Charu or Rasam (aka Mulligatawny Soup in the original!)
The best way to have charu or rasam is with squidged rice (known in Telugu as charannam (ie charu + annam, ie rice) with a bit of ghee on top melting over the whole. It is the best thing to have when you've got a cold and want to stay in bed - hot, spicy and comforting. I can never eat it without thinking of my aunt Hemvathi (my mother's mother's brother's daughter, who grew up in Kodgal, my grandmother's home with those compound walls with little windows for guns!). She used to feed me till I was ridiculously old - and when it was charannam she always hid a little piece of meat inside each mouthful. The taste of that little piece of meat inside the soft rice is to die for! She married and moved away but then died young, and I never did tell her I think of her so much.
There are many many different kinds of rasam. Here is one:
A little bit of boiled kandi pappu (tuvar dal) – since rasam is really meant to be like a thin soup, even a very little bit of dal will be fine mashed and thinned out in a lot of water.
Tamarind - pre-soak about three or four finger sized pieces of tamarind.
Sunflower oil - couple of tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Karyapak (curry leaves) - a small handful
3 or 4 squashed garlic cloves
1 or 2 fresh chillies, slit
1 dried red chilli (optional)
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1/3 teaspoon asafoetida
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Rasam powder (often available at Indian stores. If you can get MTR rasam powder - it is the best!)
In hot pan, put some oil, when hot but not smoky, put in the fenugreek seeds, wait a few seconds then chuck in the cumin seeds, wait for them to crackle, then the mustard seeds. They will pop. Put in the dried red chilli, wait a few seconds till it catches the oil. Now throw in the karyapak, wait for them to sizzle and spit, then chuck in the garlic cloves – and immediately the fresh chillies. Let them be for a half minute. Then put in a pinch of asafoetida, and then the turmeric. Give both a good few seconds to sizzle and fry. Now pour in the tamarind juice squeezed out of the soaking tamarind. Let it all bubble and cook for several minutes. Then pour in the dal water. Add salt. And add perhaps two or three teaspoons of rasam powder. Let the whole thing boil then simmer thoroughly for a while. Taste it. If not sour enough, add in some chopped tomatoes from a can – say half a can. Again let it all simmer and let the tastes blend in.
And you’re done! To eat, make sure that you put cooked rice on your plate and squidge it before you put in the rasam. The squidged rice absorbs the liquid better. People differ - some like charannam quite kind of dry – just enough liquid for the rice to soak up. I love it really wet. So that at the end you have to spoon up the remaining rasam – or scoop it with flat fingers and lick the fingers in that very special charannam type of way – definitely not for polite company!