While thinking of South Indian food, apart from the beloved dosas and idlis, two more food items that have always defined the cuisine are the quintessential Sambar and Rasam. These two delicious gravies complete every meal. And while many might think that they’re identical there are drastic differences between the two. If you’re one of those who think they’re the same, you gotta read this.
So while sambar and rasam are different, it doesn’t beat the fact that it is formed essentially by similar components. The base of both the recipes is made with Toor dal also known as red lentils or red gram dal; tomato, spices and tamarind.
What differs between the two is the texture, the preparation method, the consistency and the overall flavour. What also is different is the dish it is consumed along with. Let’s look at these differentiators in detail.
The way sambar and rasam are prepared are slightly different from one another. A sambar basically cooks the toor dal till it gets fully disintegrated. In the end the texture is smooth and creamy due to the dal.
Rasam on the other hand is far watery and lighter than the sambar. It can be described as a flavourful and spicy broth. This warm soup-like drink is a boon during cold winters. Toor dal is cooked with a set of spices that gives out its aromatic flavours. The consistency is watery and smooth and not creamy like sambar. However, it is important to note that toor dal is not always present in a rasam. There are some varieties that omit the use of toor dal and balance it out with a different array of spices. Similar is the case with tomato and tamarind. There are a few variants of rasam that don’t use tomatoes or tamarind in its recipe, so its preparation is specific to various households and how they’ve been making it over the years.
While making sambar or rasam, the distinct flavouring is added with the use of specific spices.They can be added raw, or after cooking it in oil, depending on how the recipe directs it. A sambar masala is different in composition and ingredients than rasam masala. The spice mix used in sambar usually includes fenugreek, chilli, curry leaves, black mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander powder. The spices could be added individually at different stages of cooking sambar, or may be ground and mixed together to make a sambar powder or paste- This is entirely dependent on the recipe.
Rasam’s spice mix on the other hand includes coriander seed, dried red chillies, and peppercorns. Many spice mixes also include bengal gram for additional flavour.
Whatever might be the case, these rules aren't written in stone, and there are so many variations of sambar and rasam that don’t follow these rules. For example, There are also some varieties of sambar that use yoghurt and buttermilk as the base, instead of tomatoes and it’s white in colour. What rule is set in the stone is the fact that these two gravies are indispensable in a South Indian diet and are something that not only fills our body, but also our hearts with its warmth.
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.