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Rasam (Lentil soup with pepper and cumin seed)

You need seeded, pressed tamarind for this soup, along with asafetida, curry leaves, and yellow lentils, all available at Indian markets. Serve this soup on its own or with steamed rice. Serves 4.

2grape-size pieces of tamarind (comes deseeded and pressed into a block)
7cups water
½cup toor dal (yellow lentils)
8whole black peppercorns
1teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1tablespoon sesame oil
1/8teaspoon mustard seeds
1/8teaspoon asafetida
1/8teaspoon ground turmeric
2ripe tomatoes, chopped
8curry leaves
2tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
Salt, to taste
½teaspoon butter

1. In a bowl, combine the tamarind and 1 cup of the water. Let it sit for 15 minutes. When the tamarind is soft, use your hand to squeeze out the pulp. Add 1 more cup water and continue squeezing until all the pulp is separated and you have 2 cups of juice.

2. In a saucepan bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils and let the water return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the lentils for 45 minutes or until they are soft and almost paste-like. Stir them vigorously with a wooden spoon until they form a puree.

3. In a blender, grind the peppercorns and cumin seeds until they are coarse. Set aside.

4. In a saucepan, heat the oil and when it is hot, add the mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the asafetida, turmeric powder, and peppercorn mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 5 seconds.

5. Add the tomatoes and curry leaves and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.

6. Add the tamarind extract and remaining 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

7. Add the lentils and salt. Return the soup to a boil. Simmer 2 minutes or until the mixture is hot.

8. Sprinkle with coriander, stir in the butter, and serve at once.

Adapted from Bhanu Jayaraman

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