Sunday, August 26, 2007

Annapoorna's Amma Rasam (Instant Tomato Rasam or Soup)

Rasam is one of the ultimate comfort foods and an ubiquitous dish in the South Indian Cuisine. I adore rasam and rice every day; or even a steaming mug of rasam with the meal, as a snack, etc.

There are many kinds of rasams to suit many occasions, but Amma Rasam is a quick and simple one; it doen't even require rasam podi. It was handed down from my husband's paternal grandmother, Annapoorna, and hence the name! She made this rasam when someone did not feel well or an extra dish was needed in a hurry upon the arrival of an unexpected guest. Her rasam was such a hit that it got baptized as Amma Rasam to distinguish it from the other kinds!

Rasams benefit greatly from the use of Ghee in the tadka/thalippu. Use Ghee if at all possible. Do include Fresh curry leaves as they add their unmistakable and indispensable aroma to rasam. Also if there is one dish to be generous with a big pinch of the potent asafoetida, it is rasam!

Note: If you have rasam powder handy, a teaspoon may be added along with the tomatoes for a lovely flavor.


1-2 tsp tamarind concentrate or juice extracted from a small walnut size ball of dry tamarind
1 T Ghee or oil
1/2 tsp each mustard seeds and Cumin seeds
1 T Chana dal
1 T Toor dal
3 dry red Chilies
1 or 2 pinches asafoetida
1 sprig Curry leaves
1 or 2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 thin slice fresh Ginger (optional)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp Indian Jaggery or brown sugar (optional)
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped


If using dried tamarind pulp, pinch off a piece about the size of a walnut from a block of dry tamarind and soak in about 2 cups of hot water for a few minutes. When cool enough to handle, work the pulp with your fingers to knead it well and squeeze out and discard the solids and strain the liquid. Set aside the tamarind liquid until needed. If using tamarind concentrate, dissolve it in 2 cups of hot water.

Heat 1 T oil in a 2 or 3 quart sauce pan. Add mustard and cumin seeds, the dals, and the chilies. When the mustard seeds finish popping, add the Curry leaves and then the tomatoes. Add salt, pepper, turmeric, ginger if using and 3 cups of water. Stir in tamarind water and the jaggery. Let it come to a boil, reduce heat and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the chopped cilantro, cover and let rest for 5 minutes for the flavors to meld. The solids at the bottom (the dals and spices) are generally not eaten from this rasam.

This Rasam is traditionally served over softly cooked rice with a little ghee or a pat of butter, vegetable side dishes and roasted papadums. A mug of rasam is fabulous to sip just by itself or along with the meal. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Upma (Cream of Wheat Pilaf with Vegetables)

Upma with Yogurt

Here is a simple and hearty South Indian dish one can cook up in a jiffy with cream of wheat - very satisfying and nutritious too! Upma is such a versatile dish that can be served from breakfast to tea time; in fact any time at all! In the old days people from near or far often dropped by to visit without prior notice and Upma was one of the dishes that would be served to accompany the customary welcome tea. It is an everyday dish that can be dressed up with cashew nuts for special occasions.

Sooji or Rava is a fine Indian cream of wheat. Any type of finely cracked grain can be used including regular cream of wheat. Sooji, Chana Dal, Urud dal, asafoetida, curry leaves and mustards seeds, etc are readily available at Indian markets.

Serves 4


1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp Ghee (clarified butter) (optional)
½ tsp Brown Mustard seeds
1 Tbsp Chana dal
1 Tbsp Urad dal
1 pinch Asafetida (Hing powder)
1 Tbsp fresh Ginger, finely minced or grated
1 or 2 green Chili, seeds and membranes removed and finely minced
1 small red Onion, finely chopped
1 sprig of fresh Curry leaves
1 tsp Salt or to taste
1/2 cup each shredded carrots, fresh or frozen peas and corn kernels
2 cups Water
1 cup Sooji (Rava or Cream of Wheat)
2 Tbsp chopped Cilantro leaves
2 Tbsp toasted Cashew pieces (Optional)
½ Lime or Lemon, juiced


1. Roast the grains in a dry skillet stirring constantly until they are lightly browned and fragrant. Pour on a plate and let cool until ready to use. Roasting may be done several days in advance; if you do, cool completely and store in an airtight jar. Roasting the grains results in a fluffy dish whereas the raw grains result in a soft creamy dish. Try roasted or raw, decide for yourself!

