Lime and Pepper Rasam (broth)

The air has gotten a whole lot colder here in Sydney. Our balcony, while offering us unimpeded views of the city, is also exposed to sometimes aggressive winds. We often come home to find that anything that is not heavy or secured down has been ruthlessly thrown out of its place. Vegetation must be limited to heavy, solid pots against the sheltered wall. The gardenia I resurrected from a dried-up stick trembles behind the cane chair, refusing to bloom under such conditions. The spiny succulent sits against the door, resolutely maintaining its preference for the outdoors while it cowers in the corner of the door frame. There’s a trough of herbs which I planted with almost no hope for their survival, given my dubious history with keeping anything edible alive. Surprisingly, they stare at me defiantly, a few leaves tattered but still very much alive and almost productive enough to harvest for tossing through dishes.

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The winter quilt and heaters came out a few weeks ago. Winter clothes were unraveled from suitcases, some forgotten about, the reminder of their existence like a small retail-therapy buzz. Dragging ourselves out of bed an hour earlier to fit in a gym session seems like a mammoth undertaking, and we are more frequently hitting the snooze button to favour a little extra time in the warmth instead. Noses run unbidden and at the most inconvenient of times. Our throats are scratchy on occasion and each time, we wonder whether it’s a cold or worse still, the dreaded flu.

There are cravings for soup and these are dutifully satisfied. Rasam is a South Indian staple. It is what every southie kid remembers eating several times a week, mixed with rice and accompanied by a vegetable side dish. It is the antidote to sniffles, colds, and even the dreaded flu. Rasam is a delicate balance of spice, sourness and salty undertones. It takes a little practice but it’s worth getting just so. This version uses limes, as I was gifted a bag of these by a generous colleague with an overactive lime tree. Also, pepper to soothe the throat, the comforting sourness of tamarind and a few basic spices. Rasam is often made with lentils, but this one is more of a clear broth.

For more wintery comfort foods, try this dhal, Palak Paneer, or this Egg Curry.

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Lime and Pepper Rasam

Get:

1 golfball sized chunk of dried tamarind
2 L boiling water
7-8 cm fresh ginger, finely grated
½ tbsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 ½ tbsp tightly packed soft brown sugar or jaggery
Salt to taste
3-4 tbsp lime or lemon juice
Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped

For tempering:

2 tsp vegetable oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
Pinch asofoetida (optional)
6-8 fresh curry leaves

Make:

Shred the tamarind with your fingers and place in a bowl with 1 cup boiling water, set aside. Place 6 cups boiling water in a medium sized saucepan on the stove. Add ginger, spices and jaggery. Bring back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. When the water that is soaking the tamarind is cool enough to handle, squeeze the tamarind within your fingers to extract the flavor into the water. Yes, it feels kind of gross but no pain, no gain. Set aside for another few minutes. Add salt to the rasam mixture, starting with 1 tsp. Stir to dissolve, and taste- you may need to add another ¼ to ½ tsp.

Strain the tamarind water into the rasam mixture, taking care not to include any chunks of tamarind. Simmer for another 10 minutes. If the mixture is getting too concentrated, add a little boiling water. Taste along the way. There should be a nice balance of pepperiness, and sourness form the tamarind which is offset by salt and sugar. Remember this is a savoury dish so sugar should not be the predominant flavor.

Once you are happy with the flavor balance, boil for another 10 minutes, then take off heat. Add 3 tbsp lemon or lime juice, taste and add a little more if a subtle flavor is not coming through.

To temper: In a small saucepan, heat oil on the stove. Add cumin seeds and allow them to pop. Add asofoetida, then curry leaves and stand back because they will sizzle and pop in a violent fashion. You may need to turn the heat down before you bolt to the other side of the kitchen. Once the spluttering tantrum is over, add the tempered mixture into the rasam and stir through.

Finally, add coriander leaves and stir. Serve mixed with rice or on its own as a clear soup. If it is a little too spicy for you, allow the sediment to settle and scoop the clearer liquid from the top, which will be less peppery.

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Mum’s Natural Cough Remedy

For the past week I’ve been struck down with bronchitis, resulting in a pesky, guttural cough that is as unsavoury as it is exhausting.  To say that I’m not great at being a patient is putting it mildly.  It took me several days to see the doctor for some antibiotics, and a whole lot of parental coaxing to convince me to take time off work to recuperate.  Having time on my hands is something I always crave, but time combined with a physical inability to do things I want to do is not quite what I had in mind.  After almost a week at home, I am truly insufferable and yet this tiresome cough lingers.

All this whining has a purpose, I promise.  There is a natural relief for coughing and head colds that I want to share with you, something that my mother forces into me at times like this.  A few days ago I was home alone with Cookie the pooch, and on my second consecutive night of incessant coughing, an activity that seems to be incompatible with sleep.  Sometime around three am, I had had enough and was feeling borderline murderous.  When I got out of bed and turned the light on for the third time that night, (ignoring an exasperated gaze from the long-suffering Cookie who had the misfortune of sleeping in my room) I knew that a solution had to be found.

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So the stove was lit, milk poured, pepper ground and white yellowed with turmeric.  A short boil later, I was sipping my mother’s medicine for the first time without her insistence.  To say it worked, the cough subsided and I enjoyed a few hours sleep for the first time in what felt like forever would be an admission that my mother is right.  That she told me so, and that I would’ve done well to listen earlier.  And we know, you and I, that we never admit such a thing, regardless of how old or supposedly mature we are.

There are no pretensions about this milk.  It may be, at least initially, one of the worst things you’ve ever put in your mouth.  I don’t sweeten mine anymore, but you can and I suggest you do the first few times.  Honey would be the obvious choice because of its soothing properties.  You could also use a nut milk or soy milk.  Be sure to drink it as hot as you can possibly manage.  I think it works partly because turmeric has known anti-inflammatory properties which have long been recognised in Ayurvedic medicine.  Pepper was thought to have the ability to clear congestion but my personal theory is that in such a high concentration, it just annihilates the sensation in the nerve endings in the throat.  For whatever reason, this concoction, while unappealing in taste, seems to work well as a natural cough suppressant, and will provide some flu relief also.

Please don’t tell my mother I said that.

So tell me, what natural remedies do your family members swear by?

Turmeric Pepper Milk (3 of 3)

Milk with Turmeric and Pepper

Makes 1 serve

Get:

1 cup milk
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp turmeric powder
Sweetener of your choice, to taste (optional)

Make:

Place all ingredients in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan and stir to disperse the turmeric.  Bring slowly to the boil and simmer on low heat for 2-3 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly and drink as hot as you can handle.

Sleep well and allow those around you to do the same.

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