The monsoon chills are a perfect excuse to whet your appetite with a bowl of piping hot soup. And while many of us generally opt for a tom yum, manchow, sweet corn or a tomato soup, there’s actually a gamut of desi ras, rasams, saars, shorbas and dals that could easily make the cut. Yes, they are not soups in the traditional sense, but increasingly chefs wanting to present an Indian fixed course meal are turning to these liquid, comfort bowls that have always been part of our meals.
On a soupy trail
Soups are not part of Indian culinary culture but we do have rassams and dals that could easily fill in that void. According to Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, culinary expert, writer and consultant, “While we do not have the concept of soups, we do have our ras, saars, rasams, dals and Osaman (a lighter and flavourful version of the rasam) that was traditionally part of meals that fall in the category of soups and are now increasingly served as such.” And it’s all courtesy, the Indian fine dine experiences that actually spurred chefs to look at traditional ras and shorbas as a fill in for the western bowl of soup. The fact that our desi versions are flavourful broths that are wholesome and delicious helped chefs create a space for them on the menu. So, from eating them with our meals, especially with rice, we have now started having them as soups usually as part of an Indian fixed course meal.
A go-to fix to satiate hunger pangs
The increasing humidity makes us feel dehydrated, so saars and shorbas make for healthier alternatives instead of turning to fried foods. Chef Ranveer Brar says, “Seasonal changes are when the choice of foods becomes crucial. What you eat needs to be nutritious, wholesome and more importantly, easily digestible. That’s where soups are a great alternative. Monsoons cause increased levels of humidity, that make one to feel dehydrated. While the weather creates a craving for fried stuff, try opting for soups instead for those in-between hunger pangs.” The best part is there’s a wide range to pick from. Chef Amninder Sandhu shares, “Thukpa from Sikkim, momo soup in the North East, rasam from South India, Mulligatawany from Tamil Nadu, Kharode soup from Punjab, Palak Shorba from North India are some popular soups across various regions. Ingredients popularly used in these soups are tomatoes, spinach, chicken, lamb trotters, beetroot, corn, carrot and lentils.”
Here’s looking at regional monsoon soups that you can and should sample.
Mapping your bowl of liquid goodness
If you actually look up these ras, rasams, shorbas and dals, you will realise that some of them are literally broths made with veggies, trotters or the cooked dal liquid where the dal is drained and the liquid is consumed after a tadka. Here’s looking at flavourful, regional monsoon soups you can try in the city.
Tomato rasam South India
The classic dish is popular, comfort food in South Indian cuisine. Rasa (in Sanskrit) literally means juice, referring here to the juice of tomato and tamarind. The consistency and flavours differ across different sub-regions of South Indian cuisine. Being a light broth, rasam is a great antidote for common flu, digestive issues and lack of taste.
For spice powderCumin seeds — 2 tsp
Coriander seeds — 2 tbsp
Black peppercorns — 5
Dry red chillies, broken — 2
For rasam Oil — 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds — 1 tsp
Curry leaves — 4 to 5
Asafoetida — a pinch
Tomato (chopped) — 1 large
Turmeric powder — ½ tsp
Water — 3 cups
Salt to taste
Jaggery — ½ tsp
Ginger (finely chopped) — 1 tbsp
Coriander (chopped) — 1 tbsp
Oil — 1 tsp
Urad dal — 1 tsp
Dry red chillies (broken) — 2
Garlic, crushed — 4 -5
For the spice powder, dry roast all the ingredients until aromatic and blend to a fine powder. Now, for the rasam, heat oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves and let them crackle. Add in asafoetida and mix. Add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes. Add turmeric and mix well. Pour in water and add in salt and jaggery. Let it come to a boil. Add ginger and simmer for 10 minutes. Add toor dal and cook further. Turn off the flame and sprinkle chopped coriander leaves and keep aside. Meanwhile, for tempering heat oil in a small pan. Add urad dal, dry red chilli and garlic. Sauté for a few seconds. Pour the tempering on the rasam and add coriander leaves. Mix and serve hot.
Recipe courtesy: Chef Ranveer Brar
This Tibetan noodle soup is consumed in different parts of the North East. Nishek Jain, owner of a restaurant that specialises in regional cuisine, shares, “Thukpa is mostly made with vegetables, a protein and noodles. Kangsoi from Manipur is a similar version of the thukpa, but has soy bean as its main ingredient along with plenty of ginger that’s good to beat common cold.
Tomato saar Maharashtra
This Maharashtrian tangy vegetarian saar is made by of pureed tomatoes, and then flavoured with tamarind, cumin, curry leaves, peppercorns and mustard seeds. It’s generally recommended as a quick cure for colds and is mostly had with rice.
Paya shorba Punjab and Hyderabad
Also called Kharode ka soup, paya ka shorba is a clear bone broth that is prepared with goat or lamb trotters. The recipe calls for simmering meat in water along with spices and then separating the broth, which would have the flavours of both the meat and the spices. There are several popular vegetarian versions now made with carrot, spinach, etc. It is generally recommended to heal injuries.
Mulligatawany soup Tamil Nadu
Mulligatawany has a special place in the Indian repertoire, according to executive chef Nilesh Limaye. It literally means, ‘I don’t know’. He goes on to share, “The story goes that a British official was red with eating spicy curries and he requested the khansama to make a light broth. The latter added some apple and celery to the boiled dal and toned down the curried flavour by mixing in cream and topping it with rice. The official was overjoyed and asked him what the dish was, to which the khansama replied, “I don’t know”. Originally, it was chicken-based but now only vegetable stock and vegetables are used to prepare it.
This is like a rasam. Toor dal is boiled with extra water, and this water is then consumed after a tadka.
Did you know?
We also have community specialties like Nana soup, which is basically a light, flavoured chicken soup of Anglo Indian origins. Chicken mousse, infused with herbs, ginger and curry leaves, is used to make small dumplings, which are poached in the soup broth and Sarki that’s prepared in the Bohri community. Bohri food expert Munaf Kapadia shares, “Sarki is a type of cold soup that is made with cucumber, green chillies, lentils, mint leaves, onion and spring onions and served with a dash of lemon juice. It’s consumed with Masoor pulao, and had with bharta (a yoghurt-based condiment) that is specially prepared in the monsoon season.
Soupy fun facts
Soups date back to 6000 BC, and the first one to be had was hippopotamus soup.
If you try to trace the origins of the word soup, you will realise that it comes from French soupe (soup or broth), which comes through Vulgar Latin suppa (bread soaked in broth) from a Germanic source, from which also comes the word sop, a piece of bread used to soak up soup or a thick stew. That’s also one of the reasons why soup is generally served with croutons, bread sticks and even garlic bread at times.
Soups are served hot or cold depending on the climate and region.
The consistency of soup varies from thick to thin. Fresh cream and the pulp of vegetables is sometimes used to thicken soups.
Vegetable or chicken broth is generally used as the base for most soups.
They are had widely across the globe and that’s why are canned and packed to cater to this market.
Soups are similar to stews, however, soups generally have more liquid (broth) than stews.
There has always been a debate on whether you eat or drink soup, but most agree one can also slurp it up.