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Shefaly Ravula's Tomato Rasam

Shefaly RavulaComment

Editor’s Note: I had the pleasure of testing this recipe in order to take the photographs, and it’s truly outstanding. The sour punch from the tamarind makes it unlike any tomato soup I’ve ever had, and the addition of toor dal gave the soup a protein boost and a bit of body. (You can substitute red lentils for the toor dal, though be aware that because they turn yellow when cooked, the final color of the soup may change.) Yes, this is a project and takes a bit of time, but leftovers are phenomenal. To skip one step, you may substitute the jarred version of ginger-garlic paste available at Indian markets (as I’ve done), but Shefaly prefers you make it yourself. Finally – a note: After showing Shefaly my photos, she pointed out that traditionally the soup is served with far less rice than I’ve done. It’s supposed to be a brothy soup served with a little rice as opposed to a little soup served over a giant bowl of rice. I’m still learning from the experts! ~Cheryl

Shefaly Ravula's Tomato Rasam

Rasam = Comfort.

Brothy, highly seasoned, savory, and hot, rasam is best over a bowl of rice and a topped with a scoop of homemade yogurt. A dash of a spicy, salty aachaar (pickled condiment) is the ultimate (yet optional) finish. This classic South Indian dish appears as the last course in a dinner, and it speaks of both comfort and home.

Since tomato season is here, it's time to use the very best ones for this rasam recipe. Find the juiciest, ripest, reddest tomatoes you possibly can. It's worth it to get them at a farmer's market (or to grow them!), but if you do buy them at the supermarket and they are cold and hard, leave them on the counter to ripen for a few days. And never put whole tomatoes in the refrigerator.

Even though the weather is hot and summery, I can eat this dish year-round and hope you will, too. Be like a real South Indian and serve it with lots of plain yogurt!

Recipe for Shefaly Ravula’s Tomato Rasam

Rasam is a highly-seasoned, thin soup served daily in South Indian households as a last course. It is generally served piping hot over plain basmati rice, with or without yogurt. There are many different types of rasams, some incorporating lentils and some without.

Note on tamarind pulp. Find tamarind pulp in Asian or Indian supermarkets in small packages in the spice aisle.  You can use tamarind concentrate, if desired, but the pulp has a fruitier, fresher flavor.  Use a sharp knife to cut off a large chunk of pulp (which is actually solid and sticky).

Note on ginger-garlic paste. To make about 2 packed tablespoons garlic/ginger paste, finely grate a 2-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger root and 4 to 6 cloves peeled garlic, or mince together in a small food processor. If you quadruple the above quantities, the same result can be achieved in a high-powered blender. (Don’t use a standard size food processor, which doesn’t work as well.) A quadruple batch of this paste may be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks and frozen for several months.

Note on roasted fenugreek powder. Roast 2 tablespoons fenugreek seeds in a skillet over medium heat. The video link above also has a visual on how to roast/toast spices. Grind the toasted seeds to a fine powder and use the appropriate quantity in the recipe. Store any leftover in a tightly sealed jar in the pantry.

 Makes 4 servings

1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas), or split red lentils
2 ripe medium-sized tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp (see headnote)
1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ teaspoon brown mustard seed
¼ teaspoon cumin seed
1 or 2 dried red chilis, broken
¼ small onion, sliced thinly
10 curry leaves
4 to 5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon ginger/garlic paste, optional (see headnote)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon chili powder, like Kashmiri chili powder or any Indian chili powder
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 teaspoons ground roasted fenugreek powder, also called methi
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Plenty of steamed basmati rice, to serve

Cook the toor dal. In a medium saucepan, simmer the toor dal in 3 cups water until extremely tender and almost falling apart, about 1 hour, adding additional water as necessary. Drain and rinse. You will only use ¾ cup cooked toor dal for this recipe, so refrigerate the rest for another use. (Toss it in soups throughout the week or serve over leftover rice.)

Combine the tomatoes and tamarind. Place tomatoes and tamarind pulp in small saucepan. Cover with 1-1/2 to 2 cups water and bring to a boil. (Alternately, place in microwaveable bowl and cover with water.  Microwave for 4 minutes.) Mash with a wooden spoon to loosen pulp. Discard tamarind seeds if there are any. (Use your hands; these rock-like seeds can break your blender!) Puree mixture in a blender. Add ¾ cup cooked toor dal and blend again.  Set aside.

Make a tarka. Have the oil through dried chilis measured and near the stove because this process goes quickly. Heat the oil in a wide skillet or pot over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.  Sprinkle in a few mustard seeds to test the heat; the mustard seeds should sizzle and pop. Once they start popping (making popcornlike sounds), add the remaining mustard seeds, plus the cumin seeds and dried red chilis. Immediately lower the heat. The seeds should sizzle and fry in the hot oil, but don’t let them burn.

Continue making the rasam. Quickly, add the onion, curry leaves, and garlic.  Stir well, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 5 minutes, then stir in the ginger/garlic paste, if using, and the coriander powder, black pepper, chili powder, and turmeric. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomato/tamarind mixture and salt.

Finish the rasam. Add 2 cups water.  Bring to boil and then let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, covered. It should remain broth-like, soupy, and not too thick. Add ½ cup water if necessary. Sprinkle in the roasted ground fenugreek and stir well. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper. It should taste sour, highly-seasoned, and spicy.

Garnish and serve. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve hot, ladled over basmati rice. 

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Recipe + Words by Shefaly Ravula | Photography by Cheryl Sternman Rule