Monday, March 22, 2010

Sambhar and the GI Index

Sambhar a flavorful Indian stew for vegetarians, diabetics and people who desire weight loss

I recently found a new interest in Sambhar after witnessing my sister's sudden ten pound weight loss. My sister is a vegetarian and in an effort to lose weight started eating sambhar as a main meal. If you don't mind the hot spices, it can be a wonderful meal full of proteins and vitamins due to the toovar daal and vegetables. Yum!

Before getting into the recipes lets get a few interesting facts out of the way. Sambhar is a vegetable stew which has its origins in South India. There are so many variations that one can truly never get bored of this meal which by the way is normally served up for breakfast! You can mix sambhar with veggies, rice, idli (a puffed and steamed cake made from black gram), dhokla (steamed gram flour) and continue the variations. For a twist Westernize the dish by throwing in croutons instead, add non-traditional veggies such as broccoli and tone down the spices.

Sambhar and rice (Unpolished Basmati) has an overall low Glycemic index (GI) and also lowers the lipemic response. The lipemic response affects cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your body. According to glycemicindex.com, "The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating.”  Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health. With the majority of charts, a number lower than 55 means that the ranking is considered low, if the ranking is between 55 and 70 it is middle range, and above 70 is considered a high ranking. There may be some foods which cause a ranking above 100; this would normally interpret as a food that causes a higher spike in blood sugar levels. Along with the GI index, many researchers are also leaning towards the Glycemic load (GL) of foods to resolve inconsistencies with the GI index. A main problem with the GI index is that it is reliant on results from a measure of 50 grams of food which some nutritionists see as too small of a portion. Although Glycemic Loads are good to consider, the Glycemic Index as a standalone tool does provide you with a basic picture: The lower the number, the slower the food digests in your system, this in turn means that it will slowly alter your blood sugar which is much healthier for your body.

I found a very interesting study to back this claim - (http://www.rssdi.org/1997_july-sept/article2.pdf).

This study was performed with various controlled conditions and found that South Indian food overall had low GIs. In particular, Sambhar with Pongal (rice dish, you can substitute with plain basmati rice) shows a GI of 53.6%. This is quite a bit lower than other regional foods and even the traditional idli and chutney meal which rendered a GI of 102%!

Food Items and Glycemic Indice (%) ( Mean ± SD )

1. Pongal with Sambhar 53.6 ± 2.4
2. Bisibelle Bhat 58.0 ± 5.5
3. Uthapam with Chutney 63.0 ± 3.0
4. South Indian Meal 63.3 ± 4.3
5. Curd Rice with Curry leaves Chutney 65.4 ± 5.1
6. Punjabi Meal 68.0 ± 19.2
7. Adai with chutney 69.6 ± 8.1
8. Bengali Meal 69.9 ± 16.5
9. Rasam rice with Papad 77.5 ± 6.5
10. Gujarati Meal 83.0 ± 11.4
11. Sambhar Rice 83.1 ± 5.2
12. Dosai with with Podi 91.3 ± 2.5
13. Idli with Chutney 101.5 ± 7.5

Food Item Lipemic Response (% rise / fall in Triglyceride) Mean
1 Pongal with Sambhar - 6.3
2 Bisibelle Bhat + 2.2
3 Uthapam with Chutney + 6.4
4 South Indian Meal + 7.1
5 Curd Rice with Curry leaves Chutney + 8.5
6 Punjabi Meal + 8.6
7 Adai with chutney + 9.5
8 Bengali Meal + 10.2
9 Rasam rice with Papad + 10.7
10 Gujarati Meal + 12.5
11 Sambhar Rice + 15.4
12 Dosai with with Podi + 16.2
13 Idli with Chutney + 18.0

Now on to the delicious part, okay as much as I like to make things from scratch I also appreciate short cuts to save time. Hence the Sambhar daal packages available at the local Indian grocery store. I like the Gits Sambhar Mix. Add water and boil. Throw in your favorite vegetables such as tomatoes, cauliflower, eggplant and you have a wonderful stew.

On a final note, if you don't understand some of the terms - Google It:))

If you want to make sambhar from scratch, here is a good Tarla Dalal recipe I liked:

Cooking Time : 15 min. Preparation Time : 20 min.
Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients For the sambhar
1 cup toovar daal (arhar)
1 tomato, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 brinjals, cubed
1 drumstick, cut into 4 pieces
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp (amlaa)
salt to taste

For the sambhar masala
6 to 8 red chillies
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi)
1 tablespoon toovar daal (arhar)
1 tablespoon split Bengal gram (channa daal)
1 tablespoon split black gram (urad daal)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder (haldi)
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
1 teaspoon oil

For the tempering
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
6 curry leaves
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
2 tablespoons oil

1. For the sambhar masala
2. Heat the oil and roast all the ingredients for the sambhar masala in it.
3. Grind to a fine paste in a blender using a little water. Keep aside.

How to proceed
1. Wash and pressure cook the daal, tomato, onion, eggplant, drumstick
and potato with 2 cups of water.
2. Then add the tamarind pulp, sambhar masala, salt and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.
3. Prepare the tempering by heating the oil and frying the mustard seeds,
curry leaves and asafoetida until the mustard seeds crackle.
Add this to the sambhar and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Serve hot.


  1. I made this dish, it was really good and was much easier to make than I expected. Thanks for the recipe.

  2. Thanks for sharing this indepth article. I found it while surfing the GITS Food website (under the testimonials area)... after having purchased a couple of packets of Baingan Bharta ... the package is in front of me and I'm tempted to cook it tonight as a late evening snack with a film. I hope it's tasty as this classic Indian eggplant dish is one of my faves.



  3. Hey! how much did she eat at a meal?

    1. She began eating the sambhar with veggies mixture as lunch and\or dinner. Mind you she is already vegetarian.


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