This time it was our monthly Cooking Club assignment: Indian. Lack of time and a small budget presented a particular challenge. After perusing Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India (which you can also pick up next door at A Cook’s Companion.)
Rasam is a Southern Indian soup, usually served as a second course, often with rice. It’s quite thin but packed with flavor and is thought to help with cold weather ailments, like congestion and fever. Except for the time it takes to grind the spices, you can make Rasam pretty quickly. One way to speed the process is to make extra spices and keep a rasam powder handy in your cupboard for the next time. Key to Rasam is a spice call asafoetida, which smells like a mixture of onions and citrus fruit and a few other less savory things. This explains why, according to Wikipedia, in some countries it’s also known as Devil’s Dung or Stinking Gum. It’s hard to believe it comes naturally from the resin of a plant.
You can find it, and most other ingredients for Rasam, at Sahadi’s.
adapted from Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India
1/3 cup red gram dal
1 cup water
2 green chillis
1 piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
salt to taste
2 teaspoon ghee
1/2 teaspoon. brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder
2 curry leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
Wash dal. Drain and place in a heavy saucepan. Cover with 1 cup water and boil. Once it's boiling, cover with lid, lower heat and simmer for 30 - 45 minutes. Set aside.
In blender or food processor, blend fresh ginger and green chillis into a paste. You may need to add a little water to get it to the right consistency. Using a mortor and pestel, grind cumin seeds and black peppercorns into powder. Set aside. Add another 1 1/2 cup water to dal, plus quartered tomatoes (this time of year I use canned tomatoes), ground tumeric, salt and ginger-chilli paste. Bring to a low boil.
In a separate pan heat 2 teaspoons of butter, skimming the foam as you go. This is your ghee. Add mustard seeds, asafoetida, a few curry leaves and pepper-cumin seed powder. Cook on low for a few minutes and then add this mixture to the dal. It will be watery. Turn off the heat and add lemon juice. Garnish with choppped cilantro and serve hot with rice.