Rasam and sambar are two of the most basic dishes cooked in every Tamilian kitchen. They are usually made at the same meal, in fact at almost every meal, and are a wonderful example of the resourceful creativity of the Indian housewife: when cooked, the thick lentils sit at the bottom of the pan while the flavor-infused water used to cook the lentils floats at the top. The lentils, when cooked with spices and veggies, become the sambar, while the lentil-flavored water, after being flavored with tamarind and tomatoes, turns into the tangy, spicy rasam.
Rasam was one of the first dishes I learned to cook. In fact, my rasam would often earn the praise of even the Tamil side of my family. I love it so much, I usually drink it all by itself, like a watery soup.
I usually make my own rasam powder, but you can also use store-bought for this recipe. I used lemon in this rasam instead of the more traditional tamarind for the tangy flavor, and added garlic to introduce a different kind of heat into the rasam. Although I call this a “screaming-hot” rasam, it is more by my fairly wimpy standards of spiciness. You can easily control the heat by using more or less rasam powder or garlic.
Screaming-Hot Garlic and Lemon Rasam
1/4 cup split peas cooked with enough water so you have about 2 cups of liquid remaining after cooking
1 tbsp rasam powder
2 green chillies, sliced
1 sprig curry leaves
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large tomato, diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of asafetida (hing)
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Heat the oil in a saucepan.
Add the hing and mustard seeds.
When the mustard sputters, add the garlic.
Stir the garlic around for a minute or until it turns a light golden-brown. Do not allow it to get too dark as it will turn bitter.
Add curry leaves, green chillies, and tomato.
Cook until the tomato begins to break down.
Add the rasam powder and cook for a minute.
Add the lentils and the cooking liquid.
Add salt and allow the rasam to come to a boil.
Lower the heat and simmer on a low flame about 10 minutes.
Add the lemon juice.
Check salt and turn off heat. Garnish with cilantro.
Serve hot with rice or just by itself, like a soup.