Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Saaru pudi(Rasam powder) & (Mysore) Saaru - a sought after recipe for a home made Rasam powder

Hope everyone started their New Year on a great note. My wishes to all of you. I am going to start this year's blogging with a recipe so common, so popular that it needs no introduction to anyone with even a tiny bit of exposure to Indian cuisine. It is special because it comes from my favoritest most favorite (before my grammar addict DD catches me on this) kitchen in the entire world. This is what I grew up on literally.
Before I start talking about anything else today, I want to unload something with you guys. It is a pet peeve of mine to see something called 'Mysore Rasam' because as far as I know, there is no such thing as Mysore Rasam. I was born and raised in Mysore and spent the first 20 years of my life in this beautiful city but have never heard another Mysorean say, "I made Mysore Rasam for lunch today" :-) simply because it doesn't exist. I think it was the MTR quick mixes of the world that coined the name to distinguish it from the neighboring Madras Rasam(is there a Madras Rasam BTW, any Chennaites?) and the name some how stuck. For one, we don't call it Rasam in Mysore, it is a 'saaru' and saaru tastes different from kitchen to kitchen within the boundary of Mysore depending on the individual tastes and preferences of each family, so generalizing something as Mysore Rasam is a gross understatement. Since the rest of the world has gotten used to this misnomer, I will indulge everyone with it albeit unwillingly. But for a hard core Mysorean, it will always remain 'Saaru'. Whew, now that I took it off my chest, I am back to my happy self and we can continue our talk in a much lighter vein for the rest of the post.

Since I started this blog 2 years back, I have had many requests for home made powders, while I do post them from time to time, there are some I still haven't brought to the blog. Saaru pudi is such a quintessential condiment in a South Indian home that each of us learn it by watching moms and grandmoms in the kitchen. Saaru fares regularly in our menu and I used to stock my pantry with MTR Mysore Rasam powder for a long time whenever my imported pudi from Nammamma's kitchen got over. Though I knew the ingredients that went in to making the pudi, I had never attempted it on my own until recently. One day when I was picking through my recipe books including the hand written one I have, a piece of paper fell down that had saarina pudi recipe. It is from some 6 years back when nammamma was here visiting us. Having hit the jackpot, I went to the kitchen and made it that day and then a week later and again 2 weeks later. This here is nammamma's saaru pudi and I don't find the need to buy MTR anymore :-)
Since I said saaru tastes different in different kitchens, let me also state that nammamma made one of the best saarus I have ever had though she didn't ever think so and has never been a big fan of her own saaru, she prefers Huli (which is known as sambar in Indian culinary dictionary). Basic definition of saaru is a spiced liquid with or without lentils in which vegetables are most notably absent except for tomatoes and in some special cases onions. The saaru usually has a much thinner consistency compared to a Huli/sambar and is served as either an appetizer or as the second course to be mixed with rice in a meal or more famously to dunk deep fried vadas in. While I was writing this post and thinking about the different varieties of saaru made at home, it occurred to me that a picture might be more useful to show you what I had in mind instead of writing sentences. So I applied a little bit of my professional skills to draw the below, it is hand drawn so pardon the 'unstraight' straight lines. Hope you guys enjoy the neat picture and if you didn't know, you just read a basic flow chart :-)
Making saaru pudi is an art, while you may get the list of ingredients and the proportions from a recipe, the major trick is in roasting those ingredients. Under roasted or over roasted spices turn a possible master piece into a failure very quickly. In Nammamma's kitchen, pudi making days were actually marked on the calendar, she would make sure there were no other events happening on that day, ingredients were purchased and kept ready, kids were at school (you don't want them either sneezing on you the whole time or tugging you at arm for snacks, so they had to be out) and she would also plan the breakfast & lunch for the day ahead so she can get it out of the way and clear the kitchen area. Once the daily cooking was done, the kitchen would get a round of cleaning, the gas stove with 2 burners would come down to the floor and she would sit there roasting all the spices. All this was essential since she made big batches of the powders and usually made 3 or more different spice powders on the same day and in quantities big enough to sustain the family for atleast a month and half before the cycle repeated.

Once the spices are roasted, you take them to the flour mill in the neighborhood. These mills were small rooms, low ceilinged and housed 2 or 3 huge machines that ran continuously and generated so much heat that standing inside that room was no less than an adventure sport. Nammamma would send one of us kids as messengers the previous evening to let the mill owner know we had a batch of powders to be ground so he could plan ahead. What planning, you ask? Here is the deal - the machine has a wide feeder on top from where the roasted lentils/spices would be fed and the ground powder would come out through a much narrower pipe - it was actually a stump that was extended longer with a stitched cloth, imagine a leg of trousers. We would keep a container at the end of it to collect the powder. Pretty ingenuous, huh? But the problem with this is the powder invariably gets attached to the inside of the cloth and if you didn't want multiple flavors mixed up in your powder, you had to invert that trousery thingy and make sure all attached powder got detached/dusted off :-) and would sneeze and cough laboriously in the process. And then the blander powders (like Menthya hittu - recipe coming up sometime soon for this favorite powder of mine) had to be ground first before you would start on the spicier powders. After a strong flavored powder was done, the cloth tied to the output tube would be flipped reverse and any powder sticking to the inside would be dusted off completely before starting the machine again. On top of all this, the machine was controlled by request to produce fine powder (as in saaru pudi) and coarse powder (as in Chutney pudi).

