Oh my Goodness – Rasam! It is comfort food to the Nth degree. Think chicken soup but for vegetarians. Just as chicken soup makes one feel good when they have a cold or flu so does rasam for us vegetarians. In fact in our home or for that matter in most South Indian homes, when one is under the weather the first question they get asked is “Shall I make rasam for you?” Rasam is a ubiquitous feel good soup and is such an integral part of a traditional South Indian meal that every meal will usually include rasam on the menu.
Rasam is a thin broth-like soup made with lentil water and a blend of warming spices called rasam powder. Add a dollop of ghee and you have the makings of a feel good mildly spiced soup called rasam. Rasam is typically served like soup or can be had ladled over steaming white rice.
Rasam is made with lentil water, which is the water that is used to cook lentils. Normally when cooking lentils there will be lentil water in the pot after the lentil has been cooked. Rather than discard the lentil water – this water is used to make rasam.
Rasam is made with a spice blend called rasam powder. Most South Indian homes have a family rasam powder recipe that has been passed down through the generations. Rasam powder consists of 5 spices, curry leaves and dry lentils that are all roasted to bring out their aroma. Then the spice mixture is ground into spice blend and stored to use later. These days rasam powder can also be bought at Indian grocery stores. Once you have a rasam powder (homemade or store bought), it’s a breeze to make rasam.
There are so many variations of rasam – there is tomato rasam, lemon rasam, ginger rasam, black pepper rasam, garlic rasam, tamarind rasam, and raw mango rasam just to name a few. Here is a look at rasam at a few dinner gatherings.
Rasam at friends and family gatherings
Tomato rasam is the one that I make for my family when they want a comforting feel-good meal. Here I have included a recipe for basic rasam powder and a recipe for tomato rasam.
- 2 cups coriander seeds
- 1 cup red chilies
- 1/4 cup black peppercorns
- 1/2 cup red gram dal (toor daal, pigeon peas)
- 4 tbsp yellow split peas
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp turmeric
- 1 small bunch of curry leaves (about 1/2 cup)
- In a heavy pan dry roast curry leaves and each spice separately until they each give out a strong aroma. The time may vary depending on the spice. Do not roast the turmeric powder.
- Grind all the roasted spices, dry curry leaves and turmeric in a spice mill into a fine powder. Rasam powder is ready.
- Store in an airtight container to use at any time to make rasam.
- 1/4 -cup toor daal (pigeon peas) cooked in 2 cups water. Cook according to package directions. Set aside. Traditionally only the lentil water is used to make rasam but nowadays I include both the tender lentils and the water to get more nutrients into the humble rasam.
- 2 cups juicy tomatoes finely cut or cherry tomatoes or 1 15oz can stewed tomatoes in their juices or 1 can tomato sauce.
- 2 tsp rasam powder
- 1 tsp Mustard seeds
- 1 tsp Cumin seeds
- 1-2 tsp Asafetida powder (I like a lot of asafetida powder in my rasam)
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
- 4-5 fresh curry leaves if you have
- Cilantro for garnish
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- Oil or ghee
- In a pot heat 2 tbsp oil or ghee. Add mustard seeds and let them pop.
- Next add cumin seeds and toast in oil for a couple of seconds.
- Add asafetida, curry leaves and all the fresh/canned tomatoes. Stir into the oil. Cook the tomatoes for a few minutes until they are tender and juicy.
- Add 3 cups water, 3 tsp rasam powder, 1/2 tsp turmeric, and 1 tsp salt. Bring the water to a boil.
- Next add cooked toor daal (cooked pigeon peas) and the lentil water it is in. Bring rasam to a boil. After a few minutes turn the stove off.
- Add juice of 1 lemon, fresh chopped cilantro and 1 -2 tbsp ghee. Rasam is ready!
- Serve rasam over rice or drink like a soup with ghee on top.
Rasam Away! 😋