Yesterday I had made some Garam Masala and the house was full of wonderful aromas. As I worked at my desk I became hungrier and hungrier. What to do? I needed something wonderfully spicy.
After peeking in the fridge to see what was left after a hectic week, the solution was a wonderful, spicy tomato rasam.
One of the easiest way to describe Rasam is that it is a very thin, sometimes watery, spiced dish where lentils are used for flavour but are not obvious. Rasam is often confused with Sambar. Sambar is a thicker dish based on lentils. Traditionally both dishes are spiced differently. You can read more about the difference between Sambar and Rasam here.
In India, traditionally all of your meal, including desserts, are served together on the one plate – a tali or metal plate which might be divided into sections – or even more traditionally, on a banana leaf. Rasam may be served in a small metal cup along with the meal. Its purpose is to moisten the other curries and rice, as needed, or to consume as a soupy broth or spicy appetiser.
Spicy Tomato Rasam
See Common Indian Ingredients and Techniques for information on the ingredients.
A South Indian side dish
Can be used as a pre-dinner small appetising drink and spice hit
Can be served over rice
This makes a large amount, 5 – 6 cups. For smaller amounts, halve the recipe.
4 large ripe healthy tomatoes, chopped into fine cubes
4 cups water
0.5 stick cinnamon
8 – 10 black peppercorns
1 tspn cumin seeds
2 whole dried red chillies, or to taste
1 stalk curry leaves
1 – 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 marble sized ball of jaggery (palm sugar) or 1 tspn brown sugar
1 small strip tamarind
0.5 Tblspn Rasam or Sambar Masala
sea salt to taste
1 tiny sprig mint leaves (for garnish, optional)
1 sprig coriander leaves (for garnish, optional)
In a pan, dry roast the peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon stick and 1 tspn cumin seeds until aromatic. Place in your mortar or spice grinder and grind to a powder.
Pinch the ends from the chillies, so they won’t explode in the heat.
Heat 1 tspn ghee in the pan and add the chillies and curry leaves. Roast a little and put aside.
Into a deep saucepan, place the tomatoes, the chillies and curry leaves, roasted spice powder, jaggery, and rasam or sambar spice mix. Mix it well and mash it together. Use a hand blender to obtain a pulp.
Strain the tamarind into the saucepan. Mash the solids in the strainer to use as much as the pulp as you can. Discard the remainder.
Add the water to the saucepan and bring to the boil.
Heat the remaining ghee in a small pan, add the mustard seeds, the remaining cumin and asafoetida, and allow the seeds to pop and splutter. Add the garlic and stir for a moment, and then transfer to the rasam.
Add salt if needed, and simmer for 2 – 3 minutes.
Serve with rice, or serve in a heat proof glass, topped with mint or coriander leaves.
The recipe relies on wonderful succulent tomatoes for taste success. If these are in short supply, use a tin of good Italian diced or whole tomatoes.
The rasam is great to make from water in which dal or lentils have been cooked. Lentils are a great flavouring agent in Indian cooking, so this water forms a beautiful stock if you happen to be cooking lentils at the same time as making rasam.
There is a specific spice mix used for Rasam, called Rasam Powder or Rasam Masala. You can buy a ready mixed rasam powder from your local Indian or Asian shop, or you can make your own. Bought or home made Sambar Masala can be substituted.