Iyer Mami’s Rasam
I can’t say I remember meeting Iyer Mami but I guess I could say that I have eaten her food. Or perhaps ‘imbibed’ is a better word.
When my Mum was pregnant with me, her first & most favourite child (small print: this claim is under dispute but I remain convinced of its legitimacy), she was very far away from home & her large, close-knit family. Mum & Dad were newlyweds who, due to Dad’s work, made Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh their home soon after they got married. Hailing from the south of India and living in the north meant that a journey home in those days would take three days by train.
In the days before mobile phones & video calls, this was a much bigger deal than it would be today. Sure, it wasn’t as if she was living in another country, but if you know how culturally diverse India is , you can begin to understand that it must have felt like she was. In India, the cultural landscape is an intricate tapestry that, influenced by geography, history, religion and million other factors, changes every few miles. The only generalisation you can make about India is that you cannot make any generalisations about India.
So there Mum was, in a new city, homesick, pregnant and only Dad to count as a friend. Then she met Iyer Mami, a kind older lady in the neighbourhood. The two quickly got to know each other – Iyer Mami too hailed from the south of India – so they also had a cultural (or sort of) connection.
Iyer Mami, as the mother of three children herself, probably understood what my Mum was going through. Or perhaps she was just one of those really kind people who make the world a better place each day by small acts. Either way, she took it upon herself to make Mum feel better in any way she could. And one of those ways was dropping off food. This rasam, with its hot & sour flavours, was Mum’s favourite then and remains so to this day, not just because of its punchy flavours but also because it reminds her of the loveliness of Iyer Mami.
The gratitude Mum felt then was so intense that she has remembered it all my life (that’s not a typo if you think about it). Always a compulsive food-sharer, she makes it a point to pay Iyer Mami’s kindness forward to any expectant mother she encounters.
Which just goes to show that
Note: Most versions of rasam (literally meaning essence) known by many names all over south India do not contain dal. Iyer Mami used only the water from cooked dal for her recipe and my Mum does the same. The maverick in me added some dal to it once and found that I preferred this version. I also dared to add onions & tomatoes to a rasam which originally had neither. It’s what my family likes and what I hope Mrs. Iyer would approve of.
Iyer Mami's Rasam
- 1/2 cup toor dal
- 1.5 cups water
- 1/2 tsp haldi
- 1 tbs oil or ghee
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds optional
- 1/2 tsp mild hing (asafoetida) powder adjust quantities depending on the strength
- 2 sprigs curry leaves about 15-20
- 3 green chillies slit
- 1 medium onion cut into 1 cm squares (approx. 1/2 a cup)
- 1/4 tsp haldi
- 1/2 -1 tsp chilli powder I used extra-hot
- 1.5 cups water
- ½-1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
- ½ a 400g tin cherry tomatoes optional
- 1.5 tsp salt
- Pressure cook the toor dal with the haldi and water for 10 minutes. You want it cooked but not mushy.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the cumin seeds if using and the hing powder. Stir, then quickly add the curry leaves. Stir again and add the green chillies.
- Fry the green chillies and the curry leaves for a few seconds, then add the onions.
- Once the onions are half-done, add the haldi, chilli powder, water, tamarind concentrate cherry tomatoes and salt. Bring to the boil and simmer until the onions are well-cooked.
- Add the cooked dal and bring to the boil.
- Turn off the heat and garnish with chopped coriander leaves .Serve as an accompaniment to plain rice.