The Inevitability of Change: Sambar.

This story starts with a song so well known around the world that even Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon’s first wife, made a recording of it.

Very few people know, however, that it was written in 1926 for a famous Russian emigre artist Alexander Vertinsky, “the Black Pierrot,” as his stage persona was known, a melancholy balladeer of the times gone but not forgotten. After the revolution that forced the upper classes of Russian society into exile, Vertinsky followed his audience, eventually earning fame in Paris. Plagued by nostalgia, the celebrated “bard of the exile” accepted Stalin’s invitation to return and came back to Russia in 1943. Even though he was allowed to perform and even record some of his songs, he remained a shady, half-legal, not exactly trusted by communists individual. Most certainly, those of his ballads that had been written and performed while in exile were considered forbidden subversive material. Obviously, the younger generation, born after Stalin’s death, in the prevailing exhilaration of Khruschev’s “warming,” strove to gain access to anything forbidden and subversive. Thus, one of the definitely forbidden (and consequently very well known)  Vertinsky’s songs was “The Farewell Supper.”

You don’t have to listen to the entire song if you don’t understand Russian, but there are lines in it that are important to my story:

I am raising my glass / To the inevitability of change

Put this information aside for further reference, and let’s move almost fifty years ahead in time.

quote-the-trouble-with-free-elections-is-you-never-know-who-is-going-to-win-leonid-brezhnev-66-42-03

The time is 1973, Khruschev is long gone, the brief “warming” is over, power is consolidated in the grubby hands of Brezhnev who has decorated his barrel chest with medals, who has awarded himself every honor available in the Soviet arsenal, and then invented some more, who is so in love with his own persona that he answers the phone by saying, “Dear Leonid Illich” (that was one of many jokes told about him). I am in the control room at Odessa TV Studio, with a few more people, getting ready to air a comedy show I had written and produced. Suddenly, we get an order from Moscow to stop all programming – urgent news coming through, live! “Dear Leonid Illich” is visiting India – give way!

soviet-india-brezhnev-gandhi-ii-ria-novosti

What we saw on one of the first colored monitors in the USSR, was this unforgettable picture: regal-looking, statuesque Indira Ghandi in a gorgeous gold-edged sari next to the ancient Casanova (“Brezhnev and the ladies” was another topic of many jokes) who is openly leering at her bust line. Mrs Ghandi gets up with a champagne glass in her hand, and we hear simultaneous translation,”I am raising my glass…”  And all five of us, without a second’s hesitation, sing in unison, “…to the inevitability of change!” The most miraculous part of this spontaneous outburst was, of course, the fact that nobody got in trouble! During Brezhnev’s times, when everybody knew that every third person free-lanced as a secret police informer, when knowledge of subversive material would get one eight to fifteen years of hard labor for “anti-soviet agitation and propaganda,” when even closest friends and relatives were under suspect, nobody ran to inform of this “organized group action”!

Sambar 1.jpg

While I don’t know what exactly was served to Brezhnev in India on this visit, undoubtedly it was one of the delicious creations of Indian cuisine. But an interesting rumor was circulating around about tailoring the dish to his dietary preference. Let’s pretend it was one of my favorite Indian dishes, Sambar. I cook green lentils with diced celery and cilantro. I do it in a crock pot, but if you don’t mind constantly stirring , just simmer it stove top. It may take quite a while, though; even longer than it took Brezhnev to think up some of his inane pronouncements.

Sambar 2.jpg

Meanwhile, mist a frying pan with oil and toss a few mustard seeds on in – high heat is necessary. Cover the pan and listen to it. When you hear popping sounds, add a few curry leaves and stir-fry them together for a couple of minutes, no more.

Sambar 3.jpg

Chop up a goodly portion of fresh spinach and add to the frying pan. We are still stir frying here, so don’t reduce heat, but you’ll have to work very fast.

