It has been an unusually long and persistent winter. The season demands warmth and comfort from endless cups of masala chai. But, at a time when building immunity is a prime concern, a spicy rasam might fit the bill better.

Rasam is a staple in Shazia Khan’s home. The Bengaluru-based chef, who shot to fame after being the first runner-up on Master Chef season two in 2011, is a known face on TV channels such as Food Food and Zee Zest. “Typically, rasam is had through the year. But it is considered to be particularly good for winter, for it is believed to drive away cold and cough,” she says.

There is a standard formula to make rasam, as per Krish Ashok, who wrote the book Masala Lab (2020) to explore Indian cooking as science. Last year, on his YouTube page, Ashok uploaded a video titled The Art of Rasam, which deconstructs the recipe into an algorithm demonstrating when to add the stock, an acidic ingredient, flavouring and the final tempering. It is a readymade template to learn the recipe and own it with creative flair.

Chef Khan adds her own spin to rasam, tweaking the flavour with herbs like lemongrass and basil. The most common acidic element in a rasam is tamarind. Khan switches things up by combining raw mango stock or even kiwi. "Compared to the sharp sourness of tamarind or unripe mangoes, kiwi’s flavour is restrained," she says. "To preserve its taste, mix it in right at the end. Even herbs must be added just before taking the rasam off the flame to ensure their taste and aroma linger."

Although the chef doesn’t let out all her secrets, she shares a recipe for lemongrass rasam. It was published in her book What’s On The Menu (2017). She suggests replacing the roasted papad in the recipe with winter-appropriate sweet potato chips or fries.

Lemongrass rasam

Serves 6

Ingredients

Half cup toor dal (pigeon peas)

1 onion, diced

2 tomatoes, diced

15 gms tamarind

4 cups water

Roasted papad to serve

For the spice mix

15 gms fresh coriander

1 tsp black pepper corn

1 tsp cumin

8 garlic cloves

For the tempering

1 tbsp oil

3 dried red chillies, broken into half

7 curry leaves

2 stalks lemongrass, crushed

Salt to taste

Method

Pressure cook the dal, onion, tomatoes and tamarind with water for 3 whistles.

Strain the dal water and keep aside.

Coarsely crush the fresh coriander, black pepper corn, cumin, garlic cloves in a food processor to make the spice mix.

In a pan, heat oil. Add the dried red chillies, curry leave and the spice mix. Add the strained dal water and season with salt.

Add the lemongrass stalks. Reduce flame and simmer till the taste of lemongrass is infused with the rasam.

Strain the mixture.

Serve with roasted papad.

Recipe from What's on the Menu by Chef Shazia Khan, excerpted with permission from Om Books International.