Rasam (Saaru)

If I had to pick a dish that I had to eat everyday of my life, it would, without a doubt, be Anna-Saaru (Rice & Rasam). No, not Roti-Subzi, Macaroni-Cheese, Pasta, or Ice cream, no, not even pizza. It would be Anna-Saaru. For me, the Mysore rasam (or saaru as kannadigas call it) embodies taste, nourishment, and satisfaction. No South Indian meal is complete without rasam and my life is certainly better for it. It’s a staple in my house.

Soft, steaming rice mixed with a drizzle of home-made ghee, and the celebration starts. Don’t even think of using a spoon. The whole experience has to start with your fingers mixing the rice and ghee. You need to take a few moments to savor the heavenly aroma that emanates from this mix. Now add a ladleful of saaru… and everything’s good. If you are an Indian, especially a South Indian, you would know what I am talking about. If I have to write my Rubaiyat, it would start with “A bowl of rice, a bowl of saaru – and ghee beside me..” This is the magic of anna-saaru for me.

Here is the “standard version” (with tomatoes) of Saaru, as served in most Mysore-Bangalore households today. In one of my previous blogs I have written the recipe for Saarina Pudi/Rasam powder, a very essential ingredient for the Rasam. I don’t really have a recommendation for a particular brand of rasam powder, but i guess the MTR brand would be a good start. Enjoy rasam with roti rice, or just by itself. If you are eating rasam with rice, the rice should be very soft. Soft rice, when properly mushed with rasam will surely enhance the taste of the rice and rasam.

1/2 cup toor dal/pigeon peas/tuver ni daL
1/4 tea spoon turmeric/haldi/haLdar
2 medium size tomatoes
1.5 tea spoon rasam powder
1/2 inch piece jaggery/bella/goL
4 table spoons tamarind water (soak a small lemon-sized tamarind in 1/4 cup water for few minutes. Crush it with your fingers for about 30 seconds and extract the water. Throw away the pulp.)
1 tea spoon ghee (or butter but never oil!)
1/2 tea spoon mustard seeds/saasve/rai
1 sprig curry leaves/kadhi patta/miTho limDo
1/4 tea spoon good quality asafoetida/hing
1.5 tea spoon salt

In a big sauce pan, cook toor dal with turmeric and tomatoes in 2 cups of water until soft and mushy. Pressure cooker works very well for this.

Separately, in a sauce pan/tapeli, boil together tamarind water, jaggery/bella/goL, rasam powder and salt along with 1/4 cup of water. You can also add curry leaves at this time. Boil on low heat for about 3 minutes. I believe this is a very important step in making rasam. This allows the tamarind water to mix well with other spices and as a result the spices get nicely “seasoned.”

All the good stuff in rasam-Tamarind, rasam powder, jaggery, and curry leaves

All the good stuff in rasam-Tamarind, rasam powder, jaggery, and curry leaves

Meanwhile, mash the cooked dal and tomatoes with a hand blender or a whisk and add to the boiling tamarind water. Add 2 cups of water (this rasam is more on the watery side.) Boil on medium heat for 5 more minutes.

For vaghar/chhaunk/tadka/oggarane: Heat ghee in a small sauce pan. When the ghee is hot, add mustard seeds. Once the seeds start spluttering, add hing and immediately remove the pan from the stove. Add this vaghar to the boiling rasam. Shut off the stove. Do not boil rasam after the vaghar is added.