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Rasam is a traditional south Indian soup which can be had with rice or as is. This is a must in any South Indian meal. Any meal served in Tamilnadu and some parts of Andhra Pradesh aren't complete without a serving of Rasam. And there are good reasons why traditionally meals were always served with Rasam, and why it is considered a medicinal recipe in traditional homes for many ailments like colds and fevers.
First, let me give a traditional recipe for high-quality Tomato Rasam.
Tamarind - 1 lemon size ball
Tomatoes - 2 large size
Residual water of boiled lentils (with handful of lentils in it - use Toor dhal) - 1 cup
Turmeric powder - 1 spoon
Red Chilli powder - 1 spoon
Coriander powder - 1 spoon
Pepper powder - 1 spoon
Cumin Powder - 1 spoon
Asafoetida / Hing - a pinch
Garlic - 3 cloves chopped
Water - 1 cup
Ghee - 1 tbsp
How to make:
Soak tamarind in water for 20 mins and squeeze out the juice through a filter. Bring 1 cup of water to boil while mixing in the tamarind extract, 1 cup of water in which lentils (toor dhal) has been boiled (along with a handful of boiled lentils), all the powders, and the tomatoes while squeezing them by hand when adding them in.
Bring this mixture to a boil and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Take off from gas and add the garlic sauteed in ghee with a pinch of asafoetida. Your wonderful Tomato Garlic Rasam is ready!
Those who don't like garlic can avoid it but do add some ghee while having your rasam. Also if you do not like Tamarind, you do not need to use it but in the end, after the Rasam cools down a bit you may squeeze in a lemon for a variation of the same recipe.
NOW... why do you need to drink this Rasam daily and why is it a SUPERFOOD?
The reason is the ingredients list -
Turmeric, Chilli, Pepper, Cumin, Coriander seeds - these are some of the most anti-oxidant rich spices in the world. They work synergistically to help you beat oxidative stress. Curcumin in turmeric has been found in repeated studies to be a chemopreventive, that is a potent cancer growth inhibitor, it is also a carcinogen-blocker and anti-proliferative. That is it prevents cancer-causing substances from causing cancer first place and also prevents any cancer cells from spreading. It has also been found to be a good anti-inflammatory, that prevents inflammatory diseases like joint problems to heart disease. Some studies have linked it to low rates of mental diseases like Alzheimer's in Indians as well.
But remember Turmeric is poorly absorbed by the body as is. In fact, one of the reasons scientists found Indians have low rates of colon cancer is because we ate a lot of Turmeric and a lot of it was coming out of the body unabsorbed via the colon, thus protecting it! So what makes the Curcumin in Turmeric more absorbable? It is the pepper and other spices that we always add with Turmeric in our recipes! Piperin in pepper increases Curcumin absorption by our body many hundred times. Thus our blood will have a good amount of circulating curcumin and many other anti-oxidants after a cup of Rasam, preventing oxidative stress from other stuff we may be eating along with the Rasam in a day like white rice, reused oil, fried or BBQ meats, and all kinds of junk.
Next, Tomatoes are amazing. They are red because they contain a potent phytonutrient called Lycopene. Study after study has found eating more Tomatoes seem to reduce many cancer risks, heart disease risks, and helps our immunity with its Vitamin-C and other nutrients. But again Lycopene in Tomato is poorly absorbed by our body. So what do we do to help get more Lycopene circulating in our blood? We boil it! Researchers only recently found that by boiling tomatoes for exactly 15 mins improved the absorption of Lycopene the most. This is by helping break down the cellular structure of the skin and flesh of the Tomatoes to release the Lycopene in it.
Lentils and lentil water especially are chockfull of essential nutrition. They also contain Lignans - a compound that helps prevent cancer. The water in which lentils are boiled is generally thrown away. But here comes Rasam that says that the same water is one of its primary ingredients! And the lentil boiled water contains not just lignans and many nutrients, but also a lot of soluble fiber from the lentils. Instead of wasting away the water, Rasam is a great way to enjoy all its nutritional benefits. But make sure you wash the lentils well before you boil them and use that water.
Now coming to Garlic, there's no need to be reminded of its health benefits from regulating cholesterol to fighting inflammation and cancer. It is also a very good digestive. Reduces stomach discomfort, prevents intestinal worms, and can even kill viruses that most antibiotics don't! Tamarind extract is another digestive in the Rasam. It helps improve your assimilation of all the other nutrients by digesting the food well. This is very important to extract the best nutrition out of the food we eat. Tamarind extract also has important nutrients like Iron, Magnesium, Thiamine etc
Last but not the least, the Ghee! It does make any food aromatic and delicious but it also serves one other important purpose. Helping us in absorbing fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients much better and delivering them into our bloodstream. Take the example of Curcumin in Turmeric or Lycopene in Tomatoes, or Vitamin D, E etc in food - all of them need fat to get dissolved and reach places in the body. So now you know another good reason as to why traditionally we always include a spoon of Ghee in most dishes we eat!
As you can see, Rasam is an Indian Superfood. This soup should be made part of everyone's regular diet. If you are from Tamilnadu or places where you eat Rasam on a daily basis with your meals, consider yourself lucky and don't miss it! If you are from other parts of India or the World, never mind you can always make your own Rasam for a week, store it in refrigerator, and drink it every day preferably after your meal as a digestive and.... a super goodness health food!