How to make rasam
Today, I am going to teach you how to make rasam.
The first step in making rasam is to make sure that it is a Tuesday afternoon. A Tuesday afternoon is known to induce immeasurable empathy with the universe and an inexplicable sense of guilt – both of which are assuaged by the precisely made rasam. So, on a Tuesday afternoon, in a dark kitchen where the dust motes shimmer like memories, with that framed Tanjore painting of Kamakshi to the side looking like a well-fed judge on Masterchef, we begin.
I could ask you to take a lead-lined vessel, or I could ask you to take an iluppuchatti. That is the difference between making rasam and making rasam on a Tuesday afternoon. The difference between lukewarm and vedhu vedhu. Boil water in the iluppuchatti. As soon as the first hopeful bubbles begin to emerge, turn off the heat and drop a lump of tamarind inside.
Now, the tamarind lump must essentially look like a sage. The seed must be within. The whiskers must be long. Drop the tamarind and walk away from the pot without looking back.
Cut a tomato into nine pieces. For the next ten minutes, you should contemplate on the larger historical perspective of our decision to use a tomato with the tamarind soaked water. It is not simply a perspective on colonialism and the death of indigenous arts. It is rather, a perspective on vegetable warfare. The tomato and the tamarind have always been arch enemies – like liberals and free thinkers. The tamarind considers itself a grass-root artist, a Fabindia wearing flautist who performs under a Banyan tree to an audience of Fabindia wearers. The tomato is the pulpier artist, the guy who got famous on Youtube, won a reality show and is now the most searched word. The rasam puritans out there would tell me that it is illogical to use two sour sources, pardon my syllables. But the clash is essential to the dynamic nature of the rasam. However, with powerful performers like this, you need a strong stage.
Once the tamarind has soaked in the water, remove it for it was a meaningless illusion to begin with anyway. Now, boil the water, add the nine tomato pieces and listen as the jugalbandhi unfolds. Before it gets to the competitive phase, however, you must add a spoon and a half of paatti’s rasappodi (Grandmother’s Rasam Powder). It is there in that rolled up Quaker Oats cover, with that melting rubber band wound tightly around. Hold the rolled up cover in both hands, bring it close to your nose and, before a sneeze can completely form, unwind the rubber band in one smooth motion. If this is done right, you should see a tiny puff of burnt sienna escape from the mouth of the cover like dust from Alibaba’s cave. Once the rasappodi is added, our grand performers will quiet down a bit. This is the time for the salt. Contrary to popular opinion, salt does not serve any ritualistic purpose and is purely for taste. When the rasam comes to a boil, set it down but do not turn off the stove. It is imperative that the next step be performed over the same fire.
Take a smaller vessel and let drip seven drops of ghee. Ghee – the nectar of the gods, the wine of the divine bovine! Let the ghee ascend to the heavens to announce the intention of the cook! Let the ghee carry the message of rasam to the four winds! So be it. So be it.
Sputter mustard seeds in the ghee. Incidentally, ‘sputter’ is perhaps the best coined word in the English language, so you must listen to the phonetic expression of the same as the mustard seeds sputter. But don’t listen for too long, for it is a mesmeric sound that will draw you in if you are not careful. Add a pinch of hing and quickly pour this consecrated concoction into the rasam.
Pluck three twigs of coriander with the index finger and thumb after professing several apologies to the plant. Garnish the rasam with coriander. After ten minutes, take a ladle and swirl the rasam three times in the apradhakshanam direction before serving.
Serves 1 for there is no other.