Thursday, October 23, 2008

Everyday Rasam (Spicy Lentil Tomato Soup)


I bet Rasam recipes were invented to be resourceful and avoid any waste. Our ancesters were amazingly resourceful and inventive. One of the mottos that they instilled in us from very early on was "Waste Not, Want Not"! They found a way to make use of even the humblest of ingredients and make them divinely delicious. Rasam is a wonderful example where the extra liquid from cooking dal is made into a lovely and luscious soup!

Rasams vary in complexity, from very simple (like Amma Rasam) to elaborate and are served at daily meals as well as at wedding banquets. The South Indian people believe in "feeding colds and fevers" with what else - Rasam of course! Our grandmas and moms made a huge variety of rasams suitable for every occasion and could recommend one for alleviating any ailment ;).


Rasam is part of the South Indian comfort food repertoire. It makes a nice change of pace to have a simple meal of rasam with rice and a veggie side dish (such as a thoran, upperi or paruppu usli) especially on cold or rainy days. I love a big mug of steaming hot rasam to sip on cold evenings to begin or end the meal.

Although usually one plans to save the excess liquid from Toor dal when cooking it for other dishes, one can certainly cook it specifically to make rasam. If so, cook about 1/4 cup Toor dal in about 2 cups of water with a pinch each of Turmeric and Salt until the dal completely disintegrates and is very soft and creamy.

Rasam powder, Toor Dal, Dried Tamarind pulp or concentrate, Pappadams, and Curry leaves are readily available in Indian grocery stores.

Tamarind pulp is the dried fruit with the shells and seeds removed and formed into bricks; the concentrate is just that - all ready to stir into whatever dish you are making. Although the concentrate is ever so user-friendly, the dried pulp has its own fresh and delicate flavor.

Ingredients:

Walnut size ball dried Tamarind pulp plus 2 cups water
or
2 tsp Concentrated Tamarind Paste dissolved in 2 cups water

2 large ripe Tomatoes, chopped
1 Tablespoon Rasam Powder
1/2 tsp ground Turmeric (Haldi)
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Indian brown sugar (Jaggery), Optional
2 cups Toor dal water (with a little of the dal is good too)
4 Tbsp fresh Cilantro, chopped

Tadka/Thalippu:

1 Tbsp Ghee or Oil
1/2 tsp brown Mustard Seeds
1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds (Jeera)
1 pinch Asafoetida
1 sprig fresh Curry Leaves

Method:

If using tamarind pulp, soak it in 1 cup of hot water. When cool enough to handle, work with fingers to squeeze and mash the pulp to extract thick tamarind juice. Pour out just the juice into a 2 or 3 quart saucepan. Add 1 cup more water to the pulp and mash the fibers with fingers. Strain out the fibers and discard; combine the juice with the first extract.

Add the chopped tomatoes , turmeric, salt, the jaggery if using, and the rasam powder to the tamarind water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until tomatoes are soft.

Stir in the dal water and heat until very hot and foamy. Traditionally, rasam is not boiled. Turn off the heat.

Prepare tadka/thalippu: heat the oil with mustard and cumin seeds. When they slow down dancing and popping, add asafoetida. Quickly put in curry leaves and cover immediately to avoid hot oil splashing on you as the moist curry leaves sputter and dance quite a bit when they come in contact with the hot oil. Pour over the rasam carefully.

Stir in chopped cilantro leaves, cover and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve hot in a mug to sip before or along with the meal or over soft rice.

One of my favorite ways of serving rasam is to mash hot soft cooked rice with a potato masher with plenty of the rasam and serving it in wide soup bowls accompanied by roasted or fried Pappadams (lentil wafers) and vegetable dishes.



Note: Tomatoes are the vegetables of choice for making rasams but rasam can be made without any tomatoes at all. If tomatoes are not used, you might wish to increase the amount of tamarind to balance the flavors.

Although rasam is most commonly made with toor dal, other split and skinless dals like mung, chana and masoor dal can also be used (but not from any whole beans).

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