I seem to be on an Indian cooking spree at the moment. In fact yesterday, I was craving a HEAT hit. I had made some Garam Masala and the house was smelling of wonderful spices. As I worked at my desk I became hungrier and hungrier. What to do?
Ah, after peeking in the fridge to see what was left after a hectic week, the solution was a wonderful, spicy rasam. It sure hit the spot.
What is Rasam?
It took me a long time to understand Rasam when I was learning about India and Indian cooking. For a long time I got Rasam and Sambar confused. One of the easiest way to describe it is that Rasam is a very thin, sometimes watery, spiced dish where lentils are used for flavour but are not obvious. Sambar is a thicker dish based on lentils. Traditionally both dishes are spiced differently.
In India, traditionally all of your meal, including deserts, are served together on the one plate – a tali or metal plate divided into sections, or 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 drink as a soup or spicy appetiser.
Notes on the Recipe
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 the water left over from cooking dal (lentils). Lentils are a great flavouring agent in Indian cooking, so the water forms a beautiful stock. You can use water, but the recipe is poorer for this. If you don’t happen to be cooking lentils at the same time, I usually put a small handful of the small yellow channa dal in to cook until mushy, and use the lentils plus water for this dish. It makes it a bit thicker than a traditional rasam, but still wonderfully spicy. Another way to do it more traditionally would be to save the water next time you do cook dal and freeze it for later use.
If you can’t find curry leaves locally (any Indian shop will have them fresh or dried), don’t substitute bay leaves. They are a completely different taste and are not interchangeable. Just leave them out.
You can buy a ready mixed sambar or rasam powder (a specific spice mix useful for rasams) from your local Indian or Asian shop, or you can make your own (I will put this in a future post).
Tamarind is a souring agent in Indian food. I don’t mean that it curdles the food as a souring agent might be used in Western cooking, but it provides the sour taste that is a wonderful underlying note to good, authentic Indian dishes. Indian food traditionally combines a number of tastes into each meal – sweet, sour, salty, pungent and astringent. In Southern parts of India, tamarind is used for the sour. Other regions might use lemon juice, mango powder (amchur) or even dried sour pomegranate seeds. If you can’t obtain any tamarind, use the juice of half a small lemon or some amchur. It isn’t the same Sth Indian typical taste, but will be Ok. Hunt out some tamarind for next time.
[Update: I would only use tamarind these days, it is a very special taste and Rasam is not really rasam without it. Easily available these days, even in some supermarkets.]
Spicy Tomato Rasam
A South Indian side dish
Can be used as a pre-dinner small appetising drink and spice hit
Can be served over rice
4 large ripe healthy tomatoes
4 cups of top water of boiled dal (lentils) or water
2 whole red chillies, or to taste
1 stalk curry leaves
1 tiny sprig mint leaves
1tiny sprig coriander leaves (optional)
1 – 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
0.5 stick cinnamon
8 – 10 black peppercorns
1.5 tspn cumin seeds
0.5 tspn black mustard seeds
2 pinches asafoetida
1 marble sized ball of jaggery (palm sugar) or 1 tspn brown sugar
1 small strip tamarind
1 Tblspn ghee or oil
0.5 sambar or rasam spice mix (available from your Indian shop or make your own)
(Celtic) sea salt to taste
Heat 0.5 tspn of ghee in a small pan and add peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon stick and 1 tspn cumin seeds. Roast until aromatic. Place in your mortar or spice grinder and grind to a powder.
Heat another 1 tspn ghee in the pan and add the whole chillies and curry leaves. Roast a little and put aside.
Chop the tomatoes into fine cubes.
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 dal 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 to taste and simmer for 2 – 3 minutes.
Serve with rice, or serve in a heat proof glass, topped with mint or coriander leaves.
This post was updated on 5th December, 2013
From the Rasam and Dal Soups Series:
- Ginger Garlic Lentil Soup
- Green Mung Bean Soup: Pachai Payaru
- Green Mung Dal Soup with Asparagus and Tomatoes
- Kitchen Bench Green Mung Dal Soup with Amaranth Greens
- Lemon or Lime Rasam. Sweet, Sour, Hot, Delicious.
- Light Summery Tomato Soup
- Saar/Rasam from Goa in India
- Thakkali Paruppu Rasam – Tomato Lentil Rasam: A Sth Indian Beauty (A spicy tomato based broth)
- Tomato Rasam for a SPICE Hit!