Rasam (Tamil) or Saaru (Kannada) – A spicy South Indian tomato soup (with pictures)

The recipe for ‘rasam‘ was my very first recipe post and rasam is what my site is named after. However, I realised recently that I hadn’t posted any pictures for this lovely dish. It just so happened that I made some this weekend and I took some pictures this time. So here they are along with some minor changes to the recipe.

The essence of this delicious dish is the spice mix called  rasam podi or saaru pudi. This is the mixture of spices that gives Rasam it’s unique taste. It is pepper and chilly based and is the cure for many a common malaise (Read about them in my Old wives’ page for Rasam).

The rasam or saaru powder is special in that every south Indian household has their own take on it. This is passed on through generations of mums, grandmas and greatgrandmas and in my opinion is the most valuable form of inheritance – knowledge. Needless to say, every south Indian person tends to be partial to their mum’s/grandma’s/greatgrandma’s take on the dish and I’m no exception. My mum’s rasam is the best rasam in the world and she makes it exactly like her mum did. Even as a child, I was unimpressed with the other rasams in the area and would report back to mum about how the rasam next door wasn’t the greatest. Never mind being thankful for the invitation to eat there.

Without much ado, let me give you the recipe for mum’s rasam podi and rasam itself.

Saaru or Rasam

 Rasam powder ingredients :

(This makes enough for several batches of rasam and can be stored in an air-tight container for several months. Always use a dry spoon to handle rasam podi)

½ cup pepper

½ cup cumin

1 cup red chillies

½ cup toor dal (at the Indian store) or Yellow lentils at the supermarket.

½ cup curry leaves

1 pinch asafoetida (hing)

2 tsp mustard seeds

1 tbsp fenugreek seeds (methi)

Method for making Rasam powder (Rasam podi or Saaru pudi):

1. I use the recipe by substituting ‘cup’ for ‘tablespoon’. This usually gives me enough powder for 2 lots of rasam for 4 people.

2. Dry roast all the ingredients and cool to room temperature.

3. Grind coarsely and store in an airtight container for several months

Mum’s Rasam podi or Saaru pudi

Rasam ingredients:

1-2 heaped tsp of rasam mix

1-2 green chillies slit lengthwise

1 clove of garlic crushed lightly with a knife (this is optional)

1 tsp of brown sugar (my Kannada side can’t contain itself)

1 tsp of salt

2 tsp tamarind puree or a cup of tamarind juice

¼ cup of well cooked (to a mush) toor dal

2 tomatoes finely diced

3-4 springs of fresh coriander

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 spring of curry leaves

½ teaspoon of turmeric

1/2 teaspoon of asafoetida

1-2 tsp of oil / butter/ margarine/ ghee  for tempering


Method for rasam:

1. In a standard coffee cup or cereal bowl add all the ingredients in bold italics above.

2. Top the ingredients with boiling water to the brim and stir until blended. The rasam spice mix will settle to the bottom so mix well.

3. In a medium sized pot, heat the oil.

4 Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, asafoetida, turmeric and curry leaves to the oil.

5. The seeds will start to crackle instantly if the oil is the right temperature.

6. Before the oil starts to fume, add the cup of liquid from (2) above to the pot.

7. Add chopped tomatoes to the pot and bring to a boil.

8. Add the well cooked toor dal and bring to a boil (picture 13).

9. Turn the heat source off and add fresh coriander before serving.

10. Serve hot by pouring over freshly cooked rice or drink it as a soup while it is hot.


The “proper” method for Rasam:

1.If you have the time for it, this is the proper way to make rasam. Add the spices and water in steps 1  and 2 to a pot and bring to a boil (pictures 5-10).

2. Then add tomatoes and toor dal and bring to a boil again.

3. Turn off the heat and sprinkle freshly chopped coriander on top of the rasam.

4. Finally, in a separate, small, pan heat some margarine, add the tempering spices (underlined in the ingredients list).

5. When the mustard seeds start to splutter and jump out at you, pour the tempering over the rasam  (pictures 14-16).

4. Keep a safe distance from the pot as the spluttering seeds can jump quite far and I wouldn’t want you to get hurt making rasam.



1. If you want the rasam spicier, add chilli powder to the mixture in step 1 above

2. If you like a little more tang to your rasam, squeeze fresh lemon juice into it and stir through just before serving.

3.  If you are feeling indulgent, replace the oil in step3 with ghee or butter

4. To make tamarind juice, place a lemon sized ball of tamarind in a bowl and pour boiling water over it. After it cools, use your fingers to squeeze the pulp off the seeds of the tamarind and into the water. Filter the seeds out of the juice using a sieve or with your hands (they are large seeds). It looks unfortunate but adds a lot to rasam so don’t let that deter you.



Podi =  ‘Po’ as in poll + ‘Di’ as in dig

Pudi = ‘Pu’ as in push + ‘Di’ as in dig

Rasam = “Ra”  as in the Egyptian sun god + ‘sam’ as in sum

Saaru = “Sa” as in Samba + ‘a’ as in army +”ru” as in kangaroo

Rasam the “proper” way
1. A knob of tamarind with seeds 2. Tamarind juice extracted 3. Rasam ingredients 4. Cooked toor dal 5. Rasam powder 6. Chillies, half the garlic, sugar, salt and rasam powder in the pot 7. Tamarind juice being added 8. Mixed spices and tamarind juice 9. Add chopped tomatoes 10. Add cooked toor dal 11. Mix well and add more water 12. Put a lid on the pot and allow to boil 13. Bubbling rasam 14. Heat a pan for tempering spices 15 & 16. When the mustard starts to burst out of the pan, add it to the boiled rasam along with coriander leaves

2 thoughts on “Rasam (Tamil) or Saaru (Kannada) – A spicy South Indian tomato soup (with pictures)

  1. Pingback: Moolangi sambhar or A thick lentil-based Daikon/Radish soup | Can We Have Some Rasam ?

  2. Pingback: Tempering in action | Can We Have Some Rasam ?

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