Lemon Rasam


Indian Home Cooking

Published by Clarkson Potter

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

This is my favorite rasam. The broth is made with water in which legumes (I use yellow split peas) have been cooked, and it has a very light, subtle flavor that I love. I often add a teaspoon of lemon zest to the tempering oil along with the mustard seeds. This is not traditional at all, but it gives another delicious layer of flavor to the broth. Lemons and limes originated in India and neighboring areas, where they have been used for thousands of years to add sour taste to foods. Along with lemons, this soup is soured with tamarind, which, unlike lemons, can cook for a long time without losing its souring properties. You can substitute more lemon juice, but it must be added at the end. When I was shopping recently, a crate of Meyer lemons caught my eye. I had never seen this type of lemon in America before, but my heart gave a little leap as I realized that this was the lemon we have in India. It is an extraordinary balance of sweet and astringent, with a beautiful aroma. If you can get hold of Meyer lemons, use them in this soup.

Use the cooked split peas in Warm Lentil Salad with Coconut and Tomato.

Serves4 to 6


Total Timeunder 2 hours

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseappetizer, main course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegan, vegetarian



Taste and Texturehot & spicy, spiced, tart

Type of Dishhot soup, soup


  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup yellow split peas
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 6 cups water
  • ½ cup warm water (if using tamarind)
  • 1½ teaspoons tamarind concentrate or the juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon, cut in half and juiced, juice and halves reserved separately
  • ¼ teaspoon asafetida (optional)
  • 4 fresh hot green chiles, stemmed and slit the length of the chiles
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds (optional)
  • 3 whole dried red chiles
  • 4 fresh or 6 to 8 frozen curry leaves, torn into pieces (optional)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro


  1. For the spice mixture, combine the spices in a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Set aside. For the broth, combine the split peas, turmeric, and 6 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and skim well. Then turn the heat down and simmer vigorously, partially covered, until the legumes are tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep the legumes from sticking to the bottom of the pot, and skim as you need to.

  2. Meanwhile, if using tamarind, measure the warm water into a small bowl or measuring cup. Add the tamarind concentrate and stir to dissolve it. Rinse the measuring spoon and your fingers in the water to dissolve all of the sticky tamarind. Set this tamarind water aside.

  3. Coarsely chop 1½ of the tomatoes and put them in a food processor or blender with the garlic and process to a puree; set aside.

  4. When the split peas are cooked, strain them over a 4-cup or larger measuring cup and reserve for another use (see Headnote). Add water, if necessary, to the cooking broth to make up 4 cups broth and return to the saucepan. Add the juiced lemon halves and bring the broth to a boil. Skim the foam that rises to the top. Then add the tamarind water, if using, the tomato-garlic puree, the spice mixture, the asafetida, if using, green chiles, and salt. Turn the heat down so that the soup simmers vigorously and cook, partially covered, for 10 minutes.

  5. Chop the remaining ½ tomato and add it to the soup. Cook 3 more minutes.

  6. For the tempering oil, combine the oil and the mustard seeds, if using, in a small frying pan or saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover (the mustard seeds splatter and pop) and cook until you hear the mustard seeds crackle, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chiles and cook uncovered, stirring, until they start to brown. Then add the curry leaves, if using, and stir. (Stand back; curry leaves spit as they hit the hot oil.) Pour immediately into the soup. Stir in the lemon juice and the cilantro and serve immediately.


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