Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Menasina/mensin saaru (Pepper Rasam) - you don't need to be under the weather to enjoy this

I grew up in a place that had 3 distinct seasons in a year - summer, winter and monsoon season tucked in between those two. There was no Autumn as I know here and both summers and winters were very mild in Mysuru. All we needed was a hand knit sweater to get us through the winter. But as with any place, when the seasons shifted, it was invariably accompanied by a sore throat, a sneeze or a head cold. It just wasn't called flu season :-) and instead of the preventative flu shots I have grown so accustomed to now, there were a number of home remedies. It feels to me like we as human beings are losing all of the natural defenses of the body as years go by and cannot repair any damages without the help of strong chemicals :-(, which is scary to say the least.
As a child, even with a sister studying to be a doctor, I remember a lot of simple home remedies. A sore throat was dealt with a hot kashaya, a cold was given its due with a spicy tasty mensin saaru, an upset stomach with a soothing yogurt+fenugreek+sugar mixture or better still advised to stay away from food for a more natural healing, a fever was administered bland food devoid of all spices (what a nightmare :-)). I continue this practice even now before reaching out to a bottle of tylanol or something stronger and it works for me.

Some of these home remedies are so delicious that we used to 'fake' sickness just to get nammamma to make a hot and yummy mensin saaru on chilly nights. This saaru is a natural comforter and healer for most weather related, minor illnesses. Even if it didn't cure anything, it was more psychological and I always felt that my sore throat had gotten better after downing a generous tumbler of mensin saaru :-) and would be ready to go on again. We all simply loved this special saaru that seemed to suit the cozy winter evenings so perfectly.
I went to Mysore when DD was born and was welcomed warmly and with much love by nammamma and anna who had become empty nesters by then with all the children having flown out of the nest. The extremely busy lives they had led until recently seemed to have had a break all of a sudden and they had so much time on their hands and were relearning to live their lives with just the two of them. It probably was the first time they were by themselves in any place in the nearly 5 decades of married life. The hurried pace was gone, replaced with a more mature, deliberate and synchronous pace that worked for both of them and the kitchen for the first time seemed to be almost inactive as she didn't have to cook much at all for the two of them. They were ecstatic to have me home for a few days before and after the baby came. While the pre-baby food was all fancy, spicy and exotic, the post-baby phase was focused entirely on nutrition and what was good for the little one :-). Suddenly the house seemed to come alive with family coming over to visit the expectant mom or the new mom & the infant. Just like that nammamma was back in her busy kitchen making all kinds of yummy food.
Nammamma had this saaru on the top of the list of 'allowed food' for women post a child birth. The combination of pepper, cumin and ghee is an accepted post delivery diet food :-). I didn't complain when she served me the mensin saaru day after day following the birth of my baby for an entire month. It was the time for hot steaming rice, warm mensin saaru and a big dollop of home made ghee specially reserved for the new mom but more than all that it meant two doting parents/grand parents sitting by watching me eat the food :-) while the infant made cooing sounds in the background. 3 generations of the family, sharing love and joy with each other! Nammamma would coax me to eat a little more even though I had had a full share of what I could eat :-) and would sit by the side cradling the baby in her arms. We would talk of all things from when she became a mom for the first time to when she became a grand mom for the first time and everything in between and around those time periods. Those couple of months of having my parents all to myself is one of the best memories I hold close to heart. She took extra effort to make sure, I had the freshest of the food and at the right times during the day. There was no stopping her as what I ate and how I felt was not only was affecting me but her new born grandchild as well :-). And I gave in willingly as well.
Mensin saaru continues to be a favorite saaru version even now. DD loves this and her unusual combination is to eat it with plain idlis :-). She likes to dip her idli in a slightly thick consistency mensin saaru and enjoy. We are currently under the weather :-) in every sense of the word. Rain is coming down steadily for the last couple of days and the temperatures have started their journey down south. In addition to the daily 1000mg of Vit-C and a preventative flu shot, I make the mensin saaru regularly. Some days, we drink it up as a soup and on some days, we use it as a side dish. Somehow magically it continues to have the ability to rid us of the annoying flu symptoms!!
This is how wet and gorgeous my neck of woods looks right now
Tip of the day: Use ghee in this recipe to roast the spices instead of oil. Ghee and pepper are known to be a match made in heaven and the difference in taste is miles apart. Our bodies have a better metabolism in winter than summer and you can easily jog/walk away the extra calories :-) but don't replace with a lower fat oil option please!!

Note: There is no tamarind or any kind of tangy agents in this saaru, tamarind is considered to be off limits during a head cold and this saaru tastes divine with the pepper, cumin and ghee.

What do you need to make mensina saaru? 
1/3 cup Toor dal (see notes for variations)
1/4 cup grated coconut
1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp ghee/clarified butter
2 Tbsp milk
To roast:
1 Tbsp urad dal
1/4 Tsp chana dal
1/2 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tsp cumin
1/2 Tsp black pepper
1 dry red chili
2-3 curry leaves

How do you make mensina saaru? 
  • Wash, pick any dirt from the toor dal and pressure cook it with a pinch of turmeric and 1.5 cups of water. 
  • Cook for about 15mins on low heat after the first whistle to get a really mashed up dal. 
  • If you are cooking in an open vessel on stove top, I highly recommend soaking the dal for 30-60mins before cooking. 
  • Heat ghee in a small pan, add all ingredients under 'to roast' and on a low flame, stirring frequently, roast until the dal turns golden hue (ಹೊಂಬಣ್ಣin Kannada)and you get a heady aroma of the pepper and cumin. 
  • Switch off and let it cool
  • Grind the roasted ingredients with coconut and 1/4 cup of water until it turns into a smooth paste. 
  • Once the pressure subsides from the cooker, open the lid, mash the dal with a whisk and make it into a homogeneous mixture. 
  • Add the ground masala paste to the dal along with salt and adjust water to get the right consistency. Remember the saaru thickens as it boils due to the urad dal in the paste. 
  • Once it comes to a gentle boil, add milk and let it boil for another couple of minutes. 
  • Switch off and let it rest for a few minutes. 
  • Serve hot or warm and never cold :-). If you are mixing it with rice, add a dollop of ghee for extra flavor. 
  • You can use either toor dal (split pigeon peas) or moong dal (split green gram) for this saaru. 
  • The consistency of the saaru is entirely dependent on the intent of its usage. If you want it for drinking make it a thin, butter milk consistency. If you are using it to mix with hot, steamed rice, make it a little thicker. 
  • The consistency is controlled two ways, one with water and the other with the amount of dal you add. 
  • If you want it as a drink, reduce the amount of dal to about 1.5 Tbsp and add 1/2 cup more of water. 


NamsVeni Pothas said...

wonderful pepper rasam is the most suitable recipe in winter and rainy day. tasty and healthy

Anonymous said...

Of course, being empty nester, this is a great new thing to truly appreciate... thanks for sharing the recipe for this season!!

Radhika Rao said...

We daily make saaru(chaaru as we pronounce)as a dish to our meal.Wr take buttermilk daily during nights adding this.Very tasty recipe by you