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Add a handful of carrots and some diced red or yellow bell pepper and season your veggies. I use grated ginger and yellow turmeric, a pinch of cardamon and garam masala, and some salt and pepper. Reduce heat, cover, and let it simmer for a few minutes, until carrots and peppers are soft.

Sambar 5.jpg

I had some precooked brown rice, so I just mixed it with the stir-fried veggies and poured cooked lentils in, together with liquid. Mix it all up and put it in the oven until you are ready to serve. Let the flavors blend and enhance each other! I served it with my own Roti (for recipe, click here).  Isn’t it a totally beautiful, scrumptious vegetarian dish? Not to Brezhnev, it wasn’t, or so the story goes.

Sambar 6.jpg

Just like any Russian, especially one born in Ukraine, “dear Leonid Illich” was used to a diet of meat and potatoes. He was also used to his every wish and whim being catered to. Well, ok, he would agree to no potatoes – after all, one has to make some ethnic allowances, and rice is still filling, but meat – oh no! Meat was absolutely essential, under the threat of an international conflict! So a few chicken breasts were urgently boiled, diced, and added to top “the Russian Sambar.” Chicken soup, remained from cooking the breasts, was offered to the honored guest. “What am I, a Jew or something?” – supposedly barked Brezhnev and disdainfully declined.

Sambar 7

As you savor this delectable Sambar, whether authentic or Brezhnev’s version, think how prophetic our impulsive subversive outburst turned out to be: change was inevitable, and it came!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup dry green or yellow lentils (makes 1 cup cooked)
  • 2 cups loose fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 grated carrots
  • 1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup brown rice (makes 2 cups cooked)
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 5 -6 yellow mustard seeds
  • 5 – 6 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 inch (2.5 cm) grated ginger
  • 1 inch (2.5 cm) yellow turmeric
  • A pinch of cardamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Alternative: 1 chicken breast, boiled and diced

PROCEDURE

  • Cook lentils in 1 cup of water with celery and cilantro: stove top on low heat for 1 hour, stirring frequently; crock pot on high for two hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Preheat deep frying pan or dutch oven, mist with oil. Sear mustard seeds, covered, until they start popping (about 3 – 4 minutes), add curry leaves, stir fry for 2 – 3 minutes until wilted.
  • Add spinach, carrots, and peppers. Add ginger and turmeric, season with cardamon and garam masala, add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, cover, reduce heat, simmer for 7 – 8 minutes until carrots and peppers soften.
  • Preheat oven to 200 F. Transfer vegetables to baking dish, add cooked rice, add lentils together with liquid, mix thoroughly. Cover, bake for 30 minutes or until ready to serve.
  • Alternatively, add diced chicken breast before baking.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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90 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for the story and the dish

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment; I am so glad you like it!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. How amusing to watch the change in appearance of the Fab Four through the years. When they first appeared on the USA scene, their school-boy haircuts and London suits seemed outrageous to so many. Thru the years they got “scruffier” and more ‘out there’ and hardly anyone remarked upon it.

    Listening to the version of the song provided, it is so clearly Russian in origin – especially now that I am aware of the “melancholy” history behind it.

    LOVED the Brezhnev quote. Oh how true, especially today. Sad parallels between B. and T., yes? BOTH incredibly, rudely self-focused individuals who are known for meting out harsh treatments to all but the yes-men.

    Your segues from the stories to the food are always delightful, Dolly, and this was no exception. Let’s all pray for that inevitable change to come SOON!
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That moment of bursting out in song was unforgettable, and when I saw a photo of that banquet, I just flipped! I had to do it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Music is always a feel-good — and who doesn’t love THAT?!
        xx,
        mgh

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Ah, but the point was not music but words from a forbidden song that acquired a subversive meaning in that context. It was perfectly clear to all present, but nobody ran to inform.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Loved this post! Great story – I remember Vertinsky, my grandad loved him! Wonderful vegetarian recipe for my son too, all set for university, I will just send him off with a big bag of lentils…😺💕xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow – you actually know Vertinsky! Thank you so much, Samantha, I am so glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My Granddad had to travel to Russia a lot after the Second World War, something to do with the conversion of industrial furnaces and came cross his music there – when I was little and he was still alive he used to play me all these music hall songs, Vertinsky too 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

      2. This really is a very small world!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Awesome story and your dish looks amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear, I am so glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging.

