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Updated on August 20, 2012

Singing the praises of rasam

Rasam - Life giving soup for the soul. Yes, truly life-giving that the Iyengars have given it such an endearing name, "Saathamudhu" or "Saatramudhu" (சாற்றமுது). Amudhu (Tamil) translates as nectar of the gods. Without doubt, to me, Rasam is indeed life-sustaining ambrosia. I could go on in this vein singing praises of rasam.


It is a watery accompaniment to be taken with steamed rice, usually the second/third course of a traditional south Indian meal.

Rasam (in Tamil) can mean essence or extract. Surprisingly, the extract of several ingredients go into making it. A typical rasam contains an extract of tamarind, boiled lentil (thuvar dal) and a ground mixture of assorted spices (Cumin, pepper, red chilli, coriander).

Basic ingredients

There are varieties and varieties of rasam, but all have the following common ingredients:

  • A sour/tangy liquid base: Tamarind is the most commonly used ingredient here. Other alternatives used are tomatoes, lemon/sour-lime, pineapple, kokum, sour mango and the list goes on. Tomatoes are quite often used in combination with tamarind. The more adventurous might try even nellikkai (a type of gooseberry) and elandapazham (Indian plum or Ber in hindi), not that I recommend it.
  • Rasappodi or rasam masala: A cocktail of ground spices, viz., Cumin (Seeragam/jeera), coriander, black pepper and dry red chilli. Predominant among the above would be the cumin, coriander and then the black pepper. The proportion varies from household to household. I prefer a 2:2:1 ratio of the first 3 with a dried chilly thrown in. A lentil (red gram / green-gram), a pinch of turmeric, asafoetida (hing) is also ground along with the spices. Experiment and find out what best suits your taste.
  • Optional - extract of some dal (usually red-gram or green gram, but horse gram is also used in the Kongunadu region). Sometimes tomatoes are also cooked with the dal and added. One could try rajma or masoor dal too, which I plan to do in a couple of days.
  • Seasoning / garnishing ingredients: Oil/ghee, hing, mustard seeds and curry leaves. A few sprigs of coriander leaves for garnishing.

Other than the above base ingredients, a whole host of other ingredients are added as per local custom or as per the specific flavour of the rasam. For the varieties of rasam available do an Internet search.

Making rasam

Once you have the above ingredients ready making rasam is child's play.

  • Take 3 cups of the sour watery base.
  • Add 2 tsp of the rasam powder, salt to taste and bring to a boil.
  • Add the dal extract
  • Season with seasoning ingredients, bring to a boil.
  • Finally add chopped coriander leaves as garnish.

Yummy rasam is ready.

How to have it.

The best way to have rasam is with rice. Take a ladle full of steam cooked rice, mash it well with your hand, while adding rasam to it. Keep adding rasam and mixing until you have a semi-liquid consistency. Now rasam rice is ready.

Rasam can also be taken as a soup.

I like to add rasam to paruppu saadham, thayir saadham and also like to make a goulash of rasam and curd.

Benefits of rasam

  • It is said to be good for digestion.
  • It is light on the digestive system and is given for those convalescing from fever and other ailments.
  • Some rasams are given specifically for those with coughs and colds.

Figuratively and literally rasam does add spice to life. Life without rasam would be as dull as ditch-water. Three cheers to rasam.


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    • OTEE profile image

      OTEE 5 years ago from India

      Paruppurundai Rasam? That is a new one for me. Probably something to try out next.

      Yes, "Naarththangai" is an excellent candidate for the sour base. The naming of the citrus family fruits is used so interchangeably that I am often confused as to which is which.

      A few days back I had bought some grapes, which were so sour that I couldn't eat them, so I went ahead and made rasam with it; it was OK but the rasam was a bit too sweet for my taste. :)

    • C.V.Rajan profile image

      Disillusioned 5 years ago from Kerala, India

      Have you heard of "Paruppurundai Rasam"? Normally Iyengar families do it very occasionally and it has a class!

      Another Rasam variety my wife specialized is "Naraththangai rasam" (Is it that sour-lime you have mentioned? ) She had too many fans for it.