2. Heat the oil and ghee in a 2-3 quart pot or an Indian wok (Kadai).

3. Add mustard seeds, Chana dal and Urad dal when the oil is hot and cover with a lid to keep the mustard seeds from escaping while they pop.

4. When the mustard seeds finish popping, lower the heat to prevent burning and add the asafoetida quickly.

5. Stir in the ginger, green chili, the onions, curry leaves and the salt immediately and cook over medium heat until onions are translucent and softened.

6. Stir in the vegetables and the water and bring to a boil. Turn heat down so the water is just simmering and cook until veggies are almost tender.

7. Add the cream of wheat in a fine stream while stirring constantly. When all the grains are incorporated and well mixed, cover and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally to keep from sticking or burning.

8. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

9. Stir in lime/lemon juice if desired. Stir in or sprinkle on top the cilantro leaves and serve hot garnished with the cashews. Upma is delicious on its own or paired with any Indian pickle or chutney, ripe mango pulisseri, curries, any type of raita, tomato chutney, gothsu, and fresh unflavored yogurt.

Variations: Finely cracked wheat, cream of rice (rice rawa) or coarse cornmeal can be used instead of sooji. Upma can also be made without any onions or veggies; in this case a 1/4 cup of fresh grated coconut is stirred in at the end and cilantro and lemon/lime juice are not added.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Masala Chai (Spicy Tea)

Masala Chai
Here's a recipe for Masala Chai. You can easily make your own chai for a fraction of the cost of coffee/tea house chai and it is more flavorful too. Serve it steaming hot or cold over ice cubes depending on the weather or your inclination!

According to my sister the green tea adds fragrance while the black adds body! The spices are considered digestive particularly after a rich meal. My mother used to add a little crushed black pepper during cold season to alleviate coughs. It is also refreshing and restoring after a hard day's work. A cup of Masala Chai with a couple of shortbread cookies, buttered toast or samosas makes for a lovely snack. Enjoy!

4 servings


2 cups Milk, any kind
2 cups water
2 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped and crushed well or finely grated
sugar or honey to taste
7 cardamom pods, crushed well
2 tsp each, black and green tea leaves
1 tsp whole black pepper, lightly crushed (optional)


Bring the water to a boil with the spices. Add milk and the teas and bring to a boil again. Turn off heat, strain, and sweeten with sugar or honey. Serve piping hot by itself or with snacks. Enjoy!!

Variations: More cardamom or ginger may be used if a spicier version of tea is preferred. One teaspoon of fennel or anise seeds, a few cloves, and a cinnamon stick may be used along with the other spices if desired. Whole or low fat milk can be used as preferred. One can also add a little cream for a richer tea. 

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pal Payasam (Rice Pudding with Milk)

This is the simplest of payasams with only 3 ingredients! This is the way it is made at the Bhagavan Krishna Temple in Mukundapuram, Kerala, India. The only change I have made is to use low fat instead of whole milk.

6 Servings

1/2 cup uncooked rice (Basmati, Patna, Sona Masuri or Rosematta)
4 cups 1% milk
1/2 cup sugar


Rinse the rice and soak it in two cups of the milk for one hour. Stir in the sugar, the rest of the milk and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low heat stirring occasionally until the rice is very soft and creamy - about 1 hour. Serve hot, warm or cool as you wish. This makes a thick payasam; if a thinner payasam is preferred, add 1 to 2 cups of extra milk at the time of adding milk and sugar.

Variations: Alternately, cook the soaked rice in a pressure cooker. Then proceed as in the recipe above.

Ground cardamom and saffron may be added just before the end of cooking. Cashews pieces and raisins sautéed in ghee (clarified butter) and/or chopped almonds and pistachios may be added as a garnish.