Rasam (Clear Lentil Soup)


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Whether we had been eating out for three days in a row or had been feasting on festival foods or had been down with cold and stuffy nose, the next morning I wake up with only one thought “Make Rasam”.  Rasam (pronounced russ-um) is a clear soup and is commonly present in a south Indian lunch menu. Usually eaten with rice, rasam is also served as soup or used as a base for other recipes like “rasa vadai”.  If you didn’t already know, you may be surprised to  that rasam is the original “muligtwany soup“. “Muligtwany” comes from two tamil words “Molagu (black pepper) Thanni (water)”.  🙂

There are many versions of rasam. This recipe is of “Paruppu Rasam”, rasam made with ‘paruppu’ or ‘dhal’ or lentils. Having been a meat eater once has its advantage, I can pin point what is missing in the vegetarian version of a recipe. Soups are definitely not the same when you replace chicken stock with vegetable stock. But you can get the warm taste in vegetable soups by adding dhal water. I guess its the protein :).

Though rasam is a very common food, a well made rasam is not that common 🙂  Even experienced cooks make very simple mistakes, I still remember my bad rasam days. But over time, I have found my fool proof rasam recipe that is also quite easy to make. And here it is for you.

  • I use Thur Dal for rasam. (Thur dal is the dried and split pigeon peas). Take about 1/4 cup of Thur dal.

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  • You’ll also need :
  1. Plum tomatoes – 3
  2. Curry leaves – handful
  3. Cilantro – a good bunch
  4. Lime – 1/4 (You will need more or less according to the acidity in tomatoes)
  5. Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  6. Asafoetida – 1/4 tsp (Common mistake 1 : heavy hand with asafoetida, results in a bitter rasam. A pinch is plenty.)
  7. Vellam / brown sugar – 2 tsp
  8. salt to taste

(Usually tamarind water is used in rasam. But I am replacing it with tomatoes and lime)

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  • For the spice blend :
  1. Black pepper – 2 tsp
  2. Cumin – 2 tsp
  3. coriander seeds – 1 tsp
  4. Garlic cloves – 2 (crushed with the peel)

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  • Crush black pepper, cumin, coriander seeds and garlic coarsely. Crush them enough to break to release flavor. Do not make it into a fine paste /powder.

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Common mistake 2 : Using store bought rasam powder. I am not against pre-made powders. I have devoted a section of my pantry for pre-made masala powders. But for rasam, strictly no pre-made stuff. And it is so easy to make the spice blend instantly.

  • Wash thur dhal, add a cup of water, add turmeric and asafoetida to the water and also add the tomatoes. Cook until dal is soft. I use a pressure cooker as it cooks dal fast and retains nutrients.

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  • Once the dal is soft , mash the tomatoes and dal with the back of a spoon or ladle. If your dal doesn’t mash easily, you need to cook a little longer.

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  • Add 4 – 5 cups of water to the mashed dal and tomatoes. Add salt to taste. Also add half of the curry leaves and cilantro.

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  •  Add 2 tsp of vellam/brown sugar and bring to one good boil. (If you choose to add tamarind water instead of lemon, you should add it now.If you added tamarind water, boil enough until the raw smell of the tamarind goes away).

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  • After one good boil, reduce heat and stir in the spice blend.

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  • After you’ve added the spices, the rasam should not be brought to a boil at all. Simmer until foams appear on the surface and turn off the heat.  Allow it to rest for 5 minutes and squeeze in the juice of quarter lemon. Adjust the quantity of lime juice according to how sour the tomatoes are. Also add the remaining curry leaves and coriander leaves. Cover with lid and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Common mistake 3: Over boiling the rasam. After adding the spices , when you let rasam boil , the flavors become pungent and gives a bitter after taste.

  • Did you notice zero oil was used in this recipe ? Isn’t that awesome ? However, usually rasam is tempered with mustard seeds and dried red chillies for additional flavor. But it is optional. If you choose to temper, heat 1/2 tsp of ghee in a pan, fry 1/2 tsp of black mustard seeds and 1 dried red chilli (cut in small pieces) and pour in the rasam.

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Comon mistake 4 : Using too much oil to temper rasam. It is so unapetizing to see rasam with oil floating on its surface. It kills the lightness of it.

It is very important to cover the pot with lid and let the rasam sit for at least ten minutes before serving. After ten minutes when you open the lid, you will have your zen moment, thanks to the aroma from curry leaves, cilantro and the spice blend, all married into one aromatic rasam.

Eat with rice or drink it as soup, or eat it as rice soup 🙂 It will never let you down.

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8 thoughts on “Rasam (Clear Lentil Soup)

  1. You know I’ve made all the mistakes that you have listed. You’re right, about too much oil…. I made rasam once literally floating with oil… yuck… went straight into the trash can.
    After numerous trials and errors, I make decent rasam now. But yours is zero oil (yay!!) So this is the one I am making, next time when rasam is on the menu.

    • Thank you Namrata ! The rasan I used to make in my early days, I wouldn’t feed it to my enemies, but I tortured my friends and family with it :).. thanks to all the mistakes, I learned a lot 🙂

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