August 21, 2008

Tomato Rasam (A sort of Indian Tomato and Lentil Soup)

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.

Donate For A Heart:

Anita Lakshmi is a 28 year old and suffers from Coronary Artery disease. She has two children, aged three and six, is financially dependent on her parents and is not getting any help from her husband. Surgery and other medical expenses are estimated to cost about Rs.5 to 6 lakhs (US$ 15, 000). Lakshmi's state of health requires her to undergo surgery as soon as possible.

Srivalli of Cooking 4 All Seasons is organizing a fund raiser with some raffle prizes to raise as much as possible to help Lakshmi. It would be nice if we could all help any little way we can. You can make donations using the ChipIn button on her blog or through cheques in Indian rupees.

Further details are available at Srivalli’s blog.


jayasree said...

I love rasam.. a comfort food. But my husband is not a big fan of rasam though.

Sireesha said...

I love rasam ...My husband and my daughter are big fans of Rasam so everyday it is prepared in my house.....Yours look awesome.....

Hima said...

Tomato rasam is looking awesome.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

:) This looks just like what my mom makes! Brilliant

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Err that N from A and N. I signed in from my personal account. Sorry!

Fearless Kitchen said...

This looks great. I can see where it would be good for someone who is under the weather - maybe I'll make it for my husband today!

Srivalli said...

Thank you so much for your support Aparna...

and that rasam looks yummy!

Vanamala said...

Rasam pic very nice....lovely

ANJALI J. said...

i had been looking for a nice rasam recipe in the morning.. gud i found it here. thanks..

Mike of Mike's Table said...

I'm not sure how I'd forgotten about rasam--this looks fantastic!

Bhawana said...

this is looking great and mouth atering. have not tried yet. added it to the favourite will try soon :)

Pearlsofeast said...

Great Aparna,I love the rasam powder recipe,thanks and ur Tomato rasam is simply superb.

sunshinemom said...

Aparna, rasam is a favourite of ours too! My son devours most of his 'I don't like this' veggies, if I make rasam! I noticed there are some differences in the way we make it, and will try it your way next time - tomorrow though I hate blanching and peeling tomatoes:)

Tom Aarons said...

I love the multiple translations. They all apply to the dish in one way or another!

usha said...

I love rasam.... looks just like my mom's...mmm...mouth watering....... :)

Priyanka said...

Every time i visit your blog i m transported to a different world. great recipes aparna....rasam looks delicious.

sra said...

We make this with cooked tomatoes, a bit of tamarind and some tempering, no dal even!

Aparna said...

Looks like there are a lot of rasam lovers out there. Didn't think this "rasam" post would evoke so many responses.:)

Yes, do try it out.

There is a simpler way, than blanching and peeling that I resort to often.:)
Dice one and half tomatoes and liquidise the other one and a half tomatoes, skin and all. then procedd as usual.

Thank you, Priyanka, that makes me happy.

Sra, that's another version!
I've found out that each home has it's own version of ceratin staples like rasam and sambhar to mention a few.

Jude said...

Tomatoes and lentils go great together. Love the recipe for rasam powder.

Ria said...

This is going straight into my recipe collection!! :)

The ABCDs of Cooking said...

I just discovered your blog and so glad. You have some recipes that are near and dear to my heart. Rasam was always a staple at meals growing up. Yours looks awesome!

I have actually been using rasam powder on some of my vegetable dishes as well and it is kind of a quick way to spice up a dish.