Immediately after my marriage, I relocated to Princeton, NJ. I had no time to learn cooking. My previous experiences in the kitchen consisted mostly of hunting for midnight snacks. No, not even making tea. Nada, Zilch!
Armed with a few packets of 'masala' that my new mother--in-law promised would make me a kitchen diva, lots of enthusiasm and loads of time to kill, my culinary experiments began. Everyday my new husband would get a new dinner. But lunch? He loved sambar (Pet peeve here: Sambar, pronounced sa like the musical note 'sa', and bar like car, not bar like burr) and potato curry. I promised I'd make it everyday for the first 2 weeks to work his way to his heart. You know the proverb et al.
Every morning, I'd open the cupboard and find 3 large bottles of powder staring at me - 1 yellow, 1 orange and 1 red. I labeled them "Turmeric", "Rasam powder" and "Sambar powder". A note of explanation here - every tambrahm worth her filter coffee uses different spices for sambar, rasam (a thinner liquid delicacy made with tamarind - what else - and mixed with rice - again, what else) and kozhambu (another tamarind liquid, mixed with rice... no surprises here!) Every household has different proportions of the ingredients used for the rasam masala and the sambar masala, which determines the taste, pungency and most importantly the smell of the preparation.
Lesson over. Back to Princeton. Everyday I would wonder why my mil had given me such a large quantity of turmeric powder. Yellow = Turmeric, Orange = Rasam powder and Red = Sambar powder. And every afternoon I would crib to myself that my husband's family's sambar powder was SO SPICY and that I missed my mom's spices. Every evening, my husband would gently ask me to add a little less sambar powder. This went on for 2 weeks. Then came a Saturday.
The husband said "You cook today. I will watch and give suggestions".
A bit nervous, I agreed.
I started making sambar AGAIN. And just when I reached for the sambar masala, I heard the husband go "Stop. Why are you adding this?"
I said "Well, sambar needs sambar masala. How do you make it?"
And once he stopped laughing he said "That is RED CHILLY POWDER"!!!!!!
I still smart at this incident, while my husband never misses a chance to tease me with it! Apparently my in-laws use only a certain brand of red chilly powder and had given me a kilo of the same. So yellow = sambar powder (they add more turmeric than my mom), orange = rasam powder and red = chilly powder (or patta podi) for kozhambu etc. Bah!
Here is a Karadi Tales rhyme to teach your children how to make sambar!