Ever since I moved to South India and tasted Rasam 20 odd years ago, I have been hooked onto it. While most South Indian weddings and ceremonies end on a sweet note with some milk based pudding, I’m sure to be the odd one, always making a beeline for the rasam counter to complete my meal, after all the heavy, rich food! Works great with piping hot steamed rice & ghee or simply by itself.
A warm & comforting bowl of this tangy, semi-spicy soup infused with local Indian herbs & spices is the single one stop cure to any ailments, as most South Indians will agree. Every mom or granny is sure to recommend this traditional home-made remedy with kitchen staples for common cold, fever, sore throat, loss of appetite, simple detox, tummy upset or even the blues!
And they are not wrong, every single carefully-selected ingredient that goes into this must-have infusion in a traditional Tamilian meal, is bursting with medicinal properties and loads of benefits that are sure to drive away the chills.
Be it the immunity-boosting properties of black pepper & ginger, the digestive properties of cumin, fenugreek, curry leaves & tamarind or the anti-inflammatory healing power of coriander seeds, the list is endless. And to top it, when these spices are lightly roasted & powdered, you can just about imagine the potency of these natural cures.
Rasam is prepared slightly differently in different South Indian states, thereby giving it a slightly unique taste, and is called Saaru in Karnataka and Charu in Andhra Pradesh. However, they all find a common base in toor dal (pigeon pea lentil) and some form of acidity such as lemon, tomato, gooseberry or tamarind pulp. In fact, I believe the British were so enamoured by this quick immunity building recipe, that they gave it a glorified name Mulligatawny Soup, which is none other than Milagu (Pepper) and Tanni (Water).
While the most commonly found recipes are Thakkali (Tomato) Rasam, Jeeragam -Milagu (Cumin-Pepper), Inji (Ginger) rasam, Elumichai (Lemon) Rasam and Poondu (Garlic) Rasam, I have always kept one ear out for the unique ones such as seasonal Orange rasam, Horsegram rasam, Murungakai (drumstick) rasam, raw turmeric and today’s recipe made with Betel Leaves.
We often find ourselves in the midst of wedding seasons wherein a lot of betel leaves are gifted to one another as a sign of respect & prosperity, and this is an ideal way to make use of these super therapeutic, anti-oxidant, alkaline, calcium & vitamin-loaded leaves that are great for digestion & respiratory issues.
I would love to dedicate this post to my love for natural plant-based cures and my belief in Ayurveda, an alternative form of medicine.
P.S. In the absence of betel leaves, you can use fresh curry leaves to make this dish or simply skip the betel leaves and follow the same recipe.
Recipe for Madras Betel Leaves Soup – Vetrilai Rasam
Ingredients (Serves 4 – 6 persons)
- 3 tender betel leaves, washed & stem portion removed
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds / jeera seeds
- 2 teaspoon coriander seeds /dhania seeds
- 2 teaspoons raw pigeon pea lentil / toor dal
- 1 large or 2 medium size ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 green chilli, chopped
- 4-5 garlic cloves or as per your taste
- 1 lemon size ball of tamarind, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
- Pinch of jaggery / sugar
- 1 tablespoon cooked toor dal / dal water (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder / haldi powder
- Salt to taste
- 2 -3 cups water
- 1 handful of fresh coriander leaves to garnish
- 2 teaspoons ghee / oil
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds /rai
- ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds / jeera seeds
- Pinch of asafoetida / hing
- 1 dry red chilli
- In a small pan, lightly roast the coriander, toor dal, pepper corns on a medium flame. Avoid burning. Remove from heat, add the cumin seeds, give it a stir & keep aside.
- In a small blender jar, first grind together peppercorns, cumin, coriander seeds, toor dal & garlic cloves to a semi fine powder.
- Add in chopped tomato, betel leaves, green chilli & soaked tamarind & grind to a smooth paste with 3 tbsp warm water.
- In a kadhai / saucepan, pour in the ground paste. Add salt, turmeric powder, hing, pinch of jaggery/sugar and 1 tablespoon of plain boiled toor dal / dal water if available.
- Add 2 cups of water.
- Now heat this mixture until it comes to a boil (3-4minutes) until slightly frothy. Avoid over boiling at this stage as the rasam tends to lose its flavour. Immediately remove from flame. A beautiful aroma will emerge.
- In a small pan, heat 2 teaspoons ghee, add mustard seeds, cumin and let them splutter. Now add the hing & 1 dry red chilli and give a quick stir.
- Pour this on top of the rasam and sprinkle with freshly chopped coriander leaves & a slice of lime.
- Tastes best with piping hot steamed rice & a teaspoon of ghee else just as an appetizer.
- Every home has a different style of making this delicious infusion and I would love to share them as we go along.