground masala paste. Give it all a good stir and allow it to come to a boil.
Add salt to taste. If the kuzhambu is too thick, add some water.
Let the kuzhambu cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, turn off heat, and add the tempering (below)
For the tempering:
Heat 1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
Add to it:
1 generous pinch of asafetida
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
10-15 curry leaves
When the mustard seeds crackle, take off the heat and add to the kuzhambu.
Garnish the kuzhambu with coriander leaves. Serve hot with rice and poppadum.