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My Experiments with Sodium Chloride!!!

April 17, 2009

It has been a steep learning curve for me for the past three months!!! I used to live a simple and blameless life around three months back (in India). I ate out (all the time) and was happy in my ignorance of the various different powders and spices used in cooking. But things have changed now!! I absolutely had no idea that we Indians use so many powders in our dishes……!!! The amount of “extras” that we use is just mind boggling!!! Yellow powder, Red powder, garam masala powder, dania powder, asafetida powder etc etc and I always get confused during cooking if I have added an ingredient or not!!!

If you guys recollect, I had written about my first cooking experience here in America. I can now say with confidence that I have improved marginally as a cook and improved significantly as a vegetable cutter!!! I can now cook to fend for myself and cut vegetables without hurting my fingers and do it uniformly. When I first used to cut vegetables, I used to cut them in different sizes and shapes and the kitchen floor always used to be a mess but now, I have improved!!! They still don’t come out like in a factory line but the pieces tend to now be regular in size and shape and the floor remains clean!! But those onions still make me cry!!

The main problem that I seem to be facing nowadays is when I taste what I have cooked; I do not get to know the problem!! 95 % percent of the time I cook, I know that something is wrong but I can never pinpoint the problem and then, I always end up taking my roomies help.

Long ago, so long ago, the great dish called Sambar was invented somewhere in the hot tropical jungles of South India. Maybe that person who invented it was unhappy with the normal Dal that must have been prevalent then or maybe it was an accident or maybe it was invented in the quest for something better!!! The sambar spawned a whole new generation of dishes like rasam, various Charru’s (of AP) and various kozhambu’s of TN and it is my favorite!!!

I can make the normal Dal fry now pretty well but I have never succeeded in making sambar (or anything that resembles sambar). The recipe always seems simple enough. I still remember two months back when I first mustered the confidence to make sambar after I had successfully made Dal fry about 6-7 times. I called up amma and took the recipe from her.

I had also made the mistake of inviting a few other friends to partake!!! The sambar which came out tasted exactly like Dal fry with one teaspoon of “burnt” sambar podi (powder) in it!!!! It did not even have the slightest trace of tamarind in its taste. Thankfully I had made enough of rice for them to keep shut!!!!

Embarrassed and disillusioned, I called up mom and told her that her recipe was all wrong, and then I took my grandmother’s recipe. Yeah!!! Grandmothers always make great food!!! So the very next day, I tried making sambar (without inviting the brigade). Unfortunately, this time I had overcompensated with the tamarind and used less of Dal!!! My roommates complained that I was trying to poison them with a heavy dose of toxic tamarind and I then had to douse “it” liberally with a lot of sugar to make it edible!!!

I have tried making sambar many times, but always I have finished up with something that definitely cannot be classified as SAMBAR!!! Sob Sob!!! I have now learnt about 10-12 different ways in which sambar cannot be made and in my enlightened state, I can safely say that this exercise is going to continue for some more time!

What more do I need to do to make good sambar!!! I do not know. I have now started praying to Huixtocihuatl!!!

Until that day comes, I will have to satiate my “sambar craving” in woodlands which is near my place!!! Atleast until the owner chucks me out!! Coz last week, during the “eat all you can dosa night”, I was very hungry and I polished off 12 masala dosas all by myself!!


The only curious part was that, the more I ate, the smaller the dosas turned out to be!!! Pretty strange I tell you. Mysterious are the ways of this world!! The owner who welcomed me in with a big smile did not have that smile when I left. Don’t know why…….


The only thing that has not changed in these three months is that my roomies SV and SS still put out valiantly, a stoic face (to the world) when it is my turn to cook!!!!

And I have learnt a valuable lesson that everything tastes better with a pinch of Sodium Chloride aka salt!!!! Even this post!!!!!

46 Comments leave one →
  1. sraboneyghose permalink
    April 17, 2009 3:08 am

    Give it time and you will improve…At least your future wife will be happy with your knowledge of all the powders that go into cooking!!!

