Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When My Soup Didn't Come Alive

Recently, I failed at making chaaru.

Like I had failed with this staple many times in the past, even with ready-to-cook packets and powders that ensured I didn't have to do anything much.

I don't even attempt the varieties made back home, except for tomato chaaru (rasam), and that's mostly only when the several shrivelling tomatoes inside the fridge loudly call out to be pressure-cooked into rasam. Now, tomato chaaru, that sure gets me drooling - it was what I ate as a nine-year-old recovering from jaundice, mixed with rice and some minced lamb on the side, and if I remember right now, that was my staple diet for the next few days. But more on that later, perhaps.

I am fond of the rasam that has some daal in it - the black-brown, plain rasam of the tamarind alone doesn't enthuse me. So when we recently had guests for two days and I had to churn out some decent and tried-and-tested stuff to eat, I attempted chaaru because I thought they would expect it. To satisfy my own self, I decided to add some daal to it.

I asked the lady who helps me at home to instruct me and first off, she told me that the tamarind extract I had was just too much.

What I needed, she said, was to soak a lime-sized ball of tamarind in about half a cup of water, and dilute that with a litre of water.

Then, she said, coarsely grind some pepper, cumin and a couple of red chillis and add it to the mix.

Add a few curry leaves and some coriander.

Squash a tomato, throw it in.

Add about a ladle of cooked-to-a-mush toor daal (split pigeon peas).

Set to boil and turn off the fire the moment it comes to a rolling boil, she said.
Oh, and some salt and turmeric.

So I did (but not without taking pictures of it for this. I never imagined it would make it to this blog, much less to an event.) Switched it off, and it tasted raw. It's not all right, I said. No, switch it off and cover it, she said, threatening bitterness. I did so, thinking that probably it would cook some more in its own heat and the flavours would meld.

Come lunchtime and I had every single eater reassuring me that the rasam was fine.

All I needed to do was add some more salt.

All I needed to do was boil it a little more.

All I needed to do was add some more daal.

But it's nice, they said.

Come dinnertime, I rescued it by adding two more ladles of daal and some more salt.

It was much improved, good, even.

Much better now, the diners said.

All I had needed to do was add some more salt.

All I had needed to do was boil it a little more.

All I had needed to do was add some more daal.

But it had been nice, they said.


But wasn't a tempering needed? I didn't remember that until now, when I wrote this post, so considering it was so nice, finally, probably it wasn't.

I fail at making quite a few staples - rice cooked to such softness that you can't discern the grains, so good with rasam and pickle and curds; sambar, idlis and chapatis(I do not know how nor will I learn to grind or knead) and rasam (well, hopefully I've got it right now).

What are the ordinary, everyday dishes that defy you?

This post is off to EC who is hosting MLLA for Susan this month.


  1. That was interesting. Btw, your rasam/chaaru looks good. It has the authentic rasam look and sure to taste well too. Enjoyed every bit of the making of rasam :):)


  2. I love rasom with rice. The thought makes me drool, but i hardly make them home.
    Last time rasom was made in this house was when my sis was here.

  3. Rasam... it is really the simplest.

    My method is to pressure cook some dal the cooker or pressure pan directly... and then add chopped tomatoes, rasam powder, hing, salt, tamarind paste and boil, boil and boil. (If I use lime juice instead of tamarind... I add it at the end... after all the boiling)

    I heat some ghee and pop some mustard, add curry leaves and add to the rasam.

    What everyday dish defies me? Nothing really... if it does not turn out the way I intend it to, I tell myself I have invented a new dish! :)

  4. enjoyed readin ur post,.,.i guess i ahve to still master the art of makin perfect rotis,.;-0

  5. Kitchen mishaps again..... Does happen.... Why don't you send this to Malar's Kitchen Mishaps..... Interesting it is!!!! Just check...


  6. Till now i make maps with roti's...sometimes it is fully burt and sometimes not at all in the edges...rasam is my favouite.....love this version and will try this soon...

  7. LOL! Great post.

    Good morning (it is here!)miss sra. Chaaru/saaru looks yum. I too prefer Rasam with dal always. Your's sounds great to me, may be little short of salt? Haha!

    Got to temper with garlic and ghee! Slurp!! :))

    I make Menasina saaru/pepper-tamarind rasam only when I have cold and blocked up nose which is great for it.

    Reading this making me crave for some, may be I will make some today, thanks to you.

  8. It happens everyday Sra, to everybody but we just don't acknowledge it that's all :)

    Have not had rasam in a while, was planning on paruppu for lunch, rasam will get added in too now that you tempted me enough. I give a short shrift to rasam because it tends to the rice intake but today no worries.

