The 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!
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 ready made (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, the recipe follows.
Here is the recipe for Tomato Rasam which I make the way my grandmother and mother have always made. While it is not typical to serve this Rasam with traditional Kerala style meals called “sadhya”, it is usually cooked for most festive meals served in our homes.