    OG: πŸ™‚ I am improving…. πŸ™‚ now I can make “Food”…. πŸ™‚ and yes, she should be happy!!! πŸ˜€

  2. April 17, 2009 3:09 am

    Great reading! May be after you are through with the US, you will be ready to start your own “Sravana” chain of restaurants, minus “that” tamarind of course!

    OG: Thank you Sir…. πŸ™‚ LOL.. i just might…… πŸ™‚ by then, I would have mastered the art of making Sambar!!!

  3. April 17, 2009 3:40 am

    Ha ha ha! You reminded me of the days when I started learning **sigh**

    It was in less than perfect circumstances and I had no choice..

    I started with rasam.. you should too πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ Use tomatoes instead of tamarind.. U can never go wrong with tomatoes.. and they r good for health πŸ™‚

    OG: okay πŸ™‚ I will try rasam next time and guinea pigs will be my roomies again!!! πŸ˜› πŸ˜›
    “when you started learning”… so that must mean you are an expert now…..

    • April 17, 2009 4:52 am

      Kinda.. I started when I was 13 and now…………..

      He he he I pity the guinea pigs πŸ˜€

      OG: 13!!!! wow… at that age, i did not even know the names of various dishes…….

      LOL at guinea pigs….. bachelors do just fine… πŸ˜› πŸ˜›

      • April 17, 2009 5:15 am

        I still dont know many of them.. Though I “cook” .. I cook only limited number.. or some that I get recipes online πŸ™‚

        OG: more than enuf!!!! πŸ˜›

  4. April 17, 2009 3:46 am

    Oh I remember once, Me n my sister decided to surprise mom by making something to eat.. its this delicacy we love lekin only made during diwali.. We knew that some “white flour” and salt and chilli powder shud be mixed with water to make the dough and then the blobs have to be fried in oil…

    What we didnt know is that salt is not supposed to be added in the ratio of 1:1 and umm you can imagine how tasty the blobs were.. and when we fried these blobs.. in almost 1 litre of oil.. burnt is more like it… and when mom came..

    She thrashed us nicely to have wasted flour oil and finished up all the salt and to have made mess of her kitchen..

    And dad was thankful that we didnt burn the house along with ourselves..

    No one appreciated us **boo hoo hoo**

    OG: seriously!!!… one litre of oill….. even I know better and LOL at salt level…. πŸ™‚ thank god that sodiuM levels are controlled in salt now!!!! πŸ™‚
    Yes, nobody appreciates the effort… πŸ™‚ i completely agree!!! πŸ™‚

    • April 17, 2009 4:53 am

      We were 7-8! πŸ˜‰

      What do you expect πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€
      OG: πŸ™‚ That was so early!!!! πŸ™‚

      • April 17, 2009 5:14 am

        I know πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

        Since then.. erm even before that I wasnt allowed inside the kitchen until I started cooking πŸ™‚
        OG: πŸ˜› πŸ˜›

  5. April 17, 2009 3:47 am

    btw 12 masala dosas?? some “potti” with Dhiren ? πŸ˜€

    OG: eating lots of masala dosas is harder than eating chappatiis…. πŸ™‚ no offense to dhirubhai!!! ::) yes, I love food!!!! lots of it!!!

    • April 17, 2009 4:54 am

      I agree.. though I can pack food really nicely.. I cannot have more than umm 3 πŸ˜€
      OG: πŸ˜› :P… I am blessed with an almost infinite appetite!! though i am dieting now… hence the 12… πŸ˜› πŸ˜›

  6. April 17, 2009 4:50 am

    lol πŸ˜€ sambar with sugar is north Indian sambar man… πŸ˜›
    OG: i know man, but I had no other option then…. puli content was too strong!!!!

  7. April 17, 2009 5:00 am

    Sodium Carbonate? Or Sodium Chloride? NaCl = Salt.
    OG: sorry, it was sodium chloride… i have always been bad at chemistry and always absent minded!!! πŸ™‚

    • April 17, 2009 5:02 am

      Will be back in a bit for detailed comment. πŸ˜€
      OG: yo!!!