      Like

  5. Elizabeth says:

    The inevitability of change is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Whether it’s change on a grand scale or the simple changes in a family we all face changes. Mr. C isn’t fond of Indian food but, as always, the story was fascinating!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, Elizabeth! It was such an incredible, unforgettable moment, and then I came across a photo of that banquet that brought the memory back – I just had to write about it!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a nice story and to have a dish to go with it is even better. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, I am so glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are welcome. Again, it is so interesting when there is a story behind the recipe that enriches the diner conversation.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am happy I can contribute to your dinner conversation; that is so nice to hear!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. mysending says:

    What a delightful story! And the recipe looks/sounds delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much; I am so glad you like it!

      Like

    1. Thank you for reblogging.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the great posting. Also very informative story. Thx 😉 Michael

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you, Michael! Have a very nice day!

        Like

      3. Thank you for the wonderful recipe and the story. Have a nice weekend ahead. 😉 Michael

        Liked by 1 person

      4. You too, Michael! 🙂

        Like

  8. Sumith says:

    Another beautiful post Dolly. Loved the way you combine the story and the food. Thanks for this beautiful share. And the recipe sounds absolutely delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Samith, for your lovely comment, but please tell me, is it really Sambar?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sumith says:

        Hi Dolly there are different versions of sambar in India. It is mainly from South India. The main ingredient which brings the flavour is “asfoeiteda” a gum from the bark of a tree. Might be you get it in Indian groceries. It’s very strong in that distinct flavour, and other ingredients are lentils and vegetable.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thank you for the explanation, Sumith, but first of all, I have not seen kosher asafoetida, and secondly, even if I could find it, I understand that it also has a very distinct smell – is that true?

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Sumith says:

        It doest smell as you add only a very small portion in your dish (may be a pinch) bur the taste is amazing!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’ll keep trying to find it with kosher certification, then. Thank you again!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. randyjw says:

    Hi, Dolly. I’m doing okay. The dish looks delish! I’ve been dreaming of Indian food today….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been worried about you – are you anywhere permanent?Are you getting medical care?

      Like

  10. E says:

    You have such a gift for weaving history and culture with recipes. I loved this piece.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment; I am so glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. The dish sounds hearty and delicious…not to mention well-timed in light of this week’s meeting between the president and Putin. While change may be inevitable, I fear that history repeats itself. I am reminded of the Yalta Conference, with Roosevelt hopeful (but greatly weakened by illness), and Churchill suspicious of Stalin’s growing power in Europe. I confess I side with Churchill.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see your point, and certainly Churchill has proven to be right. I am hoping that president will be able to stand up to Putin!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Such a great story. Oddly, I had been thinking of that song recently (I am not sure why). I was able to get kosher asafoetida in the past, but, no one liked it unfortunately. As for the recipe, this sounds just up Raizel’s alley! I have to try it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d like to try asafoetida in a recipe, just to see what it’s all about. However, the recipe is quite fine even without it! I hope Raizel likes it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I went there and didn’t see the hechksher. Is there one – did I miss it?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. In the question section they said it was under star K. But, it wasn’t on the package?? I went onto star K, and another brand was listed as well. Not sure, but I thought it was worth investigating.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Sometimes it’s somewhere on the package where it is

        Liked by 1 person

      4. where it is not visible on the photo. If Star K has it, then it’s fine.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. It says Kosher Certification Services, but doesn’t say who. Anyway, they sell it by pound, and it’s very expensive! I would try just a pinch, to see if we will use it.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. But, it doesn’t say who it’s under.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I am going to keep looking. I remember that I had some in the past. But, the flavor that it adds is subtle and the amount one needs is very small. It takes a long time to use up a very small amount.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. That’s what I’ve heard too. There used to be a kosher Indian restaurant here years ago, and I keep wondering if asafoetida was the reason their Chicken Masala tasted so much better than mine!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Sorry for the delay. I am still life and time challenged.

