Indian cuisine doesn’t really have a soup culture unlike its Western counterpart. Yet surprisingly, Indian soups have held their own from region to region in spite of traditional heavyweights nudging them off the culinary charts in terms of popularity and exposure. Take the case of South India — “We drink something warm before our meal to aid digestion, hence rasam and even sambhar is consumed piping hot to maintain a warm temperature in the stomach which helps the process of extracting nutrition from food.
Most regions have recipes for soups that are fairly unique and distinct from each other based on topography and local ingredients. Historically, South India is popular for rasam and its many variants are popularly consumed as a soup,” says Chef Dharmesh Karmokar, Chef and co-owner of Thangabali Restaurant in Mumbai that specialises in cuisine from the kitchens of South India.
Being the world capital of spices, South Indian soups usually use a lot of whole spices like peppercorn, cinnamon and cloves that aid in improving immunity and cleansing the digestive system.
“Hence, you will see tamarind, kokum and tomato being used as a base along with lentils for the body. We also use tropical fruit like pineapple in one of our rasams. In South Asia, it’s a traditional practice to boil spices and make a concoction called ‘kadha’ that is best served as a warm drink before meals. We add spices in our soups, giving it the goodness of kadha,” adds Karmokar. Meanwhile, the shorba graces the menus of North India. Shorba is derived from an Arabic term, ‘Shurbah’ meaning soup. However, while soup is often served as the first course, Shorba can also be served as an accompaniment to the main dish or in between courses.
Meanwhile, the Anglo Indian community has its favourite soup that is still popular at restaurants — the ubiquitous Mulligatawny soup. “Mulligatawny is an English soup derived from an Indian sauce recipe and is most often served with rice. The name originates from the Tamil words mullaga/milagu and thanni, which translates into “pepper-water”. In its original form, Mulligatawny is made from chicken or lamb broth, fried onions and curry powder,” says Chef Nadeem Qureshi, Executive Chef, Soma, Grand Hyatt, Mumbai.
East vs West
Unlike the West, we don’t use butter, cream or bechamel in our soups. Instead, we rely on tamarind, kokum, kadampulli and tomatoes in our recipes. “Therefore, the body of the soup tends to be lighter and tangier with the addition of souring agents instead of heavy creams and flour-based sauces,” explains Karmokar.
Not surprisingly, our soups are full of nutrients and essential vitamins, thanks to the ingredients employed. Indian soups are even more helpful in fighting cold and cough as we often use coconut oil which contains the magic element — sodium monolauric, the base of the human immune system.
Take rasam, a favourite for colds and coughs. It’s easy to prepare and can be had in a variety of ways by tweaking the ingredients.
Recipe for a quick and easy rasam — Heat coconut oil and add mustard seeds, garlic, curry leaves and hing. Post that, you can add any acid like tamarind water or tomato puree. For a fruity punch, pineapples or plums can be incorporated. Once you have the base ready, add whole spices like pepper, cumin and cloves. Bring to a boil. Garnish with coriander leaves, serve piping hot.
Recipes courtesy Soma, Grand Hyatt, Mumbai
Gosht Yahkni Shorba
Mustard oil: 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds / Zeera: ½ tsp
Mutton: 250 g with bone
Onion: ½ cup finely chopped
Cinnamon stick: 2 inch piece
Black peppercorns: 5-6
Fennel seeds: 1 tsp
Black cardamom: 2-3
Dry ginger powder: 1 tsp
Garlic: 1 full head
Saffron: a good pinch
Yogurt: 3/4 cup
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a pressure pan. When the oil is hot and starts smoking, simmer the heat. Add cumin seeds and mutton. Increase the heat again. Fry mutton on high heat for 4-5 minutes.
Add onion and fry for another minute.
Make a bouquet garni (potli) of cinnamon, black peppercorns, fennel, cloves and black cardamom. Add it in the pressure pan.
Add salt, dry ginger powder, full head of garlic and saffron in the pan along with 4 cups of water.
Pressure cook till mutton is nicely done.
Remove the pan from heat and let the pressure release. Open the pan and let the soup cool.
Squeeze the head of garlic and add the pulp in the pan. Squeeze the bouquet garni in the pan and discard it. Remove the mutton pieces from the pan and keep aside.
Add whisked yogurt in the pan and bring the soup to a boil. Add the mutton pieces again and cook for 4-5 minutes.
Garnish with fresh coriander and serve piping hot.
Badami Murgh Shorba
Chicken with bone: 300gm
For Spice Potli
Fine cloth: 1
Saunf: 2 tbsp
Cinnamon stick: 3 inch piece, broken in half
Black cardamom: 5, cracked open
Black peppercorn: 10
Bay leaf: 2
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Coriander seeds: 2 tsp
Water: 4 cups
Ghee: 3 tbsp
Onions: 3/4 cup, finely chopped
Garlic: 1 tbsp, minced
Ginger: 1 inch piece, finely chopped
Turmeric powder: ¼ tsp
Cayenne pepper powder as per taste
Almond- 100gm paste
Dried fenugreek leaf: ½ tsp
Bengal gram powder: 2 tbsp
Salt as per taste
Clean the chicken and debone.
Cut into 1 inch pieces. Set aside. Also break the bones into 2 inch long pieces.
Fold cloth in half. Put spices in the center. Gather edges and tie a string around it.
For Shorba — Step 1
Heat ghee in a heavy bottomed pan.
Fry bones for 10 minutes.
Add water, chicken bones, almond paste and spice potli in a pot. Bring water to a boil. Lower the heat. Cover and simmer on medium heat for 50 minutes. Turn off heat. Discard spice potli. Strain and remove bones. Set the shorba aside.
For Shorba — Step 2
Heat ghee in a pan.
Add chicken meat. Fry for 5 minutes. Remove browned chicken and keep aside.
Add onions and fry till brown.
Add garlic and ginger and almond. Sauté till a fine aroma is emitted.
Add turmeric powder, salt, cayenne powder and kasoori leaves.
Add browned chicken. Sauté for about 2 minutes.
Sprinkle Bengal gram powder. Sauté for about 2 minutes.
Add chicken shorba. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or till chicken is soft.
Tamatar and Tulsi Shorba
Lime juice: 1 tsp
Vegetable oil: 2 tbsp
Tulsi: 10-12 pcs
Chilli powder: 1 tsp
Water: 10 cups
Curry powder: 5 tsp
Ginger garlic paste: 2 tbsp
Salt to taste
Wash and chop the tulsi leaves over a chopping board. Now cut the tomatoes into big pieces, slice the onions, and crush the ginger and garlic cloves using a mortar and pestle.
Place a frying pan over medium flame and pour oil in it. Once the oil is heated, add the chopped onions and sauté them till they are golden-brown in colour. Now add ginger, garlic, chilli powder and curry powder. Sauté this mixture for 2-3 minutes.
Now add the blanched tomatoes to the pan and five cups of water. Also add the chopped tulsi and salt to the pan. Mix well and boil it. Continue to simmer for 15 minutes more, till the mixture becomes soft. Keep removing the scum as and when required.
Drizzle some lemon juice and garnish with coriander leaves.