Servings: 4 Prep: 10 mins Cook: 30 mins Total: 45 mins
Rasam is an interesting one. It’s a 14th century South Indian soup; typically a well-balanced blend of sweet, sour, and spicy (both in the hot “burn your mouth” sense, as well as utilizing a wide and diverse blend of spices). That’s about the best summary I can provide, because… in reality, it’s one of those recipes that can take on thousands of different forms, be it hot or cold, simple or complex, brothy or hearty, and so on.
The variety in Rasam is due to different communities, as well as variations intended to boost specific aspects of health, or to provide comfort and relief while ill. Different combinations of spices yield different results. A throughline seems to be tomatoes and tamarind, simmered in the liquid once used for cooking lentils, then seasoned with whatever will provide the medicinal benefits one may be seeking.
In the early days of the covid pandemic, it seemed everyone was looking for ways to protect themselves. Scary times! A massive variety of cures and prevention techniques wafted through the internet, many becoming quite controversial. In and amongst that list of medicines, body motions, and elixirs was Rasam, bringing this regional and traditional soup into the limelight. It was purported to boost immunity.
To be clear, I’m not a doctor or scientist. I’m a pork-butt smoker and carrot peeler. I have exactly zero idea if there are any merits to the claims. Though, I do believe there’s a lot to be said for the medicinal qualities of food. You are, after all, what you eat. I certainly don’t think Rasam can hurt you.
I’m personally drawn to this dish due to its flavorful combination of sweet and sour. I have an odd relationship with the taste of sweet. If you were to ask me if I have much of a sweet tooth, I’d quickly say that I don’t. However, it’s also common knowledge that I love ice cream. I also love the combinations of sweet and sour or sweet and salty. Perhaps I do have a sweet tooth, but just not one that is driven towards cakes, candies, or cookies. I LOVE the taste of sweet, but more often in the form of a contrast to another taste. This is where Rasam lives. Sweet, plus sour, plus heat and spice! Sign me up!
True, traditional, authentic Rasam can contain a whole host of spices you’ve never heard of: kokum, ambula, amchur, jaggery, asafoetida, fenugreek, etc. If you can find these and want to tinker, I wholeheartedly support going down the rabbit hole of Rasam. When I was a (weird) kid, my folks (possibly Santa) gifted me an exotic Indian spice kit (similar to this), which I used to create all kinds of aromatic culinary wonders. Only that one kit introduced me to these ingredients, having not seen them in the entirety of my career.
Because of the rarity, complexity, and cost associated with many of these spices, I’m largely forced to tweak it into a more Western grocery store experience. Also, because most of us are unlikely to have used lentil water lying around, I’m going to use chicken broth as the base. This will lend a bit more body and backbone to the soup, though it is typically a vegetarian soup (and still can be, if you use a vegetable stock, instead).
Truly a fantastic taste experience, easy to make, and quite probably, almost certainly, a health booster, too!
Keto Note: To bring up the fat percentage, knocking it into a better keto percentage breakdown, a common and traditional addition is a pool of warm ghee floating on top!
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 Tbsp tamarind tamarind paste, or lemon juice
- 8 oz. tomatoes
- 1 red Fresno chili or jalapeño
- 1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 4 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 small bunch cilantro
- 2 Tbsp sweetener
- 2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- salt to taste
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, soak the tamarind in the chicken broth. Set aside. If using lemon juice, skip this step.
- Coarsely chop the tomatoes and place in a blender. I had some cherry tomatoes, and wanted to use them, so I set some aside to be added, fresh, at the end. This is optional.
- Remove the stem, ribs, and seeds from the chili. Add the flesh to the blender. If you want the soup to be spicy, you can add a few of the seeds to the blender, as well. Otherwise, discard the stem and seeds.
- Add the ginger and garlic to the blender.
- Wash, dry, then remove the large stems from the cilantro. Save the nice leaves and sprigs, setting them aside. Add the stems to the blender.
- Add the sweetener and a bit of salt to the blender. Puree the tomato mixture until fully pureed. If there is not enough liquid to get the blender started, add a bit of the chicken broth (being careful not to get any tamarind seeds).
- Heat a medium sized soup pot over medium heat. Add the ghee or coconut oil to the pan.
- Once the fat begins to ripple, add the cumin, black pepper, and turmeric. Give the pan a quick swirl, then immediately add the tomato puree to the pan. The brief moment the spices are in the fat will toast them. Do not let them burn.
- Stir and break up the tamarind in the chicken or vegetable broth. Use your fingers to smoosh and mix it into the liquid, especially if it contains seeds. Once it is well broken up, strain and push the mixture through a sieve. Add the tamarind broth to the pot, discarding the tamarind seeds and any fibrous material, left behind. If you are using lemon juice, simply add the broth and lemon juice to the pot, at this point.
- Turn the soup to low and allow it to simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste it, then adjust seasoning with a bit of salt, if it needs it.
- When ready to serve, if you’d set aside any fresh tomato, add it at this point, along with the fresh cilantro leaves and sprigs. Stir this in, then serve!
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