Soaking in Sambar
From plain chicken cutlets to your mama¹s homemade meatloaf, if there was any culinary staple that could rescue the bland and enhance the rich, it¹s a ladling of sauce.
Sauce is what makes you savor every speck of food on your plate: scraping your fork against your dish to produce one last prong-full of goodness or, when that fails, using an extended finger. In vegetarian sauces, though, it¹s the absence of gelatin connective tissue that melts from meat and gives sauce its mouth feel that can sometimes make the most palatable of blends feel hollow. Like the flavor came to the party but got wasted and fell asleep in the first five minutes.
Luckily, that¹s not the case with the array of curries and chutneys at Woodlands Vegetarian Indian Restaurant (4816 N. University Dr., Lauderhill). The quaint strip-mall eatery serves South Indian cuisine a regional variant of Indian food characterized by heavily spiced sauces and a range of starches to sop it all up. And sop you shall or mop, scrape, scoop, swipe, and soak. Whatever your method, you¹ll be elbows-deep in pungent colloids before you can say uthappam.
Woodlands follows the South Indian mold closely, producing a huge menu that can baffle even experienced diners of Indian cuisine. Thankfully, staff members practically fall over themselves to assist you. On our last visit, my friend had a question about the dosai stuffed rice crepes, each larger than your forearm. Eager to help, our server proceeded to run down the entire menu, starting at number one, idli, and working to the very back. Vada: That¹s fried lentil donuts, some dipped in sambar, some rasam. Bonda are fried dumplings, and those uthappam are flat pancakes topped with chilies and potatoes and whatever else you can imagine. There are more than a dozen varieties of curry, as well as rice pilavs flecked with lentils and spices and the house specialties, which include a couple of Indo-Chinese offerings. Around the 30th menu item, we had to ask him to stop, but the gesture was proof of how far out of its way the staff is willing to go.
We tried two dosai: The Woodland¹s special spring dosa ($6.95) had a softer exterior than the crispy masala dosa ($5.95) and was stuffed with garlic, ginger, potato, chickpeas, cilantro, and carrots. Both were especially good when dipped in sambar a tangy, South Indian soup or milky coconut chutney.
But the real winner was the chana bhatura ($7.25). It arrived like a king hoisted on a chariot: a golden lantern of puffed fried dough, spilling over the sides of the platter and all but engulfing the bowl of curried chickpeas that accompanied it. I grabbed at the top of the balloon to tear off a ragged piece, and hot, fragrant steam rushed out to greet me. I pushed away my spoon, instead cupping the bhatura and using it to scoop up a mouthful of the aromatic peas. It was buttery, sweet like a donut, and playfully spicy. We each repeated the practice with garlic naan ($2.50) and paratha ($1.95) flatbreads perfect for slathering up our baigan bartha of roasted eggplant ($7.50) and tomato-based mutter paneer ($7.50). And we never missed our meat; we were just happy to enjoy the sauces, as pure as they were.
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