  8. April 17, 2009 5:25 am


    First I thought you added Sodium Carbonate in the food instead of Bicarbonate and got some infection. πŸ˜€

    You know what Ajit. When I started cooking I knew about only 3 powders Red, Yellow, Brown and those are Chilli, Turmeric, Coriander. I used these 3 in everything and also went ahead and invited friends for dinner. πŸ˜† Don’t laugh but they appreciated my cooking. When I look back, I seriously am so embarrased.

    Et, tu? 12 Dosas and that too Masala? Where is Dhiren? He has a serious competitor here. πŸ˜€

    I LOVE Masala Dosa and love love love Sambhar. For me Sambhar is a soup. All this talk ….craving for Dosa now. I am going to make Masala Dosa this weekend. Thanks to you.

    You added Sugar in your Sambhar? πŸ˜† I don’t blame your roommates. My sympathies to them.

    Put them Onions in hot water for sometime before cutting and then you will cry less or not cry at all.

    If we lived in LA then we would have eaten out most of the times with so many Indian joints nearby. Isn’t there like an Udupi street or something where you get filter kaappi and Dosa? Go enjoy your Dosas there. πŸ˜€

    OG: lol at first line… πŸ™‚ no, I am not that dumb!!!
    LOL at three powders…. I used to face a similiar scenario… now I am much better. Now I know what powder stands for what taste!!
    12 masala dosas when I am dieting…. πŸ™‚ My mom always wants me to eat less…. πŸ˜› πŸ˜›
    mail me photo of masala dosa you make during weekend!!!
    ok, onions in hot water… I will try next time….. πŸ™‚ and yes, I pity my roommates….

    I dont know about the udipi street.. will find out now!!!! πŸ™‚ Thanks!!!!!

  9. April 17, 2009 5:33 am

    Ajit, Feed is working now. πŸ˜€ Now I will never miss the update.
    OG: πŸ˜›

  10. April 17, 2009 5:43 am

    Good have got a weapon of mass destruction your karandi :P. I do make sambhar I just follow the recipe behind the sakthi masala packet and it comes out some what close to a sambhar..Advice you to try that…About the dosas mine come out as thick as pizzas

    OG: LOL ….. At karandi!!! πŸ™‚ I unfortunately dont have sakhi masala here to help me!!! πŸ™‚ and LOL at dosas…. πŸ™‚ I dont even try to make em…. πŸ™‚

    PS: I spoke to ashwin… and he told me to not believe you guys!!! πŸ™‚ is your name VP btw???? πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ saw your orkut profile via ashwin!!!

  11. Mystery permalink
    April 17, 2009 7:51 am

    cooking experiments always fun!
    One thing i observe is that, when we are the only ones eating, whatever dish we cook turns out to be good and the same thing will turn out to be a disaster when we call guests to taste our dish.
    12 masala dosas!!
    as solilo said, u are giving tough competition to Dhiren.
    one is enjoying the rotis and the other Dosas πŸ™‚

    OG: so very true… it always seems like that everything, the vessels, the ingredienta have a mind of their own!! πŸ™‚ and LOL at competition!!

  12. April 17, 2009 7:59 am

    Lol!! Ajit ! Certainly reminds me of my early cooking days πŸ™‚
    So you managed to mess up both your mom’s and grandmother’s recipes πŸ™‚
    And 12 masala dosas!! You and Dhiren are in serious competition!
    As for masalas – my husband will tell you – put all the masalas you have – will come out fantastic! This from a man who never cooks πŸ™‚
    By the way, can I make you jealous and tell you that I read your post while eating Dosas and sambhar πŸ™‚ My experiments with dosa batter fermentation – finally successful! Yay!

