Learn to make the simplest South Indian Tomato Rasam using pink lentils. Vegan Rasam is a tangy tamarind based broth that's spicy & warming to the palette.
What is Rasam
Ever heard of this dish - Rasam? People in the west may not know what it is but people from India LOVE it! Ask any Indian you know if they have tasted rasam and you will know by their reaction how awesome this dish is! Traditionally, rasam is a broth that's prepared using extracted tamarind juice as a base, with the addition of tomato, chilies, pepper, cumin, and other spices as seasonings. Steamed lentils are added toward the end of the recipe to give it more flavor and substance.
However, there are some rasam recipes made without adding any lentils. It is mainly eaten with rice or you can drink it separately as a spicy soup. Thali is a traditional meal that is served on festive occasions like marriages. Rasam is very much part of the course that includes sambhar rice and curd rice. Rasam has a distinct taste in comparison to the thick sambhar due to its own seasoning ingredients. It also is more fluid in its consistency.
If someone in the family has a cold or is unwell, one glass of spicy and hot rasam works like a charm. BTW, the word rasam means juice. Since this traditional drink is a blend of amazing spices, which are high in flavors, it helps in better digestion. Rasam truly is one of the most delicious appetizer drinks, which is light on the stomach and high in taste.
I could never get it right
For some weird reason, I have always struggled with making rasam the right way. Whenever I mention this to any older person in my family, they are appalled! That's because rasam is supped to be the simplest dish ever. My aunt and MIL cannot seem to fathom how I can prepare complicated dishes so effortlessly while I still struggle to nail a simple recipe like rasam! I have watched my mom, aunt, and MIL prepare rasam nearly every day. I have learned and have written down the recipe a million times, yet I don't like the rasam I make.
I think it's more of a mental block for me. I just feel that I cannot make the perfect rasam the way my mom made it. Ever since I got married, it's KR who has been making rasam at home. I just don't have the confidence to make it. However, KR likes the rasam I make and he says that I am being too hard on myself. But something changed last week.
My aunt was visiting us for the weekend and she insisted on cooking something for us while she was there. We both unanimously blurted out "Rasam" and she sweetly made it for us. I, of course, stood next to her and watched her prepare this tasty broth, with a hawk eye. She kept giving me tips and tricks as she went about making it. I noted them all down.
Top recipe tips
Now you should know that my aunt is 75 years old and she has been making this rasam for the last 55 years. If she is giving me tips, I better listen and of course, share them with all of you. The first thing she told me was to NEVER boil rasam as it will lose its flavor. When boiling lentils, add a spoonful of ghee in it. The proportion of tamarind water and the spices should be balanced, or else it will alter the taste.
Tempering the rasam, in the end, is an important step and should not be skipped. Making rasam in ghee really brings out the flavors. One of the most important ingredients in this dish is rasam powder. There are many brands that sell this spice mix and they are easily available in Asian grocery stores, but homemade rasam powder is the best. I only use homemade rasam powder prepared by my SIL's mom and I promise to share this recipe on the blog, soon.
There are many variations to the recipe and you can choose to make any as per your need. It is an instant recipe and can be made within 10 minutes if you have all the ingredients ready. Drinking this thin lentil soup is good for the body when suffering from an illness like fever, cold, or stomach upset as it is very light and also gives a comforting feeling.
How to make it
My aunt prepared rasam for us and we enjoyed it with hot steamed rice. The next day, she asked me to make it for practice while she supervised. Making it this time was a totally different experience for me. I was more comfortable and confident. That reflected upon the dish because I had nailed it! It tasted just the way my mom made it. I was over the moon and have already repeated this recipe in my kitchen thrice since last week! Sharing her recipe with you.
The first step is to cook the lentils. This recipe calls for pink lentils also known as masoor dal. Pressure cook the lentils in turmeric + saltwater along with ghee. Once cooked, mash it using a whisk and keep it aside. If using fresh tamarind, then add it to a bowl of warm water and let it soak for 15 minutes. Then crush the soaked tamarind with your fingers to extract the juice.
Filter this juice into another vessel and repeat the same with the remains, 2-3 more times by adding them to freshwater and squeezing out the juice. But if you are using tamarind paste, add it along with the spices in the next step. In a thick-bottomed pan, add all the spices like salt, turmeric powder, rasam powder, and asafoetida. Then add the tamarind juice, onions, and tomatoes. Cook this on simmer for 7-8 minutes.
Add the mashed lentils along with curry leaves powder and chopped cilantro. Stir and turn off the flame at the sign of the first boil. Actually, fresh curry leaves are preferred, but if you don't have that, then you can use curry leaves powder. Now prepare for the tadka. Heat ghee in a tadka pan and once it's hot, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and slit green chilies. Once they crackle, take it off the flame and pour it over the rasam. Serve it hot with some rice.
Fan of South Indian food but don't know where to begin? Try out these simple yet delicious recipes then - Instant Pot Beetroot Rasam Rice, Tamarind & Lentil Soup | Traditional Paruppu Rasam, South Indian Tomato Almond Chutney For Idli/Dosa, How to Make Traditional South Indian Arachuvitta Sambhar (With Tips), Easy South Indian Coconut Chutney Recipe, South Indian Medu Wada | Lentil Fritters, South Indian Spinach & Lentils Keerai | Kootu | Curry, South Indian Spicy Potato Fry Curry, and South Indian Style Tomato Rice.
Did you try this recipe? Please let me know how it turned out by leaving a comment below or sharing a picture on Instagram @cookilicious with the hashtag #cookiliciousveg. I love hearing your feedback!
Like this recipe? Please show your love by leaving a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟rating below!
To cook the Dal
To make Rasam
- First step is to cook the lentils. This recipe calls for pink lentils also known as masoor dal. Pressure cook the lentils in turmeric + salt water along with ghee. Once cooked, mash it using a whisk and keep it aside.
- If using fresh tamarind, then add it to a bowl of warm water and let it soak for 15 minutes. Then crush the soaked tamarind with fingers to extract the juice. Filter this juice into another vessel and repeat the same with the remains, 2-3 more times by adding them to fresh water and squeezing out the juice. But if you are using tamarind paste, add it along with the spices in the next step.
- In a thick bottomed pan, add all the spices like salt, turmeric powder, rasam powder and asafoetida. Then add the tamarind juice, onions and tomatoes. Cook this on simmer for 7-8 minutes.
- Add the mashed lentils along with curry leaves powder and chopped cilantro. Stir and turn off the flame at the sign of first boil. Actually fresh curry leaves are preferred, but if you don't have that, then you can use curry leaves powder.
- Now prepare for the tadka. Heat ghee in a tadka pan and once it's hot, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and slit green chillies. Once they crackle, take it off the flame and pour it over the rasam.
- Serve it hot with some rice.