Madurai holds a special place for all foodies in Tamil Nadu. This is not just the state's cultural capital with a rich history but a city full of eclectic dining experiences that showcase some of the state's authentic dishes. Many of the city's popular restaurants are family owned and operated. Chandran Mess is one such restaurant that I always try to visit when I'm in the temple town. I still remember being invited backstage on my last visit to Chandran Mess. The owner was happy to give me a walk around the restaurant's kitchen.
Many family-run restaurants in Madurai take great pride in their operations. The kitchen here wasn't just squeaky clean but was filled with a bouquet of wonderful aromas - they make most of their masalas and flavouring pastes in-house. It's why the flavours in many such family-owned restaurants are fresh and authentic. Over the years, many households across South India have gradually switched to flavouring their gravies, sambars and poriyals (stir-fried vegetables) with factory-made masalas and powders. While the sheer convenience of these powders makes it almost a 'no-brainer', some of these powders are enhanced with artificial flavours and colours.
My grand aunt in Mumbai, Mrs Kalyani Raghavan is one of the many home cooks I know who still swears by home-made rasam and sambar powders. I watched her make a sambar powder from scratch and it wasn't just simple but left a wonderful aroma in the kitchen that stayed for a few hours after it was freshly ground. The traditional rasam powder in Tamil Nadu usually combines (see recipe below) coriander seeds, pepper, jeera along with tur dal and chana dal. The sambar powder is enhanced by fenugreek seeds but doesn't feature jeera. You could make a sambar without sambar powder but it's a slightly laborious process. The arachuvitta (freshly ground) sambar with freshly ground ingredients like coconut and coriander seeds is a great option on a weekend and is a classic recipe.
You can try making rasam powder at home. The key is the dry roasting process; make sure you don't over roast the ingredients.
How To Make Rasam Powder | Rasam Powder Recipe:
Coriander seeds- 4 measures
Pepper- 1 measure
Tur dal -1/2 measure
Chana dal- 1/2 measure
Jeera - 1/4 - 1/2 measure
Dry roast all these ingredients.
Grind it and add 2 teaspoons of turmeric and half quantity of Chili powder
You can also make a flavourful tomato rasam without rasam powder. This simple recipe gets it's flavours and aromas from the freshly ground pepper and jeera.
How To Make Tomato Rasam | Tomato Rasam Recipe:
Finely chopped ripe tomatoes: 3
Tur Dal: 3 tablespoons
Peppercorns: 3/4 teaspoon
Jeera: 3/4 teaspoon
Asafoetida: 1/2 teaspoon
Turmeric: 1/2 teaspoon
Tamarind: size of a lemon
Ginger (crushed) one-inch piece
Green chilli (Slit): 1 (2 or 3 if you like it spicy)
Curry leaves a few
Ghee: 1 teaspoon
Salt: to taste
Coriander: a few sprigs
Mustard seeds: 1/2 teaspoon
Pressure cook the tur dal with the turmeric
Extract the juice of the tamarind
Add the tamarind extract, tomatoes, ginger, salt, green chilli, asafoetida to some water and let it simmer for about 10 minutes
Blend the dal after you mash it; make sure no lumps are formed
Let it simmer for a few minutes
Grind the pepper and jeera and add it to the rasam. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes
Temper the mustard seeds and curry leaves with ghee. Turn off the flame and then add coriander and cover the rasam with a lid.
How To Make Sambar Powder | Sambar Powder Recipe
Coriander seeds- 4 cups
Tur dal - 1/2 cup
Pepper- 1/4 cup
Fenugreek (Methi) - 1/4 cup
Dry roast individually.
Add 2 teaspoons of turmeric and half quantity of Chili powder
Make sure you store these powders in an airtight jar. You can store these powders for a month but they lose the aromas and intensity over a period of time. Of course, nothing beats making fresh rasam powder or sambar powder each time you want to make these dishes.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.