    OG: Not fair…. πŸ™‚ LOL congrats on your successful dosa batter fermentation…. πŸ™‚ I wanna sample…. πŸ˜€
    yeah, I always mess up my moms recipe…dont know how…. πŸ˜›

    • April 20, 2009 1:52 pm

      Ajit, I have managed to master it after 8.5 years of marriage – am sure you will too πŸ™‚ As for sample – come over – anytime πŸ™‚
      I have now stopped trying mom’s recipes – I search the internet for the easies recipes – the key is to always look for ‘easy … recipe’ – always works for me – and whenever something is successful – it goes into my google docs πŸ™‚

  13. April 17, 2009 8:29 am

    Oh yes saarey..the part abt my name is true but not the one abt what he said in kochi. The whole kochi experience can be explained only in person,pretty tough to explain in writing :-)..Ok quiz time.. What was ash’s character’s name as a cross dressed belly dancer in our play “Once upon a time in Arabia”
    d)Jil Jil Ramamanni ……LOL….
    OG: next time in chennai…. pakkalam ;)…. I will have all the time in the world for the sstory machi!!!
    and LOL at play…. MY guess would be shakeela!!!!! πŸ˜› πŸ˜›

  14. April 17, 2009 8:39 am

    LOL:)…..I have a very easy recipe of Sambhar, but cant dare to tell in front of all veteran dosa eaters:). By the time you complete your stay in US you will be boon for a girl….she can avoid the kitchen completely:)
    OG: hopefully not!!! πŸ™‚ I will not be that kind of a boon…. πŸ˜› πŸ˜›

  15. April 17, 2009 1:21 pm

    Good one dude . And I, can cook , ha ha ! πŸ˜› Btw, you can start a Cooking for Dummies, if that does not already exist . πŸ˜‰

    OG: good point…. maybe I should jotting down my experiments with cooking!!!

  16. Indian Homemaker permalink
    April 17, 2009 5:21 pm

    How could you add sugar in sambhar!!!??? I love Sambhar too (my fav), and it was created to add maximum nutrition to a meal in a place where one did not get many good tasting vegetables – also if you do not add coconut think how low cal a meal idli (not dosa as much) can be?

    Cooking experiments are a lot of fun, but what recipe are you using? I looked up in the comments to see if there are any expert comments… I make sambhar in many different ways – not the best but good enough πŸ™‚

    And cut onion in two pieces and leave in water for sometime, before chopping, to avoid tears and stinging.

    I enjoy all your cooking experiments – they remind me of my own first experiments. You will benefit from a good recipe book, my fav is Lalita Ahmed’s – simple and great tasting.

    OG: πŸ˜€ ok ihm….will try lalita ahmed……. Thanks!!! and I have tried drowning onions in water but it does not seen to work….

  17. April 17, 2009 7:46 pm

    I’m learning from my husband. You are ahead of me-when I slice vegetables, they go flying around the room : ) My husband jokes I’m a great “employment creator”.

    Anyway, for rasams and sambhars and all sorts of things we use an electric pressure cooker. It is a lifesaver. Chop all the veggies and put in the spices, turn it on, and then pour the beginnings of most S. Indian meals (oil, mustard seeds, cumin, curry leaves, dried red chilis, etc.).

    The best cookbook I’ve found is “Healthy South Indian Cooking” by Alamelu Vairavan. My husband says the recipes are authentic.

    OG: LOL MMK…. so you seen to be learning the INdian way of cooking… πŸ˜› interesting blog you have got, I have to say…..
    And Thanks for the cookbook… lemme find it on amazon…Thanks!

  18. April 17, 2009 8:05 pm

    hahaha… loved the use of that diagram…. particularly the use of microscope phrase πŸ˜€
    well practice makes perfect. keep trying. hey, look at the bright side. u can always find inspiration to write posts when u burn the kitchen down!!
    OG: every cloud has a silver lining… but my roomies will kill me if that happens!!! πŸ˜› πŸ˜›

  19. April 17, 2009 8:05 pm

    LOL. This is why I dont go for the ‘aavashyamillaatha pani’ !!! I know how to cook maggi, and omlette and Im happy with that. Give me washing and ironing to do, and I can do it for hours. But cooking is a strict no no for me ! πŸ˜€

    “those onions still make me cry!!” — adu avarude oru sheelamaanu !!!

