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Last evening I was busy as usual, cooking, answering the phone and dictating words from the spelling list to my daughter. As I added the rasam powder to the boiling pot of dal, the whiff of rasam brought back memories of a dear old lady.  Auntie, as I lovingly called her was 72 years old when she immigrated to US to be with her family ten years ago. She lived with her son’s family, on our street.  A petite woman, with a posture that defied to stoop with age, elegantly dressed in silk sarees, long white hair neatly tied into a bun, soft wrinkled hands, with the sparkle in her eyes that out shone the sparkle from her diamond earrings and nose ring.

I enjoyed talking with Auntie as she always had a very unique perspective towards life and a very humble approach to all happening around her. On any happy occasion she would say “It is the grace of god” and for any difficult or challenging times she would say, “God is trying to test me!”
To me she was a friend, a confidante, a mother, a mother-in-law all rolled into one.

I would make it a point to visit her every week. Sometimes I would have lunch with her, or take her to the library and other times we would check out the new Indian restaurant that had opened
in the neighborhood. She adapted very well to the American lifestyle here. Weekend to weekend living as she said! But she often had very naïve questions like ‘What do you mean when one is steady with some one?’ Or ‘How much money does one make when one says their company went public?

I always teased her about, what the secret of her good health and cheerful attitude was? She would humbly raise her hands to the sky and say “It is all the grace of God”

Luckily, I stumbled upon her secret it was none other than ’ The Rasam Power’. Rain or shine, 365 days of the year she would have rasam with her meals.

I always felt that Auntie’s rasam was not only the perfect medicine for a sniffle, cold, cough or flu, but it did wonders for uplifting moods too! Her rasam was nurturing, wholesome and soul-satisfying.

December 2, 2001 when I was in India, Auntie passed away at the age of 82. Her real name was Sharda Murthy, or better known as Aditi’s grandma or Ram Mohan’s mother. A great soul indeed, whose memories I will always cherish. Every time I make rasam, I know my eyes will well up with thoughts and memories of special times with a special person.

Here is my version of Auntie’s special Rasam

(The freshly roasted and ground, cumin and black pepper transforms the ordinary rasam
into a ‘rasam- extraordinaire’. )

1 cup         cooked toor dal or yellow split peas
6 cups         water
1 can         tomato puree
1 teaspoon    tomato paste
1 Tablespoon      rasam powder ( store-bought or homemade)
1  teaspoon      cumin seeds
¼  teaspoon      black pepper
I  teaspoon     ghee or oil
1 teaspoon      mustard seeds
¼  teaspoon      fenugreek seed
6-8         curry leaves
1/8  teaspoon      hing (asfoetida)
Salt  to taste
1 teaspoon     chopped cilantro for garnish

In a big pot add toor dal, water, tomato puree and tomato paste and boil vigorously.

Roast cumin seeds and black pepper slightly till an aroma is released. Grind it to a fine powder
in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Add the rasam powder with freshly ground cumin and black pepper.

In a small pot heat ghee or oil, add mustard seeds and hear them pop. Add fenugreek seeds, and curry leaves and stir. Finally add the asfoetida or hing and remove from heat. Add this spice infused oil to the boiling pot and serve immediately with cilantro garnish

Hema’s Hints: For an interesting variation, replace the tomato puree and tomato paste in this recipe with 2 cups of pineapple juice and 4 cups water instead of 6 cups of water.

Here is another of my favorite salad, which Auntie made.

This salad has a universal appeal with kids and adults as it is very tasty and nutritious too.

Moong Kosimbri

1      cup moong dal
3     carrots
1     tablespoon coconut
1     tablespoon cilantro (chopped)
1/2     teaspoon oil
1/4     teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2     teaspoon cumin
1-2     dried red chilies  (as per taste)
¼     teaspoon asfoetida (hing)
1     teaspoon lime juice

Salt to taste

Soak the moong dal for 2 hours.

Pour the soaked moong in a colander for 15 minutes and let the water drain away completely.

Keep aside.

Grate the carrots and mix it with the moong dal.

Add coconut, cilantro, lime juice and salt

In a small pan heat oil and add mustard seeds. After it pops throw in the cumin seeds and wait till it sizzles. Next add the hing. Break the  dried chilies into two and add to the oil.

Wait till the red chilies turn a shade darker and remove from heat. Add this oil to the carrot –moong mix and stir well. Serve at room temperature.

Hema’s Hints:
1.You may skip the coconut in this salad to make it cholesterol friendly
2. This is great salad to take to your office potluck. One suggestion is to omit the (asfoetida )
hing in this recipe as it has a very strong flavor and takes a little getting used to.