Rasam or King Soup is one that featured in our house on rainy days or days when someone, most often my father, had a cold. It’s a South Indian soup -peppery and hot, sour and nourishing and clears the head. It can be strained and enjoyed in a mug or served as is over a bowl of hot basmati rice.

My paternal grandmother made an excellent Rasam, she had the hand of the women of her generation- delicate in spicing (by Durban standards), prepared food that could cure common ailments and had a pot that could always feed another visitor. She lost a vicious three month battle to cancer when I was 13. I miss her to this day and often wonder what she would have made of the changes post apartheid (she just missed the transition), my life choices and the internet. The internet, there’s a big one. Can’t imagine the grand-pee’s calling via skype, to be honest.

My mother visited recently and this is her recipe for Rasam. She made do with the yellow mustard seeds in my cupboard that afternoon but insists you use black mustard seeds. A friend just brought me a pack of black mustard seeds from Natal – you should be able to find them at most spice shops around the country. They are not easy to find at supermarkets, not in the Cape anyway.


Serves 4

4-5 T tamarind pulp, soaked in 2 cups warm water

1 T whole black peppercorns

1 T cumin seeds

1 T black mustard seeds

1 head garlic, peeled

1/2 medium onion, sliced thinly

2 T vegetable oil

4 dried red chillis

1 t turmeric

1 medium tomato, skinned and chopped

1 cup water

salt, to taste

15-20 g fresh coriander, washed, de-stalked and chopped roughly


In a heavy mortar, crush the pepper, mustard seeds, garlic and cumin seeds with a little salt, until the spices are fairly fine but not a powder and the garlic forms a paste.

On medium heat in a pot, fry the onions until translucent.

Add the crushed spices, garlic and red chillis. Fry for a minute, stirring. Add the turmeric and stir for 10 seconds. Add the tomato and the tamarind juice (strain out any pips).

Bring to the boil and lower heat to medium. Cook for 15 minutes.

Add half a cup water (or more if the soup is too strong).  Season with salt and serve with fresh coriander.

Serve over basmati rice, or strain and serve in mugs.

The rasam improves in flavour the next day. Couldn’t be easier, too.

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