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Tellicherry black pepper and cumin rasam

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

Rasam, literally means pepper water is the originator of the famed mulligatawny soup, but that history is for another blog. Rasams are light soups, clear but yet popping with flavors, sour from limes or tamarind, herbal from cilantro, garlicky, and spicy as in this case, from black pepper, and always earthy from the other spices.

I make it a point to use Tellicherry peppercorns for this recipe. These peppercorns have a pungent heat but are aromatic and beautifully scented. In addition, I use the whole peppercorns for this recipe, not the powder. I toast the peppercorns lightly to release the essential oils and flavors and them grind them fresh. It does make a difference.

This super simple rasam embodies the essence of this dish. It is light and soupy but packing a punch. It is tart from the tamarind, spicy from the pepper and the other spices add an aromatic earthiness to the soup. You can serve this as an aperitif so it opens up you palate before a meal or as an appetizer with idlis.

This is again one of the first cookbooks that I bought about 30 years ago, I was craving good South Indian cuisine when I moved to Philadelphia for my degree. We have cooked through most of the recipes in this cookbook, each one delicious, it helped us remember our lives in India while we assimilated in the US. This cookbook is always the first to come out when we crave this cuisine, and of course, led me get every other cookbook written by Chandra Padmanabhan.

for more recipes from this cookbook, click here.


1 tablespoons black peppercorns, Tellicherry peppercorns strongly preferred

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons pigeon peas (toor dal)

2 dried red chilies

1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder

3-4 tablespoons ghee

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1-2 dried red chilies

20 curry leaves

3-4 tablespoons tamarind paste

salt, to taste

8-10 cups water

Dry roast the black peppercorns, cumin seeds, toor dal, dried red chilies individually till lightly toasted and aromatic. Cool, and powder with the asafoetida powder in a coffee mill. Pulse for some time to get a very fine powder. Set aside.

In a large stock pot heat the ghee on a low flame. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, dried red chiles and curry leaves in order and sauté for about 1 minute till the mustard seeds start to pop. Add the spice powder and continue to sauté for an additional 30-40 seconds till the powder is cooked and fried.

Add the tamarind paste and sauté for 1 minute mixing it with the other ingredients well. Add the water and salt and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust salt. The rasam should be spicy and tart with the fieriness from the black peppercorns dominant.

Serve hot as an aperitif or with idlis.

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