Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Rasam in the Age of the Curry Leaf Ban
What a beloved soup--we adore rasam in the winter for soothing colds and coughs, in the summer with flavor-bursting heirloom tomatoes, and with whatever type of dal strikes our fancy. But we always assumed that curry leaves were an irreplaceable flavor component and were hesitant to blog something with an essential ingredient that many of you might not have access to. Then, a few weeks ago, we went on a wild ingredient goose chase through Berkeley's Indian groceries only to discover that curry leaves are currently banned in the US. So we took the opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes of anyone who doesn't have ten Indian groceries nearby and try to make this classic, spicy South Indian soup without its trademark curry leaves. Result: delicious. (OK, fine--tamarind concentrate and asafoetida might be a little difficult to find. But hey, at least they're legal!)
If you were smart enough to freeze curry leaves back when they were available fresh or if you have a potted curry leaf plant, by all means throw them in. As for dal options, we made this with urad dal, but it is just as delicious with more easily-available red lentils or even plain old yellow split peas.
1/2 cup dal (see above)
4+ cups water
1 and 1/2 cups pureed tomatoes (canned in the winter, fresh in the summer/fall)
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons canola oil or ghee
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
10 fresh or frozen curry leaves if you can get them
chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
Combine the dal and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer 40 minutes to an hour, until dal is very soft.
*FOR CANNED TOMATOES* Add 1 cup of water, tomatoes, asafoetida, tamarind, ground coriander, ground cumin, cayenne and black pepper to the dal, bring to a boil again, and simmer for 5 minutes.
*FOR FRESH TOMATOES* Combine tomatoes, asafoetida, tamarind, ground coriander, ground cumin, cayenne and black pepper in a saucepan with a cup of water. Bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes, and then add to the dal, bring to a boil again, and simmer for 5 minutes.
In a small saucepan, heat the canola oil or ghee and add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and optional curry leaves and cook until seeds pop (around 15-20 seconds). Immediately pour the oil and seasonings into the soup, stir well, and salt to taste. Serve with a generous sprinkling of cilantro.