        I found out that the hechsher at Starwest is Kosher Certification Service, Rabbi Eli Frankel, Rabbinic Administrator, Rabbi Dr. Michael Schick, Kashruth Consultant. Their address is 401 North Laurel Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90048. Telephone is (323) 782-1433. http://www.easy-access.com/KCS.

        I didn’t think that chicken masala called for asafetida? Maybe it tasted better because as a restaurant with higher volume, their spices were fresher?

        Asafetida is a unique and subtle spice. It may not the same, but, adding extra garlic, onions, shallots or chives are simple and more easily available substitutes. As long as the food is made with love and brachot (blessings), everyone will still enjoy it!

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Thank you so much for spending time and effort on this search!
        I really don’t know whether they used asafoetida in chicken masala, or any other dishes, for that matter, but I am sure they cooked with a whole array of Indian spices that I can’t use because my husband doesn’t like them (even basic ones, like curry or cardamon). Extra garlic (and extra-extra garlic!) is what I do most of the time.
        Thank you again!

        Liked by 1 person

      11. I have the same problem with my husband. It was fun to look everything up. I wanted to know for myself too!

        Liked by 1 person

      12. I sneak Garam Masala in once in a while, just a pinch, and disguise it by lots of garlic and fresh ground black pepper.

        Liked by 1 person

      13. Good trick! I wish I could convince my husband that cumin is awesome.

        Liked by 1 person

      14. Same here! Sneaking it in as well, when he isn’t looking.

        Liked by 1 person

      15. Your husband doesn’t taste it? My husband has a very discriminating palate. I make it for me and Raizel instead.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Megala says:

    Thanks for the story! Nice to see Russian sambar rice!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL I am glad you liked the story, dear Megala!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Pan says:

    💛 This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read..
    And the recipe looks and reads delicious !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much; I am so glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. oldpoet56 says:

    Excellent article as usual, I enjoy your history lessons, I am going to reblog this article for you Dolly, I really enjoyed the read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Ted! It was such an unforgettable moment in my life, and then I came across a photo of just this moment – it begged for a post!

      Like

    1. Thank you for reblogging.

      Like

  16. He really said “what am I, a Jew or something?”???? So rude!! Besides the leering- he needed a lesson on manners!
    That said, I love your stories!
    How freeing that must have felt for 1 moment, to burst into song, in unison!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you are one of the very few people who got it – the feeling, that is! As to being rude, that remark wasn’t even considered rude during his time in the office; anti-antisemitism was a government-sanctioned policy. And regarding Brezhnev and the ladies, the joke was that most kids born in Kishinev when he was the head of government there had those big bushy eyebrows…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He was a horrible man! I know anti-Semitism is a communist, and Nazi pillar, but it’s still wrong!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes he was, and any discrimination and persecution is wrong. We are all His children, made in His image, and we are supposed to love, not to hate!

        Liked by 2 people

  17. Mama Cass says:

    I am so going to make this next week!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great – I am so glad you like it! Let me know how it come out, please!

      Like

      1. Mama Cass says:

        I will, I promise! Cooking is a passion and I love healthy meals from everywhere. I have a weakness for middle eastern spices.

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Mama Cass says:

    Reblogged this on Aspen Tree Book Reviews and commented:
    My new friend has a lovely blog who weaves a story with amazing beautiful recipes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging and a kind introduction!

      Like

      1. Mama Cass says:

        It is my pleasure

        Liked by 1 person

  19. lovely story. Russian sambar? That’s the first time I’ve heard of that! Looks delicious.

    Like

    1. Thank you very much! It’s more of a rumor, but it does taste delicious, and I am glad you like it!

      Like

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