Molagu Rasam ~ Mulligatawny Soup

"Memories are like mulligatawny soup in a cheap restaurant. It is best not to stir them."
- P. G. Wodehouse

Molagu rasam ~ Mulligatawny Soup
Molagu Rasam ~ Mulligatawny Soup

Last week, life accosted me with a huge googly that left me drained and out of wits for a couple of days. May I add with some amount of pride that I handled with it in a unexpectedly wonderful manner that I never knew I was capable of! Some lessons in life can only be learnt the tough way - facing it head on. I won't deny that it does come with a big dose of adventure so it is all worth it! My practice of 'Conscious Living' helped me a lot.

A couple of weeks back a dear friend, Madhur had asked me to share my recipe for mulligatawny soup. Here it is, a little late but nevertheless I made it. This time, just for her.

Whenever Mummy made molagu rasam at home - usually when one of us had congestions or was sick - she would announce, "today we are having a five star dinner." I do not know of any rustic food that has garnered as much 'hoo-haa' as molagu rasam. Some of you might know it as "Mulligatawny Soup."

Do you know why the witty Mr.Wodehouse says not to stir them? Hmmm.... you could of course stir and drink and find out or you could read further and do the right thing. That is, don't stir! If you can bear the heat of spicy pepper and cumin powders that settle in the rasam you must go ahead and do it. Some people actually love the heat. At a five star you would not get the residue - it would be strained.

And a mulligatawny soup does stir up memories! Of stuffy noses and, times when I was sick and felt I could not digest a thing. At times like this my Mum would always stir up a quick molagu tanni (Pepper water) or molagu rasam (Meaning spiced pepper infusion). Oh! It always worked like magic. The pepper would melt the congestion and clear the chest, but the result was that I have permanently filed it under the folder 'sick foods'. My children seem to love it even when they are not sick and it always baffles me! But then, that is normal. Isn't it? It tells me they are teenagers and we are not an abnormal family after all!

Now the etymology! How did molagu tanni become mulingatawny?
Well, the humble soup of the poor caught the fancy of the British during their rule in India and they took it home giving it new variations. Ever heard of chicken stock molagu rasam with vegetables floating in it and garnished with spicy curry powder?" Even curry powder is unknown in Madras! But well if we can have a manchurian that is Chinese and yet not known to Chinese, why not have a Madras curry powder not known to us? All is fair when it comes to the love for food.

There are several variations but I am sharing with you the version my Mother and my Grandmothers made.

Dish: Molagu Rasam ~ Mulligatawny Soup (A spicy pepper infused soup)
Yield: 1/2 litre

Marble sized ball of tamarind
Water 3-4 cups
Cumin seeds - 1.5 tsp.
Black peppercorns - 2 tsp.
Curry leaves - 1 sprig
Asafoetida / Hing - A pinch
Salt to taste
Sesame oil - 1 tsp.
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp.

Soak tamarind in 1/2 cup warm water. Set aside for 15 minutes and then squish out the tamarind to extract its juice. Dilute with water till it measures a cup and set aside.

Heat a small wok or griddle and dry roast the cumin seeds and pepper corns separately till aromatic but not burnt. Powder using a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle.

In a vessel heat the tamarind extract, the pepper-cumin powder, asafoetida and curry leaves together till the raw smell of tamarind completely evaporates. Now dilute with 2 cups of water. Adjust salt and let it come to a boil and froth. Taste the infusion. If you cannot stand the heat of spices add a little more water to suit your palate and heat till frothy.

Remove from fire. Heat a wok with a tsp. of sesame oil (ghee if vegetarian). When the oil is heated, splutter mustard seeds and pour the oil over the infusion.

Molagu rasam ~ Mulligatawny Soup
Molagu Rasam ~ Mulligatawny Soup

Varations: You may add a tsp. of roasted coriander seeds as well if you want a different taste but this is molagu rasam in its most rustic form. Some people also add a tsp. of roasted pigeon peas while powdering. I make that too but we call it 'arachhu vitta rasam'. But then, what's in a name? Go ahead and choose what suits you best.

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