I’ve recently taken on a new project: Learn how to cook Indian food.
I’ve always loved to cook, and over the past two and a half years, I have spent many hours learning how to cook a variety of traditional European cuisines. While living in Italy, one of the things I have missed most is the big, bold, spicy flavors of ethnic cuisines (like Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian). These types of cuisines are very difficult to find in Italy, especially if you want them done well.
Every time I travel to London *known for the best Indian cuisine outside of India*, I devour as much Indian food as I can get my hands on. Upon a recent trip to the library, I stumbled upon an Indian cookbook entitled “Indian Home Cooking: A Fresh Introduction to Indian Food” by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. This is a great introductory cookbook for those wanting to learn more about Indian food and Indian food basics.
Immediately upon reading through the book, I located the closest Asian food store near me and purchased all of the essential spices needed to create the recipes in the book. I also secured a second coffee grinder which I will use exclusively for spice grinding.
All of this being said, I would like to share with you the very first recipe I made: Black Pepper Rasam with Tamarind. The recipe I am including is based off of the recipe in Suvir Saran’s cookbook but with changes I have made based on my personal tastes.
One last thing I would like to address: What is a rasam? This was a totally new concept to me. A rasam is similar to a French consommé in that it is a thin soup that tastes of the essence of its ingredients. Rasams are made with water and spices and are quick to make. They are typically served as a drink prior to a meal in India. They are highly spiced soups served in glasses, and are commonly offered to guests when hosting dinner. Lastly, there are two parts to a rasam. The ground spice mixture and the broth. Both vary vastly based on personal tastes. This particular rasam is spiced with a variety of spices (heavy on black pepper) and the broth is made with tamarind, which gives it a salty, spicy, and sour flavor.
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon yellow split peas
3 whole dried red chiles
1/8 teaspoon asafetida
2 teaspoons tamarind concentrate
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Start by toasting the spices. Add the canola oil and all of the spices to a small sauté pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the spices begin to turn a light brown (1-2 minutes), covered. Remove from the heat, set aside, and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, grind in a spice grinder until a fine powder is formed.
Now it’s time to make the broth. Add the tamarind concentrate to the 1/2 cup of water and stir to dissolve. Set aside
Combine the remaining oil and mustard seeds in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Cover and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the seeds crackle. To the pan, add the tamarind mixture, 3 1/2 cups water, the spice mixture, and the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low and allow to simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro and serve piping hot.
*One word of advice if you are interested in learning to cook Indian food but don’t know where to start: Get yourself a cookbook, like the one mentioned above, that outlines the basics, simplifies the concepts, and describes the spices. I’m learning that Indian food is NOT difficult to cook, it’s just different than Westernized cuisines. Go to an Indian or Asian food store, buy the spices (the employees can help you find everything you need), get a spice grinder, and you’re good to go!