Saturday, January 4, 2014

Saaru pudi(Rasam powder) and (Mysore) Saaru - quintessential South Indian broth

Hope everyone had a great start to the new Year. My best wishes for many wonderful days and months.

I am going to start off this New year with a recipe that is so common and popular in South India that it doesn't need any introduction to people who have even a tiny bit of exposure to Indian cuisine. However it is special as this recipe comes from my favoritest most favorite (before my grammar addict DD catches me on this) kitchen in the entire world. Well, it is nammamma's recipe and I have literally grown up on this dish. I have had multiple requests for home made powders since I started blogging 2 years back and while I posted some of them already, some are still to see the light of day on this blog. Not to worry, they will all be here in due course.
Before I write anything about the recipe, I want to unload something with you guys. It is a pet peeve of mine to see something labelled as 'Mysore Rasam'. I am born and grew up for the first 20 years of my life in this beautiful city and never once heard a fellow Mysorean say, "I had Mysore Rasam for lunch today" :-) simply because it doesn't exist. The MTR mixes of this Universe coined the term Mysore Rasam to differentiate it from another similar powder recipe from the neighboring state - is there a Madras Rasam really? Any Chennaites out there that can enlighten me on this topic? For starters, we don't call it Rasam in Mysore, it is a Saaru and it will always stay so for me. And believe me that Saaru tastes different from kitchen to kitchen even within the bounds of Mysore, so I think calling something as Mysore Rasam is nothing short of gross misnomer. Since the name seems to be stuck, I will indulge you though albeit unwillingly. Whew, now that I have it off my chest, I am back to my happy self and can chit chat easily with you guys for the rest of this post :-).

Saaru like I mentioned tastes different in different houses as it gets morphed to suit individual family's tastes and preferences. But a general definition can be, "it is a liquidy broth made with or without lentils, flavored with fresh ground or powdered spices in which vegetables are notably absent". Having said that, there are varieties of different Saaru and they are all made in Mysore too :-). When I was writing this post (for the second time that is as I lost the entire draft for some unknown reason, I am still seething with anger at Blogger but I want to write this down while it is still fresh in my mind), I was toying with the idea of presenting different varieties of Saaru and used some of my professional skills to draw the below. It is a free hand drawing and so the straight lines are not so straight :-). But a picture is worth a thousand words and I very efficiently cut down the number of paragraphs I would have written otherwise to explain the same thing, how do you like my neat little picture? In case you didn't know, you just read a basic flow chart :-).
Saaru pudi or Rasam powder recipes are typically handed down generations, when I say handed down, it need not be on paper but you learn by watching your moms and grandmoms in their kitchens. Saaru pudi making in Nammamma's kitchen was a special day, she would start by making sure there were no other events on that day and it was relatively free day with kids out of the house (you don't want them sneezing on you the entire time or tugging at your sleeves for snacks), she would finish the daily breakfast, lunch etc, get the mundane stuff out of the way and clean the kitchen. The 2 burner gas stove would come down from the kitchen counter to the floor which is where she sat down roasting huge quantities of ingredients patiently. The powder making day always resulted in multiple different powders and the quantities would be big to support the family's needs for a month or so before the cycle got repeated.

We were kids in an age when things had moved from being very manual to machine dependent. Given the quantity of powders Nammamma made, grinding them in the kitchen mixer was out of question, so we went to the neighborhood flour mill. Infact, one of us kids went there the previous evening as a messenger to let the owner know that we would come back the next day so he could plan in advance. Plan for grinding some powders, you ask? If you have not seen these flour mills, here is how they work. 2 or 3 machines are housed in a small, low ceilinged room, each machine has a feeder at the top where you pour the grains, lentils, spices etc. It passes through while the machine works and comes out of a small tube, actually a stump which is extended by an attached stitched cloth that looks exactly like a loose trouser leg. The problem with this design is that the powder passing through that outlet will invariably get stuck and will cross contaminate flavors between different powders. Every time before a new feed was put in, the cloth was inverted, dusted off to rid of any attached particles, in the process making everyone in the room sneeze and cough synchronously. So the advance notice of the previous evening was for the machine operator to plan what powders he would allow in which of his 3 machines to minimize the cross contamination :-). Standing in that small room that felt like an over heated sauna with all the machines humming around you and the surrounding spices was no less than an adventure sport.
After all this effort, the powders would come back home in their respective containers and the whole house would smell wonderful. We would go to sleep dreaming of mouth watering chutney pudi, slurpy saarus for the next day :-). I had not tried making saaru pudi at home for a long time, used MTR Rasam powder as back up when my imported from India powders were running low. A few months back when I was flipping through my recipe books, a small piece of paper fell off and it had the saaru pudi recipe in nammamma's writing from 6 years or so ago when she was visiting us here. I hit the jackpot and marched straight to the kitchen to make my own saaru pudi. Saaru is a regular affair in my home and both BH & DD are connoisseurs of  saaru. They both whole heartedly put their stamp of approval on my home made powder that it did taste like Ajji's saaru, so now I have no need for MTR packets. I make small quantities of the saaru pudi to last me for a couple of weeks and use my mixer to grind it.

As you can imagine, this is a personal favorite recipe. I would love to hear back from you if you tried it whether or not you liked it. Looking forward.