    All the best !! (not for you, for your paavam roomies)

    OG: dai, jeevichu pogatae aliya….. I have to cook here… it is a necessity… otherwise as a veg, I will only get raw paccha kari to eat!!! πŸ˜› πŸ˜› try cooking man.. it is soothing πŸ˜‰
    12 dosas, that too masala-dosas ???? Aaarthi moothu braandaavandaa ! LOL πŸ˜€

    • April 17, 2009 11:59 pm

      πŸ˜† πŸ˜† Remember Kilukkam?

      Jagathy says: ivalkku aaarti mootu bhrantayata. Lemme youtube it.

      Here you guys,

      OG: classic film, classic scene!!! amen!!!

  20. April 17, 2009 11:52 pm

    Extraordinary, Since you love your Non-Veg (May be after Nov.) get a K M Mathew book from India this time. It also has traditional veggie recipes. I got one this time. I have a huge collection of cook books and I am not ashamed to say that I cook from those and change little here and there.

    BTW Sambhar with pearl Onions is the best. My husband’s friend a Iyer gave me the recipe.

    We should have a Sambhar tag πŸ˜† as everyone cooks Sambhar differently and I being a Sambhar lover want to try all except your Sugared one. πŸ˜†

    OG: Sambar with pearl onions, iyer cuisine…. I know a lot about that!!!! πŸ˜‰
    and LOL at sugar sambar!!! πŸ™‚ i will mail you the complicated recipe!! hahahahaha

  21. April 17, 2009 11:53 pm

    BTW I have tried tons of recipes from this site and she is a great cook.
    OG: I fell in love with the photos… πŸ˜› πŸ˜› of beef fry!!! πŸ˜›
    Nov, when will you come!!!!!!!!!!

  22. April 18, 2009 10:38 pm

    you are tarla dalal’s male version compared to me. i once set the fire alarm off while trying to re-heat a croissant. during peak winter with snow et al. ppl had to rush out of the shower into the snowfall.
    OG: LOL πŸ˜› :P… I have never set off an alarm till now… πŸ™‚ πŸ˜€

    • April 19, 2009 7:28 am

      Ha..ha..ha.. this reminded me of the time when the absentminded me forgot the Eggs kept for boiling and realized when all of them exploded in the Kitchen with the stink. 😦

      Another horror was first time cooking and burned something and set smoke detector. The smoke wasn’t going anywhere so I fanned it. πŸ˜†

      Thank Ajit for reminding me of all my madness. I am an expert cook now and proud of it. *Solilo self-praising ends*

      OG: LOL OMG…. it seems that i have started better than most!!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ eggs really do stink…… and so far i have not had problems with alarm :P. P
      lol at fanning and expert cook!!! maybe you could fedex your creations to me!!! πŸ˜‰

  23. April 19, 2009 9:00 am

    LOL… I am a good eater like you but cant say as a bad cook as didnt tried it until now πŸ˜†

    good you are trying.. dont worry.. you will succeed one day πŸ˜›

    OG: try try till you succeed!!!!

  24. April 19, 2009 12:12 pm

    I already see the signs…….u r going to be a good cook.

    Now u’ll ask me how I say it with so much confidence????

    Because I was exactly like this when I started cooking at the age of 25…my father-in-law taught me how to cook, his way[well he also didnt know too much;-P].

    I learnt to make sambhar & theeyal just 3 yrs back…it was mess in the beginning but now i dont even need sambhar pwdr…i make do with the ingredients at home & it comes out really good.

    “95 % percent of the time I cook, I know that something is wrong but I can never pinpoint the problem”
    Believe me..I knw exactly wht u mean…i was just the same. Even now I’m not an expert but I have a few damamge control solutions.

    if anything tastes funny…or bland…..or yaacks[esp if its non-veg]
    just add some salt
    then add lemon
    then pepper
    then chop coriander leaves into it

    Voila…..zeee mozzzzt deleeeecious dish izzzz readdddy


    OG: lol!!! thanks for the vote of confidence!!! i sure hope to become a great cook!! πŸ˜†
    ok, advice taken.. will add those ingredient next time I cook something!
    Life is all about damage control!!!
    LOL at sambar… just three years back??? that is surprizing… especially for one who can make appams and stews…. πŸ˜›

  25. April 19, 2009 1:40 pm

    Try reading from internet and then make the dish. It works that ways and you will know the exact amount of ingredients to put. After sometime you will get used to it and would be able to make it yourself. πŸ™‚

    OG: YO… will do that!! have tried that once… πŸ™‚ did not work!! LOL hehehehehe

  26. April 20, 2009 12:15 am

    on the next try if anything goes wrong with the sambhar – put some coke or pepsi — it might hide some non wannabe tastes — i did and worked for me — πŸ™‚

    Warning: Too many cooks spoil the broth.

