A South Indian Gazpacho
A friend of mine asked me for a gazpacho recipe and was looking for something a little different than the traditional. She wanted it to be fresh and healthy but with a more robust flavor. At first I considered making a white gazpacho, which is a delicious combination of almonds, grapes, garlic and bread. But summer shorts are upon us, and carb-minimization is in full effect.
I, then, thought about this East African stew I grew up eating. It’s called chana bateta and is made with chickpeas and potatoes in a thin, tart broth. That broth, in turn, got me to thinking about a popular South Indian soup called rasam as they share a very similar flavor profile. Rasam is a thin, peppery, tart soup that is often served to warm up winter nights or to help remedy a cold.
While at Devi, I often saw it used in various ways. My time there and the spices and ingredients at that restaurant will never cease to inspire me. I truly enjoyed working with Chef Mathur, who was innovative in his own right (thus helping to earn the restaurant a Michelin star in both 2007 and 2008).
Rasams come in all different forms – tomato, lemon, pineapple, and even mint, and it’s one of those recipes that is different for each household. Some have daal as an ingredient; some don’t. This is a completely different expression in that it’s a cold gazpacho-like soup with the flavors and ingredients of a rasam.
Tamarind is a requisite ingredient in every rasam, and I usually use the brick form. This requires soaking a nob of it for a period of time in hot water followed by straining and pressing to extract flavor – it’s a longer process but has a more developed flavor when using it for curries, chutneys and the like. For a quick cold soup like this, though, the jarred tamarind concentrate works really well (because, really, isn’t the ease the whole point of a cold soup like this?).
Although the soup is cold and refreshing, it has spice to it. You can always modify the amount of jalapeno depending on its heat, sub in a bell pepper, and add or remove chili powder to your tolerance level. I also cook the spices and the garlic because I’m not a fan of those raw. For a hot summer day, I think it becomes even better, with an iced, fresh mint tea made from steeping actual mint leaves in hot water with sugar and then pouring over ice. Or even serving it with a crisp, cold Sauvignon Blanc, because, after all, you did save on the carbs…Enjoy!
Yields 4 to 6 servings
1 cup water
1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
2 tsp palm sugar
3 tbsp canola or other neutral oil
2 tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
10 curry leaves
3 garlic cloves
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chili powder
5 tomatoes on the vine, medium dice
1 shallot, medium dice
½ to 1 jalapeno (or some combination of jalapeno and a half bell pepper), medium dice
Handful of cilantro, thoroughly washed
Bring water to a boil, and add tamarind and sugar making sure both are fully dissolved.
Heat oil over medium-low heat. Add black mustard, fenugreek, cumin, coriander and curry leaves and listen for them to start popping. At that point, add garlic, turmeric, and chili powder and cook for a few minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking or burning of the spices. Quickly add a little water and remove from the heat if it looks like its about to burn.
Put tamarind mixture and cooked spices in the blender and blitz until the spices are thoroughly ground. The blender makes a fantastic spice grinder. Set aside in a bowl.
Using a food processor, process tomatoes, shallots, jalapenos and cilantro separately to achieve desired texture. Combine with tamarind and spice mixture and season to taste with salt and black pepper. I like to refrigerate for a few hours or even overnight to let all of the flavors combine. It’s a great do-ahead dish.