22 May 2015

Cousins in the Kitchen: Blueberry, lemon & thyme rasam

2015...it's been quite a year so far. As you may have guessed in case you actually paid a visit to this space lately (thank you, thank YOU, THANK YOU if you did!!!), I've been pretty busy. Not having a baby or tending to a newborn this time (now I'm tending to an incredibly active toddler, which is a different challenge but one that I love so far!), but incredibly busy nonetheless. Taking care of my family, working like crazy and travelling nonstop! Since I haven't had any time to blog, I thought about calling upon some of my very talented cousins to pick up the slack instead. The first one who came to mind was my cousin Maheshwari (Mahesh), who lives in Chicago. She's an avid cook and recipe collector (and fellow Pinterest addict!), mother to two teenage twin boys and has always been known in the family as a wonderful writer. Who better then to kick off this new series of recipes from my cousins, which we've decided to call 'Cousins in the Kitchen'?! Without further ado, here she is with a fabulous recipe which I can't wait to try! Thank you, Akka :-)

Thanks, Ramya, for inviting me to share a recipe. Hello, everyone. My name’s Maheshwari (Mahesh, for short), and I’m Ramya’s cousin.

Full disclosure: I’m not a food blogger; just an enthusiastic cook and avid recipe collector. If you feel I’ve left out some important detail, please let me know so that I may clarify it.

So, what we have today is a classic from the southern states of India - Rasam. At least, in my (and Ramya's) home state of Tamil Nadu, we call it rasam. In other parts of the country, it may be known as saaru or chaaru. This isn't a fancy item, it's in fact our comfort food, a daily staple. Easily digestible, it is very often our babies' first introduction to spice. 

Traditionally, besides the requisite seasonings, rasam is basically made of three key ingredients –dhal (lentils), tamarind extract, and tomatoes. It is seasoned with bhagaar – spices toasted in hot oil, and added as a final touch; and garnished with plenty of fresh herbs – usually, curry leaves and cilantro. It can be mild or spicy, thicker or thinner in consistency, and served either as an accompaniment to go with rice, or as a starter for the main meal.

The key to successful rasam is hinted at in its very name. It comes from rasa, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘flavor’. In a good rasam, the flavors have to be in balance – the tanginess has to be in harmony with the spice which needs to be complemented with the salt, and with whatever other flavor blends you have going in the mix. With that in mind, the ubiquitous tamarind extract can be substituted with buttermilk or lemon juice, for example. And the humble tomato can entirely bow itself out of the scene to be replaced with other, more unconventional ingredients.

Some of the most memorable rasam I have tasted have been at weddings. There, to go with the festive mood, we occasionally get fruit-based rasam. I’ve always loved them – mild, aromatic, and delicately spiced, they are quite a departure from the same old, same old.

I’ve been living in Chicago for more than two decades now, and my cooking reflects that. Here’s my very own version of an old country recipe, made with New World ingredients. Since it was inspired by my fondness for wedding rasam, I thought I would go with that theme and call it, ‘Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue’. But rasam is too unassuming a dish for such a fanciful name, so I’ll simply call the thing what it is – Blueberry, Lemon and Thyme Rasam.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon mung dhal (split yellow mung beans) 
1/2 teaspoon ginger, grated 
1/4 cup blueberries
2 cups water 
Lemon zest – from 1 small lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice (or more or less, to taste)
5 thyme sprigs (strip the leaves from the sprigs
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste (optional)
Ingredients for bhagaar/tempering

1 teaspoon oil 
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds 
1 small green chili, slit into four
Ground black pepper, to taste (optional)
Red chili (optional)

1. Cook the mung dhal till soft and mushy. Set aside.

2. In a small saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon oil, and briefly sauté the ginger till aromatic.

3. Add the blueberries, and sauté till the berries begin to release their juice. Before they turn mushy, add the two cups water.

4. When the water starts to boil, reduce heat to simmer. Mash the mung dhal, adding some water if necessary. Add the mashed mung dhal to the rasam.

5. Add salt, thyme, and lemon zest. Let it simmer for a minute.

6. Remove from heat. Add the lemon juice.

7. For the Bhagaar: In a small sauté pan, heat 1 teaspoon oil. Add the mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds start popping, add the cumin seeds. Within a few seconds, the cumin seeds should turn a lighter shade. Immediately, add the green chili, red chili and black pepper. Pour on top of the rasam. Check for salt and tanginess, and add more salt and lemon juice as needed.

Rasam is usually served hot. However, I find this particular rasam to taste best at room temperature. Or if you would like to have it as a tangy starter; perhaps you may even prefer it cold, gazpacho style.

Maheshwari’s Notes:

1.  I don’t usually add sugar to rasam. But since this is fruity rasam, a little sweetness is not out of place. If the blueberries are in season and sweet enough, the added sugar may not be required.

2. For myself and my more spice-loving friends, I would recommend adding the extra red chili and the pepper. The green chili alone isn’t going to cut it for us. You would of course have to adjust the lemon juice and salt accordingly. But then again, too much spice would alter the subtle flavor of this dish. So really, it’s your call.

3. In general, rasam uses tuar dhal (split, husked pigeon-pea) which has a more robust flavor. I prefer the slightly more neutral taste of mung dhal for this recipe.

4. It’s natural for the dhal to settle at the bottom.


  1. What a beautiful creation! All the little details and interesting tidbits of information about Rasam are so interesting to read and the pictures are so inviting. We are going to try this soon for sure. Thank you Mahesh.

  2. This is such a creative recipe. What an innovative way of blending east and west. Thanks for sharing and so excited to see more cousins recipes!!

  3. Mahesh Akka, thank you again so very much for sharing this recipe and for being the brave first volunteer for the 'Cousins in the Kitchen'! We made the rasam last night and really enjoyed it.

    1. So glad you liked it! I'm waiting to be joined by our other cousins, and am really looking forward to see what they're going cook up.

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