  9. Never made rasam but the mix packets of soup I am not very fond of. However, I sucked at making yogurt initially till a friend had to come down to my house and show it to me. I have recently learnt to make soft idlis and dosas get made with the left over batter.
    Love your helping lady's threatening bitterness. :)

  10. Ha ha, all the time Sra, most of the time to say the least ;-)

    But that writing was really very funny. That is how many children's books are you know, like the first part with the 4-5 sentences and then the changes made to some situation and next 5

  11. My mother found out this easy method for preparing charu while she was in a hurry one day. In a small bowl (which will fit inside a pressure cooker) she puts everything that is required for preparing charu. Chopped tomatoes, little tamarind paste, salt, rasam powder, salt, turmeric, hing powder and even tuvar dal and little water. She cooks rice in one vessel and the rasam vessel goes to the bottom and leaves it for 3 whistles. So both the rice and rasam is done at one shot.

    Depending upon the quality of the tuvar dal it either gets cooked fully or sometimes its bit hard. When it is hard like that run the entire chaaru contents in the mixie. In the same bowl in which the rasam was cooked add the charru and lots of water (or as required depending upon the quantity of charu you want) and leave it to a rolling boil. Do the tempering in ghee (mustard and cumin). The charu tastes so divine. I never had to grind the charu because I think the tuvar dal we get here cooks/mashes completely. But my mother has mentioned that sometimes the tuvar dal does not cook in India.

  12. Hmmm... I'd love to taste it for myself. ;-)


  13. LOL, It happened with me but I will try to make up before it hit the table!
    Rasam is always in my fridge! We all love the tangy watery soup! I rarely add dhal because I cannot keep for long.....

  14. kitchen mishaps occur to only those who venture into the kitchen wilderness. so i say there are no mishaps, only changes to be made...more salt, less....:))

  15. I must have made rasam, 2 or maybe 3 times in my life. By the time I'm done making sambar and poriyal, I so want to leave the kitchen that wanting to make rasam has never crossed my mind.

    The one everyday dish that defies me is Idli. And I love idlis :(


  16. Rasam looks good, very photogenic :D

    Half the time, hubby comes to the table with table salt at our place..yet I still make it the same way :)

  17. I love rasam..but have never tried making it at home, though would love to soon..urs does look good...almost all everyday dishes have me in a quandary!!!

  18. Hey Sra, thats the diet I used to eat whenever I fall sick! O dear, what a coincidence :) And the rasam that always plays trick. I started my cooking venture by making rasam and I should thats the one I had made the max no. of times in my life. The trick is to add the cumin+pepper powder once the liquid starts frothing and after adding, count till 20 and switch off the stove and cover it immediately. I think u go overhadn with the tamarind. That might make the rasam taste raw. And I used to start with the tadka ;)

  19. Sra - rasam was pretty hard for me to grasp when I started cooking...so what I did was to make it twice a week for 6 months till i got the hang of it - ditto for chapatis - one everyday till I got it.

    Rasam - I use the dal water which you get when you cook dal - that way the rasam is light and doesn't have too much of the thick stuff which gets left behind...

    1 tomato cut into 4 pieces. Rasam powder 1 tsp as well as about a tbsp of cumin seeds, pepper crushed coarsely. salt. 2 cups of diluted tamarind extract - boil everything together for 10 minutes (ignore all the advice about switching it off at first boil, didnt work for me!).Temper and garnish with coriander leaves.

  20. LOl, sra..next time maybe I will ask for the rasam at your place..:))..loved reading the post and as I said you should consider a occupation at writing kids books..well even for adults if you know I enjoy reading your writing!..maybe you can make it more spicy too..:)

  21. Ms Chitchat, That was the uncooked version :-D
    Happy, yeah, I guess your other family members won't really miss it. Make it for yourself, though!'
    Raaga, thanks for the recipe. Even I like a ghee talimpu once in a while. Thinking that we've made up another dish is okay, but if the taste isn't good ...
    Notyet, I never even began to make Jayashree, thanks :-)
    Ash, will do, tks for letting me know.
    Lubna, be careful, don't expect too much.
    Asha, the pepper tamarind one is a staple at home, but I like the daal one better.
    Indo, some households have to have rasam and sambar everyday. It was like that in our hostel too.
    Jaya, I make good curds - the trick is to boil the milk down, let it reach 'lukewarm' and then set it. It should be alittle hotter in the winters and you should use a little more curd - guess it's a much bigger deal in the US with its weather.

