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Sambar-flavored Sweet Potato Chickpea Soup

Sambar-flavored Sweet Potato Chickpea Soup

So Sunday comes round the corner and I’m half desperately working with what’s left of decent produce from the week, half trying to rid myself of old stuff to usher in the new, fresh stuff the coming week, in mentality at least. And what I had left on my mental checklist was 1. half a cup of cooked chickpeas 2 . lots of sweet potato 3. coconut cream from the roasted cauliflower marinade.

I came across a recipe for a soup calling for black beans, sweet potato and coconut milk so decided to roll with the soup idea. What I don’t understand though, is how so many of these soup recipes like to make use of large quantities of coconut milk. In my area at least, we find the flavor of coconut to be PRETTY strong, especially when its meant to increase the richness rather than to add coconut flavor, since this may overpower the subtler veggie flavors.


Lots of chunks left in my soup! 😀

I’m more incline to throwing in a pinch of this and that, going with the flow of aromas in my pan, letting them guide my seasoning hand. So this started with tempering cumin seeds and a dried chilli in coconut oil, sauteing up a small onion and adding garlic into the mix. Pretty much a standard start so far. Then in went sweet potatos and chickpeas for more sauteing before adding liquid, salt and black pepper to simmer.

I’m not sure how I ended up reaching for Sambar powder, but what other more convenient way to season a dish than to rely on a spice mix already in a good-tasting combination, which then leaves you little to worry about considering the general theme of Sundays revolving around not doing any work.

Plus, sweetness loves savory and vice versa, so I wanted the full-bodied aroma of spices to make merriment with the sweet potatos. Sounds like a party in there!

And of course, nobody has Sambar without tamarind. It makes total sense flavor-wise because the tartness highlights and brings your attention to all the flavors of the spices from the Sambar powder, and don’t forget to salt as well because the salt in turn complements the tartness. And the cycle of sweet-spicy-sour-salty goes round and round, each in delicate balance with the others producing a delicious Sambar flavored soup.

I remember that this wasn’t supposed to be Sambar but rather a chunky soup tasting of Sambar so added a splash of non-dairy milk and a dollop of coconut cream to mellow down the fieriness from the chillis, making sure this was still a meal in itself rather than a strongly-flavored side dish.

If you may allow yourself the luxury, have some good rye/ wholemeal/ sourdough toast to dip into the soup and, if possible, salad or steamed greens on the side for a complete lunch (my idea of one that is XD). If circumstances dictate otherwise, which isn’t a problem at all, the soup in itself makes for a simple, light yet satisfying eat.

Sambar-flavored Sweet Potato Chickpea Soup 


Ingredients* (makes 1 very large portion or for 2 as a side)

  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 dried red chilli (optional, for heat), cut into pieces
  • 1 small onion (or half a large one), chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or minced
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped into cubes
  • 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 2-3 tsp Sambar powder
  • 1 T tamarind paste with seeds (I use Dahlia brand)
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • 2-3 tsp coconut cream

*Note: A rough guide as I didn’t measure. Use your senses and season as per your tastebuds!

To make:

Soak tamarind
Prepare tamarind water but soaking the paste in a bowl with some hot water. Once the paste has softened, pick out the seeds.

Temper spices
In a pot deep enough, temper cumin seeds in hot oil. They should crackle immediately if  hot enough. You can test on one seed first. Then add dried red chilli to infuse flavor into the oil.

Saute + Add Sambar powder and tamarind
Add chopped onion and fry till somewhat translucent. Add garlic and continue sauteing for 1 minute. Then add sweet potato and chickpeas and saute for a bit. Add salt here to facilitate the cooking of the sweet potatos. Add hot water enough to cover everything by about 1 cm. Add sambar powder and tamarind water and bring to a boil. Simmer till sweet potato is cooked, while the Sambar powder and tamarind smell should lose their raw smell (kind of hard to explain here but the smell changes so watch out for it).

Now let cool for a bit and blend everything up. I blended roughly to leave some chunks for texture. Taste to see if more salt, sambar or tamarind is needed. Here, the sour taste may not seem enough but once you add the salt, this really highlights the sour taste. Make sure to let it cook for a while if additional sambar powder or tamarind is added.

Taste test and add non-dairy milk + coconut cream
Now the flavors will be rather strong (enough to knock the socks off undiscerning taste-testers!) so add in your non-dairy milk (I used soymilk) and coconut cream for a bit of richness (note there shouldn’t be a lot of coconut flavor, just enough to tone down the fiery edge and give a bit of richness). Put the pot back on heat and mix well till it comes to a small simmer.

Done. Now garnish with fresh coriander leaves if you have and enjoy!