Chaaru or rasam is the ultimate comfort food for most south Indians. It is typically eaten with rice or had as is.There could possibly be a different recipe for each family and even within the family, it will taste different depending on the person making it. It is basically a sour and spicy broth made with tamarind or tomatoes or sometimes both. Drumsticks make a wonderful addition to this flavorful dish. Rasam powder ( a premade spice and lentil mix) is typically added to flavor rasam, but it can also be made without using the powder.
I learnt making this rasam from my grandma (ammamma). I have always loved my ammamma's rasam. I still remember the day she made this dish, I was probably a teenager, I was craving rasam and simple stir fried eggplant (vankaya vepudu). I followed her in the kitchen like I always did and watched her make this rasam. I think she ran out of her stock of rasam powder that evening. She simply took a handful of coriander seeds, black pepper and cumin seeds and coarsely pounded them in a pestle and added this fresh spice mix to her rasam and it was divine. The only change I have done is adding garlic in the tempering. My ammamma would add asafetida (hing). I like using garlic in winter.
A couple of tips to take your rasam to the next level:
1)do the tempering in ghee and not in oil
2)use a lot of the cilantro stems while boiling the rasam, they add fantastic flavor.
Bring to a boil:
Water - 3 cups
Tomato - 1 medium sized ripe tomato or 3/4th cup of cherry tomatoes
Tamarind - 1tbsp (soaked in a little water and pulp squeezed)
Cilantro stems and leaves - 1/4 cup
Turmeric - 1/4tsp
Salt to taste (1/2 tsp approximately)
Jaggery - 1 tsp (optional)
Cooked toor dal - 1/4 cup
Curry leaves - 1 sprig
Cumin seeds - 1/4 tsp
Mustard seeds - 1/4 tsp
Dried red chillies - 2 broken in half
Garlic clove - 1 large or 2 to 3 small peeled or
Asafetida - 2-3 pinches
Ghee - 1 tbsp.
Grind to a powder:
Coriander seeds - 2 tbsp.
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Black pepper -1/2 tsp.
Powder the ingredients in the ' grind to a powder' section in a spice grinder.
Soak the tamarind in some warm water and squeeze the pulp.
In a bowl, add all the ingredients listed under 'bring to a boil' along with 1 1/2 tbsp. of the ground powder.
Once the tomatoes are cooked, stop the cooking process.
In a small pan, heat ghee and add the ingredients for tempering and fry till the spices are sizzling. Since we are not adding any chillies to the rasam, it is essential to add them in the tempering. This is a good way to ensure that there is some heat. Typically all rasam powders have some red chillies in them.
Add this tempered ghee to the rasam and cover immediately.
Enjoy with steamed rice.