Revered for its comforting and healing properties, the endlessly
versatile rasam is South India’s ‘hot and sour’ soup, infused
with the exotic herbs and spices so abundant in this region.

As early as AD 1700, South Indians were witnessed drinking peppered water, the Tamil milagu rasam, as a digestif and were later seen by British colonialists pouring it over their rice. Traditionally cooked in an eeya chombu – a lead vessel believed to enhance the flavour – rasam continually reinvents itself with headline ingredients such as tomato, pineapple, garlic or lemon.

You’ll need
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 large plum tomatoes
3 cups (750mL) hot water
1½ tsp salt
2 heaped tbs tamarind paste
3 tbs ghee or canola oil
¼ tsp black mustard seeds
2 medium-sized dried red
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tbs brown sugar
Handful of fresh coriander
(cilantro) leaves, torn

Cooking Method
1 Using a coffee grinder, or pestle and mortar, grind the peppercorns and cumin seeds until fine, then set aside.
2 Wash and chop the tomatoes and puree with a few tablespoons of water in a food processor. Set aside.
3 Pour the hot water into a soup pot and add the tamarind paste. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to simmering and add the tomatoes, salt and ground spices. Cook for about 10 minutes.
4 In a heavy saucepan, heat the ghee or oil over a medium heat and fry the mustard seeds until they begin to crackle. Break up the chillies into two or three pieces and add along with the fenugreek seeds. Cook until the seeds release their aromas (1–2 minutes).
5 Add the oil and spices to the soup mixture, along with the brown sugar. Taste and season with more salt or sugar as required.
6 Ladle the soup into bowls and top with torn coriander leaves.

Tasting notes
A steaming, aromatic bowl of rasam is a wondrous thing for your senses. Amid the pungent smells and cacophony of sweltering Chennai’s teeming streets, it will ground you – the intensity of freshly ground peppercorns and tangy tamarind demand attention and tingle your sinuses. Slurping is encouraged – rasam is even ladled into cupped hands at festivities such as weddings – but let a mouthful linger for a moment while this deceptively simple broth dazzles your taste buds. Tamarind’s bright sourness coupled with a dragonlike burst of heat from pepper and chilli and the subtle nuances of toasted, ground spices never fail to cheer and enliven.

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