Last year, while holidaying in Idukki in Kerala, I was afflicted by one of those periodic chest colds that have plagued me pretty much all my life. This time, however, it was worse than usual and my lungs were so congested that it felt like someone had poured cement into them. There wasn’t much medical help at hand; it was evening, so the closest clinic had shut, as had the only pharmacy in the area.
If you’ve ever been really unwell, you’ll know that you’re extremely liable to be gripped by an idea of what exactly it is that will help you, no matter how irrational it may seem to those around you. As I struggled to draw air into my lungs, I was convinced that the one thing that would make me feel better was a bowl of hot, spicy soup. I practically begged for such a soup and since nobody on the tea estate where we were staying actually knew how to make some, I was, instead, served a tureen of garlic rasam, the spiciest and most pungent that I’ve ever had.
The rasam worked (a visit to the clinic the next morning worked even better). While I do not recommend that you drink a bowl of garlic rasam whenever you have a cold (see your doctor for the best advice), it helped me immensely that night, allowing me to get some much-needed sleep and rest. Since that day, I’ve associated this spicy broth with physical wellness and I’ve made it a number of times at home, usually when I’m feeling unwell or, occasionally, when my mood or the weather seems to call for it.
In fact, this is a great pick-me-up for days when the skies darken and it’s wet and cold outside. Most of us have the urge to drink something hot when it rains anyway, so why not try this garlic rasam which, I promise, will take only 20 minutes.
Note: this recipe requires you to make the rasam masala from scratch, but it only needs four ingredients and gets made in about five minutes, so it’s barely any effort. However, if you want to use a ready-made rasam powder, please feel free to do so. It may not include garlic, but given the amount of garlic you’ll be using anyway, it should be fine.
8-10 – Cloves of garlic, crushed
1 – Lime-sized ball of tamarind
1 – Medium tomato, finely chopped
1 – Sprig of curry leaves
2-3 – Dried red chillies
½ tsp – Mustard seeds
½ tsp – Hulled and split urad dal
¼ tsp – Turmeric powder
1 tbsp – Coconut oil (can be substituted with any neutral-flavoured oil)
A pinch of asafoetida
Salt, to taste
For rasam masala:
1 tsp – Whole black pepper
1 tsp – Cumin seeds
2-3 – Cloves of garlic
2-3 – Dried red chillies
A handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
*Steep the tamarind in two cups of hot water for 10-15 minutes.
*While the tamarind steeps, roast the ingredients for the rasam masala and grind it to as fine a powder as possible. If you don’t want to roast it, it’s alright, but I find that it helps to enhance cumin’s natural earthy flavour.
*Heat the oil on medium flame and pop mustard seeds in it.
*Add the urad dal and roast till it’s golden.
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*In quick succession, add the curry leaves, dried red chillies and crushed garlic.
*When the raw smell of the garlic starts to fade, add the chopped tomato, along with turmeric powder and asafoetida. Cook till the tomato is soft.
*Finally, add the rasam masala and fry for 2-3 minutes or until the you get the aroma of the pepper and cumin.
*The tamarind water should be cool enough by now. Strain and pour the water into the masala.
*You can add some more water, if you think it’s required. Rasam is usually pretty thin in consistency.
*Salt, as needed.
*Turn the flame up to high and allow the rasam to come to a boil. Once it does, lower the flame and let it simmer for a couple of minutes and then turn off the stove.
*Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot.
You can drink this rasam as a soup by itself, or have it with some steamed rice (with ghee, obviously) and papad. This will, without a doubt, be one of the most satisfying, nourishing broths you’ll ever have.
[The Back Burner is a weekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]
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