Friday, June 02, 2006

Melting Pot - Rasam


Tomato Rasam

No.... it's not what you think. The words "Melting Pot" do evoke notions of spices mingling, flavors blending and tastes mixing, but in this post, it literally means "the melting pot" as in a pot...melting...slowly...on the fire.

Picture this - shy, blushing, newly-married bride arrives at the in-laws home. After a couple of days of getting to know everyone, MIL kindly suggests that the bride makes "rasam" as her son has raved about the rasam-making prowess of his bride. Bride meekly nods head thinking "ok, rasam...not a big deal...I can do this"

MIL points to all the ingredients in the pantry and takes out a shiny pot. Unbeknownst to the bride, this no ordinary pot. It is called "Eeya Chombu" and is an amalgam of various metals that when ingested in the recommended quantities are supposed to provide health benefits to the body. Bride dutifully puts the vessel on the flame and starts sauteing the tomatoes. It is a new trick she has devised you see - to saute the tomatoes in 1/2 tsp of ghee to coax out extra flavor from them.

As she is doing this, she notices a few drops on the stove. Not wanting to dirty the shiny surface of the stove, she wipes off the drops with a wet rag. A few minutes later, she notices a few more drops. Again, the wet rag comes out...dab..dab. A few more minutes and there is now a steady trickle on the stove. Bride is confused and is staring at this with mouth agape thinking "What is going on? Where are all these drops coming from"?

MIL walks in at this moment to check on the progress. She notices the drops and says "Oh, oh...the pot it melting. You always have to add water to this pot before you put in on a naked flame". She quickly grabs the hot, melting pot and drops it in the sink. The cold water sizzles on the hot pot and halts any further melting.

Bride is by now mortified by her first attempt to cook and impress the inlaws. Forget about the intended aroma and the heavenly taste of the rasam, she has effectively destroyed a valuable family heirloom.

Fortunately, MIL is very understanding and laughs the whole thing off. FIL comes in and is very amused. He says that MIL, in her days has "melted" quite a few pots like this. Perhaps it is true, perhaps they are in their nice way, just trying to make the new bride feel better.

Out comes another pot, more tomatoes and the rasam is bubbling and boiling its way to deliciousness. Lunch is served shortly after and everyone nods approvingly over the rasam.

Bride resolves to never use the "saute" method for rasam again just in case the pot is guessed it..."A Melting Pot".

Flash forward a few years - Bride is a proud owner of her own "Eeya Chombu" and has used it for a few years with no major mishaps. A few dents and nicks but it is still in one piece. She still pulls it out regularly to make an aromatic pot of rasam.

You may have guessed by now that the bride is none other than yours truly! Fortunately I haven't had any major mishaps with the Eeya chombu after that incident. I still use it regularly and love the charateristic flavor it imparts to the rasam.

There is some misunderstanding with the name "Eeya" with regards to this vessel. Eeyam means lead, but there is no lead involved in the making of this vessel. It is primarily an alloy of tin and other metals. And of course, rasam can be made in other vessels also, if you don't have a Eeeya chombu or are not comfortable using one.

Southindians will attest there are hundreds of varieties of rasam - tomato rasam, ginger-garlic rasam, pineapple rasam, curry leaves rasam etc. I've even heard about an apple rasam!! The most popular one still remains tomato rasam.

This particular recipe is a sort of instant rasam. There is no dal in the rasam so it can be made in a jiffy. The recipe is from a good friend of mine, S.

So, here it is - a bowl of amber goodness- Tomato Rasam.


For Rasam powder:

1 measure jeera seeds
1/2 - 3/4 measure black peppercorns
1 measure tur dal
1 measure udal dal

[Note: measure can be a 1 cup measure or any other measure that you choose. Just stick to the proportions and make as much powder as you wish. I usually use 1 cup measure and get about 3 cups of the powder. It keeps very well in an airtight container]

For Rasam:
2 ripe tomatoes or 1/2 can of tomato sauce (Hunts)
2 tsp rasam powder (see recipe)
1 tsp ghee
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp jeera seeds
1/2 tsp asafoetida powder
4-5 curry leaves
1 dried red chilli
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small piece of jaggery to taste
salt to taste
cilantro leaves for garnish

Method for Rasam Powder:
  1. Dry roast all the ingredients and powder to a fine powder in a coffee grinder
  2. Sieve to remove all the coarse grains
  3. Store the finely ground powder in an airtight container
Method for Rasam:

  1. Boil the tomatoes and tamarind if using and squeeze to extract all the juice. This step can be done in the microwave. I often omit the tamarind and just use tomatoes.
  2. You can also use 1/2 a can of tomato sauce (Hunts works very well)
  3. Add salt and jaggery to taste.
  4. Boil the tomato mixture till it is hot and bubbly and smells good.
  5. Dissolve the rasam powder in a little bit of water. This is to avoid it forming lumps when dropped in the hot liquid.
  6. Stir the rasam powder in the tomato mixture and let boil for 3-4 minutes. It does not need much cooking or boiling after this.
  7. Heat the ghee in a small saucepan.
  8. Add mustard seeds, jeera seeds and asafoetida.
  9. When the seeds splutter, add the red chilli, crushed garlic and curry leaves.
  10. Pour the seasoning over the rasam.
  11. Sprinkle with chopped corriander leaves and serve.

I will be on vacation in India for a few weeks. So my posts will be sporadic from now on. Thanks so much for all the enquiries about our little one. I could not respond to each of you individually, but I truly feel humbled that so many of you reached out to me and for the words of encouragement. She is doing better, and we are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that she will be ok on the trip. I'll try to post food pictures from our trip. Have a great summer everyone!!!