Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Saaru Anna

I'm noticing a pattern in my food blogs of late - more and more blogs about home food, Karnataka style. Maybe my parents' long absence is getting to me? Anyway, I have had asthma for the past few weeks and been feeling progressively more tired every day. Yesterday, between that and my daughter falling ill, I decided to take the day off and rest. Of course, a critical element in resting means eating the right kind of food. As my folks aren't around to pamper me right now, I had to DIY. I decided to make good old Mysore saaru ( rasam, as it is more widely known) and anna, as the most basic comfort food. What one usually gets in restaurants doesn't satisfy my palate at all, as it tends to be Tamilian rasam. Typically Tamilian saaru is made with a minimum of lentils whereas Mysore saaru has more lentils and adds jaggery.

Every cook has a few dishes which they can prepare blindfolded, and which they know will always turn out great, because they have mastered them over years of practice. I have a few such in my repertoire, including black-as-midnight-chocolate cake, which I will blog about at some point. Among Kannadiga dishes, my specialties are saaru and Bisi Bele bhaath. I'm not so good with huli ( sambar) and even my kootu, to my palate, doesn't taste as good as my mom's but in saaru I can say with confidence that I'm pretty good ( provided I have my mom's rasam powder at hand!)

Saaru anna is a favourite of my picky son's as well, and my non-spice eating husband too has grown to enjoy it over the years so we had a nice, kannadiga dinner of saaru anna with bendekayi ( bhindi) sabzi and mosaru anna ( curd rice). Only thing missing, because we have run out, was my mom's no oil lemon pickle with the curd rice. As always, I did take pictures and will upload them tonight, hopefully.

Saaru, Mysore style
1/2 cup arhar dal, well cooked ( should be slushy/ melting)
2 tbsp rasam powder
Lime sized lump of jaggery
Pinch turmeric
Lime sized lump of tamarind, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 10 minutes
1/2 litre water
Salt to taste
1-2 tomatoes ( depending on their juiciness/ sourness)

2 tsp Ghee ( homemade)
1 tsp mustard seeds, black
handful curry leaves
Pinch heeng ( Asafoetida)

Garnish - chopped coriander leaves

Squeeze all the juice out of the tamarind into the hot water in which it is soaked. Strain the liquid so you end up only with the tamarind juice, no tamarind lumps.
Put this liquid onto boil on a high flame. Let it boil for 2-3 minutes until the sour, sharp smell of tamarind dissipates.
Add the jaggery, a few curry leaves, pinch of turmeric and the rasam powder. Let this concoction boil for 4-5 minutes until the ingredients start giving off a seasoned smell of rasam, as opposed to the 'raw' smell they started with. Now add the lentils and use a whisk to mix everything, so the lentils get smushed even further and mingle with the spices and tamarind water.
Add the half litre of water and the tomatoes and let boil for about 8 minutes. There should be an orangey froth on top. Pull out the tomatoes and mash them between two spoons/ in a mortar and pestle and add them back to the saaru. Add salt to taste.

The taste should be a balanced mix of salty, spicy and sour with an underlying note of sweetness, with none of the flavours overpowering the other. You can take the saaru off the heat at this point and make the tempering: Heat the ghee. When it is hot, add the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop. Once they stop popping, add the heeng and handful of curry leaves and switch off the burner ( else the curry leaves can catch fire!). Garnish with the coriander.

Serve hot, with hot rice ( parmal for choice as it gets softer and mixes better with the saaru).

Saaru anna is one of the staples at my mom's house and we have all grown up eating this for a meal once in two days. It tastes great with any typically south Indian palya (vegetable) - beans ( with coconut dressing), green banana, bendekaayi. It also goes well with aloo-simla mirch or north Indian style bhindi with tomatoes and onions, and needs little else to round off the meal except mosaru anna.

Saaru made like this also tastes great as a soup in winters, and we have served it that way many a time. One tip I learned from one of my aunts: if you're cooking the arhar dal specifically for rasam, cook the tomatoes alongside. For some reason, the flavour gets more pronounced, and the saaru comes out a redder colour.

Another thing - the lentils for saaru are usually not cooked until mushy and therefore they tend to sink while the top layers are clear ( tili). You can ask for the saaru tili or charata ( the dal portion), and kids are typically fed tili saaru-anna. I prefer to have a more wholesome mix of dal and tili so I came up with whisking mushily cooked lentils - it makes for a fuller bodied saaru. However if you plan to serve this as soup, don't smush up the lentils, let them sink to the bottom, and serve only the clear layers.

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