That English translation of Tomato Rasam as soup is the closest I can come to describing Rasam. Rasam can also loosely translate as “enjoyment” or as “the essence of” something. Whatever the meaning I am, once again, in that minority of south Indians who does not like rasam. I can only assume that this could be partially because, in my mind, food served when one was ill. A milder and non-spicy form of Rasam was usually considered the most suitable (with rice) form of nourishment when one was ill with fever. And I’m sure this is true because Rasam is very easy to digest and the pepper and cumin in it would bring down the temperature of a fever. The other reason I don’t like it is because it is very watery in consistency and I don’t like my rice to be very wet with whatever gravy I’m eating it with.
There are many types of Rasam. Of these, some are made to be taken will with a fever and/ or a cold while others are served with a regular meal or festive meals called “Sadhyas”. In the scheme of being served at a festive Palakkad Iyer meal, a Rasam is served with rice and papads after the sambhar and rice but before the payasam (a milk or coconut milk based sweet Indian pudding also called Kheer in Hindi).
But please do not go by my dislikes. All the other people I know, except someone I met recently, love Rasam. My sister and daughter will not only have it with rice, but also follow this up with a glass of Rasam occasionally!
Here is the recipe for Tomato Rasam which I make the way my grandmother and mother have always made.
3 medium sized tomatoes
¼ cup cooked and mashed red gram (tuvar/ thuvaraparippu) dal
a marble sized ball of tamarind
2 tsps of sambhar powder/ rasam powder (see below)
¾ tsp coriander powder (don’t use if you are using rasam powder)
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp powdered jaggery
salt to taste
1 ½ tsp ghee or oil
¼ tsp asafetida powder
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 big sprig curry leaves
1 ½ tbsp chopped coriander leaves
Blanch the tomatoes in 1 cup of boiling water for about 2 to 3 minutes. Don’t throw away this water but use it to soak the tamarind. Remove the tomatoes from the water and peel off the skin. Cut the tomatoes into quarters, saving the pulp but throwing out the seeds. If all this seems like too much work, you can just cut the raw tomatoes into quarters and proceed from here onwards, but longer way makes for a tastier Rasam.
Pour the tamarind extract into a pan/ vessel and place on the stove. Add the tomatoes, curry leaves, turmeric powder and the salt and allow the tamarind and tomatoes to come to boil. Simmer for a few minutes till the tomatoes are cooked.
Add about ¾ a cup of water to the dal and mix it so it that it becomes a watery dal-water mixture. Add this and the powdered jaggery to the above tamarind-tomato mixture. Once it boils, let it simmer for about 5 minutes. If the Rasam seems too thick in consistency add a little water to adjust to desired thickness. Rasam should have the consistency of a clear soup.
Now add the sambhar powder and coriander powder, after dissolving it about 2 tbsps of water. This will ensure that the powders mix well in the rasam. Just let it simmer for a minute. Do not allow the Rasam to boil too long after this point or the flavours of the spices will not come through. Take off the heat and add the coriander leaves.
Just before serving, heat the ghee or oil and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the asafetida, take off the heat and pour this into the Rasam. Serve the Rasam hot, with rice, a tsp of ghee, pappad/ appalam (sun and a dried and deep fried crisps) dry vegetable preparation on the side.
This recipe will very comfortably serve 4.
Rasam can be made with Rasam powder which has roughly the same spices as Sambhar powder, just a little more coriander powder. I usually do not make my own Sambhar powder but buy it readymade (surprisingly for someone who makes a lot of other things at home, I know). I get a brand I’m satisfied with and find this easier to use. But the flavour and aroma of a Rasam made with the home-made powder is wonderful.
If you would like to make the Rasam powder at home, here’s the recipe.
1 tbsp coriander seeds
½ tbsp red gram (chana/ kadala parippu) dal
½ tbsp yellow (tuvar/ thuvara parippu) dal
¼ tsp pepper
1 to 2 dry red chillies
½ tsp cumin seeds
Dry roast the above spices, till they give off an aroma. Take off the heat immediately, allow to cool a bit and grind into a powder.
The tomatoes in it lend this Rasam a lot of red colour so this goes to Harini, the Sunshinemom of Tongue Ticklers whose event Food In Colours is Red this month.
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