The powders would get home by evening and the next day would be a sort of celebration trying out the various powders. I made small quantities and used my mixer to grind the powder.
What do you need to make Saaru pudi (Rasam Powder)?
1 cup coriander seeds/dhania
2 cups broken red chilies - preferably a mixture of Byadigi & Guntur, see notes below.
1 cup picked curry leaves
1/4 cup black pepper/menasu
1/4 cup fenugreek seeds/menthya
1/4 cup cumin/jeerige
1 Tblsp mustard/saasive
1/2 Tsp ghee
2 Tsp oil
1/2 Tsp asafetida - I like to use the non powder form (SSP brand has good asafetida), if not available, use the powder
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder or a small piece of dried turmeric root if you can get it
How do you make Saaru pudi?
  • Heat the skillet on medium heat until warm, add fenugreek seeds. Roast them by continuously stirring until they turn light pink. Keep them aside in a wide plate.
  • Add cumin to the pan and fry until light brown. Take care not to smoke cumin. Keep aside.
  • Add mustard and stir them to roast until they pop, keep aside.
  • Add ghee to the pan followed by black pepper and roast them until fragrant and start to pop. Do not smoke the black pepper. Some black peppers do not pop, so watch while roasting and take them aside as soon as they become fragrant.
  • Add oil to the pan, add the broken pieces of chilies (get your exhaust fan going and open a couple of windows to help air circulation) and roast by stirring continuously until chilies turn crisp. Take care not to blacken them. Keep aside.
  • Add the curry leaves to the pan and roast until they are crisp. Keep aside.
  • Add coriander seeds and roast them until they heat up and become warm completely, add turmeric powder and asafetida just before taking the seeds out of the pan and stir them to get coated.
  • Let the roasted spices cool completely before grinding them to a very fine powder.
  • Store in air tight containers. This will stay fresh for atleast 3-4 weeks when kept outside. If you are making large quantities, put it in the refrigerator for longer storage.
Once you have made saaru pudi, next logical step is to make the saaru or Rasam. So I combined both in this post. The saaru I have here is just one of the ways of preparing it and is delicious. You can skip tomatoes completely, use tamarind instead for a different variation. If you have had a taste of this heavenly broth and want to recreate it at home, remember a good saaru starts with a good pudi, add a pinch of jaggery (Mysore touch) and a spoon of milk (to get that beautiful hue, nammamma's wisdom), you are all set to go :-).

What do you need to make Tomato Saaru?
1/3 cup toor dal
2 medium tomatoes
3-4 curry leaves
2 Tsp saaru pudi
small piece of tamarind (adjust this based on the sourness of your tomatoes)
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 Tsp turmeric
1/2 Tsp jaggery
2-3 twigs of cilantro
1 Tsp shredded coconut
1 Tblsp milk
1/2 Tsp ghee
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin
pinch of asafetida
How do you make Tomato Saaru?
  • Wash, pick and cook toor dal along with the curry leaves and 1 whole tomato and another 1/2 of it in pressure cooker until soft.
  • Chop the remaining 1/2 tomato into small pieces and keep it aside for later use.
  • After the first whistle, I simmer the heat down completely and let it cook for 15 minutes. This works perfectly for me. Depending on your stove, lentils quality and the pressure cooker itself, you may need to adjust this time. Idea is to cook until soft.
  • Let pressure subside, take out the cooked tomatoes onto a plate and whisk the dal to form a homogeneous puree.
  • Once the tomatoes cool down, remove the skin, take it into a blender jar along with salt, saaru pudi, grated coconut, tamarind and grind it into a smooth paste.
  • Bring the mashed lentils to a boil with turmeric, jaggery and the ground paste along with chopped tomatoes.
  • Once it starts to form bubbles, add finely chopped cilantro (use the cleaned stalks along with the leaves), milk and let it boil on medium heat.
  • Heat ghee in a small seasoning pan (preferably iron/cast iron), add mustard and cumin. Once the mustard pops, add hing and pour the seasoning into the saaru.
  • Serve delicious saaru with steaming white rice and a drop of ghee or drink it up as an appetizer.
Saaru Pudi wisdom:
  • Really important to remember while making this powder is to get good quality ingredients especially asafetida and roast them with love and patience. Nammamma has a technique of combining different ingredients while roasting as she knows the combinations that need the same roasting time but I go for an easier technique (to remember that is) and roast each of them separately until done. Follow the order I have above to keep dry & oil roasting separate.
  • Use a heavy gauge skillet or cast iron pan to roast the ingredients as it helps distribute heat evenly and adds flavor.
  • Thumb rule for mixing red chilies - Guntur variety gives heat and Byadigi variety gives the color. Adjust according to your preference. Amma's recipe calls for 1 cup coriander seeds to 2 cups broken red chilies.  
Saaru wisdom:
  • Add 2 drops of oil to the pressure cooker so lentils cook well.
  • Saaru should boil but not spill over for best taste, adjust the heat.  
  • This saaru is not too sour, if your tomatoes have sourness, skip the tamarind.
  • Adding a little bit of tomato pieces to the saaru enhances its texture. Same with cilantro stalks. If you have had this saaru in any Karnataka wedding, you will see that they use cilantro along with stalks liberally, so go for it.
This is a really special recipe for me because all my guests & friends that have tasted this saaru always like it. If you try this at home, I would love to hear back from you whether you liked it or otherwise. Enjoy!!

No comments: