Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lemon rasam

I can't believe I've never posted a recipe for rasam.  It is one of my favorite foods, eaten every day in Tamil Nadu, where my family is from, and now I eat it at least once a week.  There are many different varieties: thakkali rasam, made with tomatoes and tamarind and the most basic; garlic rasam; jeera rasam, made with cumin; milagu rasam, made with lots of black pepper; and some people even make pineapple rasam!  I'm not into it, I have to say.

My favorite is lemon rasam, made with limes, but in my family always called lemon. In India the lemons are small and yellow, kind of like key limes, but in America, we buy limes for rasam.  This rasam is very light, but when well made, it has a perfect balance of salty, sour and spicy.

Now I remember why I have never written a recipe for rasam: no matter how determined I am in the beginning of cooking to keep track of what I am doing, I always forget in the final stages when I add a little more salt, and then a little more sambhar powder. This recipe is a guideline, but you will have to trust your tastebuds to get the flavor just right.  Good luck!  It's worth it.

Lemon Rasam
Makes 2/3 servings
Takes busy 30 minutes

1/2 cup toor dal
2 medium tomatoes, cut into eighths
4 1/2 cups water
2 dashes asafetida
1 1/2 teaspoons sambhar powder
2 teaspoons salt
12 curry leaves (one sprig)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
big handful cilantro, washed and chopped
1 lime, halved

On high heat, bring toor dal and 2 cups of water to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover and let cook until lentils are done, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a pot, bring to a boil tomatoes, water, asafetida, sambhar powder, salt, and curry leaves.  When it boils, turn it down a little, and let boil until it has reduced a bit and the tomatoes are cooked, about 15 minutes.  You will have to taste it: it should taste both spicy and salty, but not too much of either.  You might need to put in more sambhar powder, then it might need more salt.  When it tastes balanced to you--the right amount of salty and the right amount of spicy but not too much of either--then it's done.

In a little pan, heat oil on high.  When the oil is hot, put the mustard seeds in the pan, and when they pop, take off heat and pour into rasam.  

When the lentils are cooked, drain if necessary, and pour into rasam.  Squeeze one lime half into the rasam.  Taste.  Maybe it will need more lime, squeeze another half in.  Taste it again.  Good?

Then you are done!  Top with cilantro.  Rasam is good on its own, or you can eat it with rice and vegetable curries.  My favorite combos are lemon rasam and Green Beans Parappusili, or Spinach and carrot salad!

Sorry I haven't posted in a while.  It's been a busy summer!  More soon.


  1. Yum yum yum! Can't wait to make it! I need some sambar powder though.

  2. Ah, memories! We used to eat this almost every night on 10th ave in Brooklyn. I miss living with you! What is a good sambar powder brand and how do you avoid asafetida stinking everything up? I've double-bagged it but it seems to defy my ministrations! Why wouldn't you put the tomatoes and the curry leaves and everything into the pot with the lentils once the lentils are more cooked? (just trying to avoid washing another pot)

    Glad you're back in business, my friend!

  3. There isn't a sambhar powder I can recommend because my sambhar powder is ground for my family in India. MTR or 777 brands are good generally because they are both from Tamil Nadu.

    You can also make sambhar powder yourself, I've done it before. Maybe I will try again and post a recipe I like.

    As to the asofetida, I don't know what to tell you JORJ, I guess I am just used to it! But I don't smell it that much.

    Hmm, I think there would be issues with timing trying to make one pot rasam. I'll do some experimenting and get back to you!

  4. omg thank you, i remember eating your thakkali rasam years ago and wanting so badly to make it. this sounds great! xo