Wednesday, March 09, 2011

RECIPE: Mangalore Rasam

(Clockwise, from right: mangalore rasam, mint rasam, the rasam)

Rasam is a hot and sour soup that (as far as Wikipedia tells me) is big in Southern India and the Tamil areas of India and Sri Lanka. There are dozens of regional variations, which all seam to feature ingredients that are found in that area.

Typically, from the recipes I've seen, the hot part comes from mustard seeds and dried chillis, and the sour part comes from tamarind. In areas where tamarind isn't widely available, they seem to favourite the sourness of lime juice or fermented milk (mmmm).

The other day someone gave me Pushpesh Pant's epic "India: The Cookbook" to take a look at. I browsed through the 1000 recipes inside, but it was rasam that jumped out at me. I've never had it before, but the combination of flavours spoke to me. On an... ingredient... level...

I made three versions from Pant's book: the rasam (the more traditional Tamil Nadu version, as far as I could see), a mint rasam (which substituted tamarind for lime) and a version of rasam from Mangalore, a South-Western coastal city in India. The latter version, with it's use of fried coconut and tomato would prove to be my favourite.

Thusly, I have made a few tweaks to Pant's recipe and I present it for your approval:

Stage One:
- Put 1 tablespoon of ghee or oil into a pan.
- Add 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, a pinch of fenugreek seeds, 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon of mash/urad dal (if you can't find that (you won't if you don't go to an Indian grocer) just use any dal), a dozen dried curry leaves and 1 tablespoon of coconut.
- Cook, stirring often, until everything is toasted and golden.
- Take off the heat and set the mix aside to cool.
- Your alternative there is to put everything in the oven (minus the ghee/oil) and roast it for a couple of minutes.
- Wrap a few cloves of garlic in foil and put into a moderate over. No need to peel yet.

Stage Two:
- Dice 2 medium sized tomatoes. If you want, you could also dice a capsicum.
- Remove garlic from the oven and remove skin.
- In a pot, add 4 cups (about a litre) of water, a tablespoon of tamarind paste, a generous pinch of salt and stir well.
- While that cooks (stir it every now and then) blend up your toasted spices and dals in a hand blender or spice mix. Blend it to a powder.
- Add the garlic and spice mix to the pot. Stir it, obviously. It should be a soupy consistency. Add more water if needed.

Stage Three;
- In a pan, put a little ghee or oil and get it warm. Add a few dried chillis with their seeds removed, torn up a little, a generous pinch of mustard seeds, a generous pinch of cumin seeds, another dozen or so dried curry leaves and, if you have it, a pinch of asafoetida/hing (which stops the bloated feeling you get after eating lentils).
- As soon as the mustard seeds start popping, add the contents of the pan into your pot of rasam.

Serve over basmati rice with a bit of naan. You'll be a hero. If you aren't already.

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