What do you need to make Saaru Pudi?
1 cup coriander seeds
2 cups broken dry red chilies - use a mix of Guntur and Byadigi varieties, see notes below
1 cup curry leaves
1/4 cup fenugreek seeds
1/4 cup cumin seeds
1/4 cup black pepper
1 Tblsp mustard seeds
1/4 Tsp asafetida - I like to use the non-powder variety (SSP brand has good asafetida), if not available use the powder
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder or a small piece of dried turmeric root
1/2 Tsp ghee
2 Tsp oil

How do you make Saaru pudi?
  • Heat a heavy gauge skillet/pan on medium heat until warm. Add the fenugreek seeds and stirring continuously, roast them until they turn light pink. Keep aside on a wide plate.
  • Add the cumin and roast until they are fragrant and start to pop. Take care not to burn or smoke them. Keep them aside.
  • Add mustard and roast until they start to pop. Keep aside.
  • Add ghee to the pan followed by black pepper and roast stirring continuously until pepper is fragrant and starts to pop. Some black peppers do not pop, watch them and take care not to burn them. Keep aside.
  • Add oil to the pan and roast the broken red chilies until they turn crisp. Take care not to blacken them. Keep aside. 
  • Add curry leaves and roast until they turn crisp, keep aside.
  • Add the coriander seeds and roast them until they warm up completely and become fragrant. Add turmeric powder, asafetida and mix to coat. Keep aside to cool.
  • Once the spices cool down completely, grind them to a very fine powder.
  • Store in dry, air tight containers. This stays fresh upto 3-4 weeks outside. If you are making large batches, store them in refrigerator for longer storage.
Now that we made the Saaru pudi, I will show you how to use it in a Saaru. This is just one of the ways I make saaru but it is also one of the popular versions and is very delicious. The key to a good saaru is a good saaru powder. If your powder is not upto the mark, it can turn a possible masterpiece into a disaster of sorts very quickly. So now that you have a good powder, add a little bit of jiggery (for that Mysore touch) and a spoon full of milk (Nammamma's tip for the beautiful hue of the saaru) and you are all set to enjoy a heavenly ambrosia in a cup.

What do you need to make Tomato Saaru?
1/4 cup toor dal
2 medium tomatoes
2 Tsp Saaru pudi
1 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
4-5 curry leaves
2-3 twigs of cilantro
small piece of tamarind (adjust based on the tartness of tomatoes)
1 Tsp crushed jiggery
1 Tblsp shredded coconut
1 Tblsp milk
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1 Tsp ghee
3/4 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin
pinch of asafetida
How do you make Tomato Saaru?
  • Wash, pick Toor dal and take it to pressure cooker along with 1 and 1/2 tomatoes, 1 cup of water and curry leaves. Cook until soft.
  • I bring the heat to simmer completely after the first whistle and cook for 15 minutes. This works perfectly for me. It depends on the quality of lentils, your pressure cooker, stove, so adjust accordingly. Idea is to cook lentils until soft.
  • Chop the remaining half of the tomato into small pieces and keep aside for later use.
  • Once the pressure subsides, open the cooker, take the cooked tomatoes out and let it cool.
  • Mash the lentils with a whisk, add 2 cups of water and bring it to boil.
  • Remove the skin of tomatoes and take them to a blender along with shredded coconut, tamarind, salt and saaru pudi and grind it to a very fine paste.
  • Add the ground paste to the cooked lentils and bring it to boil.
  • Add jaggery, milk, chopped tomatoes and cilantro and let it boil for 5 minutes on medium heat.
  • Taste and adjust as needed.
  • Heat ghee in a small pan (preferably iron/cast iron pan) add mustard and cumin. Once mustard pops, add asafetida and switch off.
  • Pour the seasoning over the saaru and switch off.
  • Serve hot Saaru with cooked rice and a drop of ghee or enjoy a hot cup of saaru as an excellent appetizer.
Saaru pudi wisdom:
  • Make sure you do not burn or blacken any of the spices while roasting them.
  • Nammamma has a technique of combining various ingredients together as she understands their roasting time very well, I take a short cut and roast them individually. The order of roasting given above takes into consideration the oily fry from the dry roasts and uses the ghee and oil intelligently, so follow the same order for best results.
  • Use good quality spices especially black pepper and asafetida for most flavor.
Saaru wisdom:
  • Adding tender cilantro stalks provides flavor and crunch to the saaru. This is how it is typically served in Karnataka weddings, so go for it.
  • You can skip the tomato in this saaru and replace it entirely with tamarind for a different variation.
  • You can skip grinding the saaru pudi with the coconut and directly add the powder to the boiling liquid.


Lakshmi Grandhim said...

Tumba chennagi bardidira Nagashree. Odta idre tumba sabtosha agatte. Bele saaru is comfort food at home.

NamsVeni Pothas said...

wonderful recipe of saaru podi especially for this winter season. in the chilled weather fills happiness with hot rasam.

Anonymous said...

Nice to read a good explanation/clarification of saaru and rasam! I always insist that I make huli and not saambar :)

Sneha said...

I love your blog, I followed your recipe to the T
Saaru tumba chennagi bantu :)

Thank you and lots of love.

Nagashree Ravi said...

@Sneha, thank you for visiting and for your kind words. As you can tell, these are some of the recipes very close to my heart and it just makes me happy to see others relate to it, enjoy making it. Much love, see you around often.