Monday, November 1, 2010

Lemon Rasam (Elumichai Rasam)

Rasam is a thin, lightly spiced (and mostly clear) soup-like dish which forms an integral part of Tamil cuisine. It is usually served as a second or third course and mixed with plain, steamed rice. While some people call it an appetiser, traditionally, it has always been served with rice, after the sambar or kootu preparations - both lentil based dishes. Though rasam is lentil based as well, it is much lighter using only a small quantity of lentils as a foil to the sour, tamarind pulp and avoiding a complex mix of spices. Eating rasam on a banana leaf is an art by itself and for the longest time I would never eat rasam at a traditional ellai saapadu (traditional meal served on banana leaves)
There are different types of rasams - there is the fiery Milagai Rasam which gets its heat from black peppercorns (and from whence the Anglicized verison - Mulligatawny Soup - evolved) - best had when you have a bad cold and your head is heavy. Then there is the Tomato Rasam - a pleasant, tangy concoction, much beloved of children and the perfect comfort food when one comes home after a long journey. The Pacchai Rasam is, as the name suggests, pacchai or raw - the spices are not roasted or boiled, in keeping with the fact that it is made for nursing mothers and is supposed to be bland but nourishing and so has no spices. In addition to the different types, even the Tomato Rasam or the lentil based Parippu Rasam which are made almost on a daily basis, vary from home to home. The choices seem endless, but are often non-negotiable to some. 
Do you use lentils, strained lentil water or do you soak the lentils to be ground with spices? Freshly crushed spices or home made spice powder or store bought? Tomato pulp or tomatoes quartered? Boil for 1 minute and then turn off or simmer gently for 5 minutes? Garlic in tempering or garlic crushed with spices? 

It was said that the first test for the new bride was her rasam - if she got that right then her cooking skills were bound to be good. Hmm....maybe I should tell my daughter, this should be the test before she chooses her partner - the times I have craved for a nice rasam when I was sick and glared balefully at my Maggi making husband!! My favourite rasams are the ones made by SIL, Mom and my husband's aunt - truly outstanding.
If a souffle is one person's bogeyman and shaping modaks another's, then lemon rasam was mine. Rasam itself took me a long time to master, given that I never quite took to even eating it, till I was well into my twenties. As a child there was the whole question of "touching issues" so I had to be given a small coaster or plate to keep under my plate to make sure the rasam did not touch the veggies or the veggies would have to be transferred to a smaller bowl....sigh, I don't argue with my daughter now when she does the same. But atleast she loves rasam.

Marrying into a rasam crazy family meant that I soon developed a taste for it (actually, what's not to like!) and after many attempts managed to get it right myself. But this was the usual parippu rasam or lentil based one made with either crushed spices or rasam powder. Tomato rasam was the next progression - not sure why it took me so long to get there. But lemon rasam I did not venture towards for a long, long time - it seemed too ethereal for me to try! 

Delicate in taste and light on the stomach - not for it the sourness of tamarind but just a squeeze of lemon right at the end when its taken off the heat. Any sooner and it will turn bitter. Too many instructions basically for a person like me, it seemed. But when I finally did get around to making it (with a recipe from Mallika Badrinath if I remember), I realised that it wasn't that difficult. The bogeyman faded away. I started reserving the lentil water after cooking dal and if you have a lemon handy, its just a couple of minutes after that.
Some recipes advocate soaking a tablespoon of tur dal and grinding it along with cumin, garlic and pepper. But I prefer crushing the spices roughly and mixing them into the strained lentil water I have reserved before hand.
Simmer gently and add the lemon juice once you have taken it off the flame. A mild tempering of asafoetida and mustard and a generous sprinkling of coriander leaves and you have a beautiful rasam ready. 
For one Sunday lunch of ours, it accompanied an Andhra mince curry and stir fried vegetables.

Lemon Rasam  (Elumichai Rasam)

 1 large tomato, chopped into 6 pieces
1/2 cup arhar dal(tur/pigeon pea/tuvaram parripu)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
coriander leaves for garnish
salt to taste
Juice from 1 lemon

Crush coarsely :
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1" ginger 
2-3 green chillies
1 tsp oil
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Curry leaves - few
2 dried red chillies
pinch of asafoetida

1. Cook the tur dal (lentils) with 3 cup of water in a pressure cooker. Drain the lentil water and reserve, add 1-2 tbsp of cooked and mashed lentils to the lentil water. Use rest of the lentils for some other preparation.
2. In a heavy bottomed pan, mix the crushed spices and chopped tomatoes with the lentil water, add salt and turmeric powder and bring to a slow boil, simmer gently for 6-8 minutes and then remove from flame.
3. After removing from heat, add the lemon juice and mix. Do not add while still on heat, it will turn bitter.
4. Heat oil for tempering in a small pan, add the mustard seeds and when they pop, add the asafoetida, curry leaves and dried red chillies. Remove from flame after half a minute and add to the rasam.
5. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.

Wishing all my readers a very Happy Diwali! Have a wonderful and safe festival of lights celebrating with all your friends and family!


Priya said...

Tempting and comforting lemon rasam..

Anonymous said...

Lemon rasam sounds delicious and it is one rasam I haven't tried making it, have tasted it at friend's house. To tell you the truth rasam was the last I learned. Would have failed miserably in the 'test'.

Cham said...

Rasam is the one dish will differ each time I prepare, my son goes crazy with rasam even drinks saying spicy soup!
"the test" reminds one thing, my husband first quest to me before marriage, do u make good rasam? Oh that is a basic, but later realized need to work hard to get the right taste!
Have u tried payasam in ellai? That would be great fun! I love to eat Meen Kuzhambu in ellai- It will be out of the world :)
Btw -In the title Elumichai (lemon)

Miri said...

:) payasam in elai - hmm...yes, I have some memories of those! ;)
Thanks Cham!

Soma said...

Ah!! garam garam for this nasty cold weather here.

Happy Diwali to you and your family. Lots of love,


Arch said...

Lovely write up Miri...Rasam was my first "test"...Mil's mil loved it, so I was instantly approved, by her at least :) I must put up my favourite Mysore rasam...slightly sweetish, but totally yum...

Corina said...

I love the sound of this. I will have to investigate rasam some more.

Miri said...

Aha Arch - maybe because MIL's MIL liking it, was the problem ;)

Thanks Corina and Soma!!