Summer is clearly over, and as climate-change enthusiast Ed Stark has been known to say, ‘winter is coming’ (if you don’t get this reference, google ‘Game of Thrones’). In fact, I prefer the cold winter to these months of pre-winter anticipation otherwise known as fall; at least in the winter there is the hope of snow. And so, I woke up this morning feeling a bit peevish. It was a little chilly and I really didn’t want to leave the warm-coziness of my wonderful duvet.
Unfortunately, get up I had to, because a thesis does not write itself. I motivated myself with the prospect of a cup of rich Italian hot chocolate (the kind that is so viscous it takes about 10 minutes to empty a cup of it even when you are holding the cup completely upside down). But as I made my way downstairs to the kitchen, a new craving hit me: I wanted some spicy, garlicy steaming hot charu! Charu or Rasam, a famous South Indian creation, is best described in English as a spicy soup. One can make it with or without lentils, and various types of souring agents can be used in it, including tamarind and lemon juice. What I was craving was a particular type of charu that is a quite common in Andhra Pradesh: ‘Miriyala (pepper) Charu’. So I set about grinding some fresh spices and cooking up some hot (in every sense of the word) charu for lunch.
It turned out pretty well, and now I feel cheery, warm and ready to get to editing word-documents (otherwise known as thesis-writing) 🙂
If you’d like to try making some, here’s what you will need:
1/2 cup toor/tuvar dal (split pigeon peas) (for more on these lentils see this wikipedia entry)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 large tomato, cubed
1 lime sized piece of dried tamarind soaked in a cup of water or 1.5 tsp tamarind paste
1 tsp brown sugar
10 curry leaves
Salt to taste
For Charu powder:
1 tsp toor dal
2 tsp pepper
2 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 dried red chillies
5-6 menthulu (fenugreek seeds)
1- 2 tbsp ghee (for more on ghee, go here) or oil
4-6 cloves of garlic
2 twigs/sticks of curry leaves
2 pinches of asafoetida
1 tsp mustard seeds
4 dried red chillies
A handful of fresh cilantro or coriander leaves
The first step involves cooking the lentils (toor dal). If you have a pressure cooker cook the lentils in it; it’ll only take about 10 minutes. Otherwise, cook the lentils in a pot with 2 cups of water and a pinch of turmeric, until the lentils are completed cooked and soft.
Next, in a large pot bring 2 cups of water and the tomato, turmeric, tamarind (use only the water if you’re using dried tamarind), salt, curry leaves and sugar to boil.
While waiting for these ingredients to begin boiling, prepare the charu powder. Place all the ingredients for the powder in a dry grinder or blender and grind them to a coarse powder. You can also use a mortar and pestle, but this will require a little patience.
Once the ingredients in the pot are boiling, add the cooked lentils and charu powder, stir, cook for a few minutes, and then turn off the heat.
Now for the last step! In a small pot heat the ghee or oil and add the mustard seeds. As the seeds begin to splutter add the remaining popu/tadka/baghar ingredients. Fry until the chillies darken and the spices are fragrant. As soon as you think the spices are ready, pour the ghee and spices into the bigger pot (with the other ingredients) and immediately cover the pot with a lid. Your charu is ready! I must warn you though, this is a very spicy concoction.
You can eat it like soup:
Drink it like a warm fall/winter drink:
Or eat it with hot rice and a peppery papad!