Called Chaaru in Telugu and Saaru in Karnataka, Rasams are cooked all over South India, with minor variations across regions. Iyengars elevate it to the status of ambrosia calling it amudhu.
Tamilnadu and Karnataka take their rasams seriously and serve them at every meal. Some of the most innovative Rasams come from Karnataka. It is here you'll find chopped onions, green beans, spinach and coconut in Rasams. It is in Karnataka we see vegetable stock (water in which vegetables have been boiled) being used for making the delicious Rasam called Bus saaru.
Rasam is nothing but a clear sambar / kulambu. The most basic rasam is just flavoured tamarind water. In fact, the early rasams were nothing more than boiled tamarind water served with a pinch of salt and pepper. Rasams are still known as Puli Charu (tamarind juice) in pockets of Tamilnadu. Later, mashed lentils or lentil stock (the water in which lentils have been boiled) was added to fortify the rasam, thus creating the rasam we know and love today.
The defining characteristics of a Rasam are sourness, flavouring and its clear, watery consistency.
The sourness comes usually from Tamarind, flavour from rasam podi / Sambar podi. By varying the sourness, flavouring and the goodies added, we can cook up scores of rasams. The one page cookbook summarises many of these variations.
Change Souring agent
Change the souring agent and new families of rasams appear. Replace tamarind with tomato and you have Thakkali rasam. Use Mango and you have Manga rasam. Use buttermilk and you have more rasam and so on
Tamarind juice can be mixed with other juices to make more rasams. Mix in orange juice with tamarind and you have Orange rasam, mix in coconut milk with tamarind water and you have coconut milk rasam and so on. Feel free to experiment with a variety of juices.
Change the lentils used and you have the tuvaram paruppu rasam, pasi parppu rasam, Chana dal rasam, Horse gram rasam or masoor dal rasam.
Column 1 lists the types of rasams you can cook up by changing the souring agent and the lentils.
Change the flavouring style and new classes of rasams like thalithu kottiya rasam, podi potta rasam, poricha rasam, seeraka rasam, milagu rasam etc., spring up.
Column 2 summarises these changes. Feel free to add a pinch more or less of flavouring to your taste.
Change goodies used and more rasams appear. Use garlic and you have poondu rasam. Use rose petals and you have paneer rasam, use lentil balls and you have Paruppu Urundai Rasam and so on.
Thus, a staggering array of rasams can be cooked with minor variations of the basic building blocks.
As Rasam is a thin clear soup, all rules of soup making apply. The western world has a range of soups and you can borrow techniques from these soups to make rasam tastier.
Tip 1 : Using stock
Instead of using plain water, you can use vegetable stock (the water in which veggies have been boiled). This would give rasam a depth of flavor. For a clear rasam, use a fine mesh filter and filter out the solids just before serving. Add garnish to this clear rasam and serve. Non vegetarians can experiment with a range of meat stocks.
Tip 2 : Using bouquet garni
A popular flavouring technique is to tie herbs / spices in a cheesecloth bundle which is steeped in the cooking liquid to flavor it. This technique is ideally suited for Rasams. Experiment with a variety of herbs / spices to cook up a range of exotic rasams.
Tip 3 : Garnish & Presentation
The techniques of garnishing and presenting a western clear soup work great for all rasams.
Understand these basic building blocks and you have a supply of Rasams to last a lifetime.
Happy cooking !
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