Nimbe Saaru | Lemon Rasam

Lemon Rasam

[Nim bay saah roo] (Kannada)

I like Saaru/Shatamudu/Chaaru* very much, but every once in a while I love to have the simplicity of Rasam and not just the regular Rasam but the lemony version of it. A heavenly taste hidden in its Gandhian simplicity, it is the best thing I can make for myself on a cold winter day. The mild flavor of cumin seeds, pungency of the garlic, heat from the peppercorns as I swallow, aroma of the sautéed curry leaves and green chillies makes for such a deadly therapeutic combination that it not only clears your nasal congestion but also opens up your senses to sublime freshness.
Garlic is almost taboo in an orthodox Iyengar kitchen like my grand dad’s, but that’s a story I’ll save for another day. Garlic has a special role in this simple rasam just like a secret ingredient waves its magic wand. My dear K simply loves anything even remotely to do with garlic and even though I was quite the opposite to begin with, I eventually left my inhibitions behind for the sake of the loved one. After all, it is the little things in everyday actions that make the difference isn’t it?
Long back, when I was still a rookie in the kitchen, I had heard of someone talk about this ‘enigmatic’ dish and wondered what kind of ingredients went in. The same thought kept returning to me every now and then and some years back, the trial version that turned out to be a sweet success is now part of my everyday cooking. Many rasam lovers enjoy sipping it piping hot just as one would a hot soup. Ghee or no ghee, I love ladles of it mixed with hot squished rice and a microwaved papad on the side for a soul filling meal. Wouldn’t trade my Nimbe saaru for a trip to the restaurant!

* In Kannada, Tamil, Telugu in that order for cooked lentils with curry powder, tamarind, tomato or lemon juice along with Indian herbs and seasoning. Saaru or Chaaru is a thicker version with a larger quantity of cooked lentils in it as opposed to just the broth as used in Rasam.
Shatamudu in colloquial Iyengar tamil stands for “Saatru + amudhu”  where amudhu means nectar and ‘amudhu‘ is joined to many of the dish names. Shanthi Krishnakumar has a detailed post on this.
Things you’ll need:
  • 1/2 cup Tuvar dal (pigeon pea lentils)
  • 2 green chillies halved and seeded
  • 1 large garlic pod minced (or 2-3 small pods)
  • 1/2″ ginger grated
  • 3-4 strands Cilantro roughly torn into smaller bits
  • 8-10 Curry leaves
  • 1/2 large lemon
  • 8-10 peppercorns coarsely crushed
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Jeera/Cumin seeds
  • 2-3 tsp oil or Ghee (optional)
  • salt
How it’s done:

  • Wash the dal well until the water runs clear. Pressure cook the dal along with turmeric with just enough water for 2-3 whistles.
  • When cooled, whisk through the cooked dal for a uniform mashed consistency. Now add in about a cup of water and leave it undisturbed for 5-10 mins to let the dal settle. We’d only need the dal broth to prepare Rasam.
  • Place a medium-sized pot with the oil/ghee in it over high heat. When the oil is hot enough, (test by dropping one or two mustard seeds first), reduce the flame to medium-high, add mustard seeds and let splutter.
  • As the mustard seeds splutter, add in the cumin seeds, minced garlic, grated ginger, green chillies, curry leaves, crushed peppercorns in that order and sauté until the green chillies show white spots and garlic turns golden brown, then add turmeric making sure to not burn it.
  • Carefully pour in only the dal broth (dal water without the dal). Be careful with the steam rising from the sizzling pot.
  • Add salt and bring the rasam to a nice boil. Simmer for a few mins and switch off or keep aside, squeeze in the lemon juice.
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve super hot over steamed rice and ghee.

  • The leftover cooked dal can be re-used to make regular dal tadka or with vegetables or sambar.
  • Add lemon juice only after the pot is removed from the stove, not while boiling.
  • If you don’t want to use garlic for any reason, substitute with a pinch of hing/asafoetida right after the mustard seeds.

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