There’s a reason Chennai’s foodies look forward to the annual Carnatic Music season, which usually runs from mid-December to early January – the Sabha Canteen. Every year, vegetarian wedding caterers present their culinary repertoire. This year’s music season has been hit by the pandemic, but some of the popular caterers like Mountbatten Mani Iyer offered a “complete meal experience” on the traditional banana leaf. One of the more interesting dishes I tried was a watermelon rasam, which reminded me of another fruit-based rasam also believed to have been introduced by wedding chefs decades ago.
While most rasams are mixed with rice, there are some, like the pineapple rasam, that work equally well as a “drinking” rasam, served before a meal like an appetizer. This is one of my favorite rasams and with its sweet, slightly spicy and sour flavor profile, it’s perfect for a winter’s day. I’ve tried making a variation with kiwis, but it doesn’t quite beat a pineapple rasam:
Pineapple Rasam – Recipe
Pineapple: half medium (use well-ripened pineapple)
Tomatoes: 2 large (use juicy tomatoes)
Rasam powder: half a teaspoon (optional)
Peppercorns: three quarters of a teaspoon
Jeera: 1 teaspoon
Curry leaves: a few sprigs
Coriander: a few sprigs
Salt: to taste
Mustard seeds: three-quarters teaspoons
Asafoetida: a pinch
Red chili: 1
Tur dal: 3 tablespoons
Mix jeera and pepper into a fine powder.
Pressure cook the dal with a pinch of turmeric to a soft consistency.
Mash half of the pineapple into a paste and cut the other half into small cubes.
Puree one tomato and finely chop the other.
Bring pineapple paste, tomato puree with salt, half the jeera pepper spice mix to a simmer over low heat and add rasam powder (I don’t use rasam powder for this recipe, but some wedding chefs recommend it for flavor). Add the pureed dal and bring to a boil.
In a separate pan, heat mustard seeds, curry leaves, chopped red chillies (you can add more than 1 if you like it spicier) in ghee and sauté the tomato and pineapple for 2-3 minutes before tossing in the rasam (above).
Irulli Rasam/Onion Rasam – Recipe
I tried this rasam for dinner at a friend’s in Bengaluru on a pleasant winter evening. Irulli is the Kannada word for onion. While this is an ingredient that is rarely added to a rasam, the shallots are what give this rasam its unique flavor. Tomatoes are an optional ingredient in this rasam.
10-15 shallots onion
4-5 cloves of garlic
1/2 tomato (optional)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
3 dried red chillies
1 spring curry leaves
Small gooseberry sized tamarind
1 cup coriander leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida
2 tsp gingerbread oil
2 cups of water
Soak the tamarind in a cup of warm water for 10 minutes, extract the juice and set aside.
Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds & fenugreek seeds. Once the mustard seeds are spluttering, add curry leaves, two red chillies cut in half, and crushed garlic.
Fry them for a minute or two until the raw garlic smell dissipates.
Add chopped shallots and sauté until golden brown. Add chopped tomatoes (optional) and cook until mushy.
Coarsely grind the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns and red chilli in a blender jug. Add to the cooked onion mixture in the pan and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
Add tamarind extract, turmeric powder and salt and cook for 5 minutes.
Add more water if necessary.
Cook over low heat, add a pinch of asafoetida and turn off the flame when the rasam starts to foam.
Garnish with coriander leaves.
This Rasam tastes best with steaming hot rice and fried potatoes or a mutton sukkah.