    OG: πŸ™‚ OKay point noted!!! πŸ™‚ will try fusion sambar!! and no, the warning is not rude!!! πŸ˜› πŸ˜›

    • April 20, 2009 12:34 am

      make that a “friendly” warning — the above warning reads rude!

  27. April 21, 2009 9:31 pm

    NEW POST Reqd Alert πŸ˜›

    • April 21, 2009 10:54 pm

      πŸ™‚ LOL…. working on one…. πŸ™‚ time required… πŸ˜› πŸ˜›
      “damn kaam”

      • April 22, 2009 12:50 am

        Ajit, I second Winnie – I check everyday – and no post – today I did not get a chance to log in – so thought I’d see a post – again no luck 😦 Waiting πŸ™‚

        OG: I am overwhelmed that you and winnie wait for my post!!! πŸ˜› πŸ˜› truly honored….. Work unfortunately is my bane at the moment πŸ™‚ πŸ˜€ :lol:….

        will get one out soon…. Thanks!!!

        • Solilo permalink
          April 22, 2009 7:18 pm

          I see OG flying in the sky. πŸ˜†

          Smi, itrakku venamayirunno?

          OG: πŸ™‚ OG is still firmly on ground πŸ™‚

  28. April 22, 2009 7:43 pm

    Sols!!! Lol!! Aiyyo, Thettu patti poyi 😦 I have great trouble writing im malayalam 😦
    OG: Thettooo???? What is this Smitha…. πŸ™‚
    And I thought you wanted to read my posts…. πŸ™‚ πŸ˜†

  29. Happy Kitten permalink
    April 26, 2009 10:54 am

    LOL! why dint u choose the poor “rasam” to experiment with..

    so many Samabar recipes and none passed the test of the great Chef…. I hope someone warns the poor “wood be” about Sambar.. coz i am sure she will never match ur culinary expertise by the time u finish with ur experiments..

  30. Badz permalink
    April 28, 2009 12:58 am

    First time visiting you blog. Interesting post. I’ve never attempted to make any south indian dishes. BUT if i had to, I’d cheat. There’s packets from a company called “Gitt” which you can purchase in the UK, so I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to get the in the US. (They’re likely to be in your super/hypermarket. Somewhere like Walmart). They specialise in all indian cuisine including sweets and sambars. They are basically sactets will all your powered spices mixed for you. All you have to do is add water and anything else it asks you to. It has clear instructions at the back of the packet, so it is very difficult to go wrong. It turns out good (good as any indian restaurant) and makes life easier. Trust me!

  31. April 29, 2009 4:05 pm

    rofl! How many cookbooks are you going to read dude ? πŸ˜€
    I counted atleast 4 that were suggested here πŸ˜€ or maybe you will do a fusion dish taken from all of them..god save your guinea pigs then πŸ˜€

    All the best coz I know you will be a fine cook…Nancy said so πŸ˜€ so it must be right πŸ˜€

    the sambar looks pretty easy to make excpet that the sambhar mom makes is maybe too northernised and has faint traces of south in it if at all πŸ˜€

    seriously?sambhar is that tough to make?

    I am going to try it now πŸ˜€

    • April 29, 2009 4:08 pm

      yeah, I have a lot of reading to do!!!! πŸ™‚ hehehehehe yeah, god save my roomies…. πŸ˜› πŸ˜›
      last night, I have brilliant pulav…. πŸ™‚ My first victory!!! but I have stopped trying to make sambar!!!! πŸ™‚

      send me samples of sambar you make πŸ˜›

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