    Bong Mom, maybe I'll aim for kid's writer, can't think up a plot for adults anyway!
    Madhuram, that's an interesting recipe. I find that toor dal doesn't cook fully when set to cook with tamarind and sometimes even turmeric. Just my experience ... even with pre-soaked daal. We use tamarind in daal with greens too, so I almost always add the tamarind extract later. But I'm going to try this one-shot rasam at least once - why do I say at least once, because putting it through the grinder is too much for lazy me.

    Paz, come over, or I'll make it for you if I'm there.
    Cham, Sambar is what I really suck at. Whatever I do.
    Mallugirl, hmm ...I oversalted the brinjal today, then I squeezed lime, no use, stayed salty!
    Mamatha, either is enough sambar or rasam - not both, aargh!
    Ruchika cooks, that's the uncooked version, LOL! Maybe he eats more salt as a matter of course ;)
    S, so you understand! Even our traditional daal used to fox me but I've gotten better at it.
    Ni, Ok, will remember that tip.
    Miri, I never could believe it either, but even boiling it vigorously did not help the taste in the past ... Will try your recipe as well.
    Valli, you should have a rasam mela next, seriously! Thanks.

  22. Haha....that does happen quite often!! I never know how much rasam to make.... it's always less!

  23. I don't know, Sra - this rasam looks pretty lively to me.

    Tell me: why such ritual for the right dilution of tamarind? Couldn't you have soaked the ball directed in the litre of water?

    The recipes that usually give most grief are deep-fried ones. I know exactly the necessity of constant high temp (and an oil w/ a high flashpoint), but my fear factor of a kitchen fire tames good technique. My recent rice-paper spring rolls were soggy, burnt, and hideous. Had I the luxury of an outdoor stove, I know I could pull it off each time.

  24. Jyothsna, yeah, that's another associated problem - I make too much.

    Susan, I soaked a fist-sized lump in water and was told it was too much. so I took about 1/4 cup of the extract and then diluted it on the advice of the lady.

    I never, ever know the principle behind the quantity of tamarind - nor how much to dilute it with, nor the amount of dal that's proportionate to the intended result - thick soup or thin.

    I'm no expert on frying but what we're usually told is that we should heat the oil on a high flame and then turn it down to medium so that the food to be fried is cooked through and not just on the surface.

  25. Sra,
    ok to me it looks good and rasam is a diluted form of sambhar , right? perhaps not!! eh! whatever...liked reading it a lot and that is the most important part..and i have been looking your couscous payasam post to read it again and to linkback ,but search is not working :(...
    hugs and smiles

  26. Enjoy Avatar today. 3D? We didn't go for that, glasses and all is such a hassle.Movie is very good but I wouldn't dare sit almost 3hrs there to watch that again! :D

    Make Flax seeds chutney pd next time you get it.It's supposed to have plenty of Omega 3 which we "mostly vegetarians" do need, since we don't eat much Fish at home here. I love it with Parathas, tastes so good.

    Will try that book, I read Reader's digest y'day on Kindle. In India,I checked out of curiosity, Kindle 2 costs Rs.20000!! WOW!!

  27. in the first few months of my pregnancy all I could ate was rice and tomato Rasam.I always prepare it according to the recipe given in the rasam powder packet. it always looks nice.you tempted me wnough to make a fresh batch for tonight's dinner.

  28. sra, checked out David Sedaris today. The guy is from Raleigh, NC!! YAY! Which book are you reading? He has so many, might buy one at Amazon onto Kindle.

  29. Jaya, it's lighter, but diluting sambar doesn't get you rasam - it gets you just diluted, bad sambar!
    Here's the link to it - http://whenmysoupcamealive.blogspot.com/2009/03/attaining-my-sugar-high.html - you couldn't find it because of my crazy titles.
    Asha, it was experience more than enjoyment. And no point seeing it without the glasses, quite blurry and you don't get to notice the depth. I didn't like it ultimately but I didn't get bored.
    Sayantani, really? Did you make it then?

  30. Rasam is best with rice.I don't add dal but never miss tempering the rasam.
    Seemingly ordinary khichdi sometimes turns out challenging for me,especially if the water proportions go wrong.

  31. I cannot make a good puzhi kachal. Asked my sis to mail it to me..

  32. oh sra...i need to visit this space more often..i forgot that you are such a good writer. i read the whole thing with a biiiig smile on my face :)...thanks

  33. Even I love tomato rasam..thanks for the entry


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